for big skY loncon 3 3

sf masterworks 1 sf masterworks 1 Sooner or later all comes true. 3 — J.G. Ballard, interviewed in Interzone #22, Winter 1987

Part-genzine, part-perzine, variable sercon/fannish content. If you are not satisfied with this product please contact your nearest SF Masterworks dealer. The next letters column will be in issue #5 – please be part of it ! Send all Letters of Comment, articles and artwork to pe[email protected]. Edited and published by Peter Young. This has been produced independently of both Gollancz and Loncon 3.

Cover: The Sky Is Falling — Andrew Nelson, 2011 (cc) in trade can be sent to: Pages 2–6: Spiral Space — ©2014 Sue Jones, used by permission 136/200 Emerald Hill Village, Soi 6, Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan 77110, Thailand Pages 7 & 11: ©2014 Peter Young or if postage is less: Page 85: The Time Machine/The War of the Worlds — ©1999 Chris Moore, used by c/o 22 Tippings Lane, Woodley, Berkshire, RG5 4RX, permission Page 139: Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said – Weeping with Philip K. Dick — James Thanks to all contributors for use of their articles and artwork. Clayton, 2011 (cc) See page 225 for full credit details and brief author bios. Page 240: Just Testing — Andrew Nelson, 2013 (cc) contents

SF Masterworks: One Reader’s Brief Overview Peter Young 7

1 , Farah Mendlesohn, Charles Dee Mitchell 12

2 , I Am Legend Chris Bekofske, Charles Dee Mitchell 15

3 , Cities in Flight Manny Rayner, Brian Clegg, Peter Young, Kate Sherrod 18

4 Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Jesse Hudson, Guy Salvidge 24

5 , David Langford 27

6 Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17 Rob Weber 29 2014

7 , Lord of Jesse Hudson, Rich Horton 32

8 , The Fifth Head of Cerberus Kate Sherrod, Jesse Hudson 34 Spiral Space

9 , Rob Weber 37

10 Cordwainer Smith, Tony Atkins, Jaime Oria, Rhys Hughes, Simon McLeish 39 Sue Jones 2 sf masterworks 1 contents - continued

11 Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men Alfred Searls, Nicholas Whyte, Kate Sherrod 42

12 George R. Stewart, Earth Abides Gary Lovisi, Manny Rayner 46

13 Philip K. Dick, Martian Time-Slip Charles Dee Mitchell 49

14 Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man Manny Rayner, Charles Dee Mitchell, Megan Medina, Andy Wixon 51

15 , Karen Burnham, Kate Sherrod 55

16 Ursula Le Guin , Bruce Gillespie, Mark Monday, Manny Rayner 61

17 J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World Peter Young, Kate Sherrod 65

18 Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Manny Rayner, Kedar, Christopher J Garcia 67

19 , Mark Monday 70

20 Philip K. Dick, Guy Salvidge 72

21 Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker Jesse Hudson 74

22 , Charles Dee Mitchell, Manny Rayner, Peter Young 76

23 , The Book of Skulls John DeNardo 78

24 H.G. Wells, The Time Machine Anthony G. Williams, Amy H. Sturgis 80

24 H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds Ben Babcock, Basil Williams, Jonathan Terrington, Nicholas Whyte 82

25 Daniel Keyes, Manny Rayner, Peter Young, John Coxon 87

26 Philip K. Dick, Ubik Randy Byers 90

27 , Chris Amies, Charles Dee Mitchell, Simon McLeish 92

28 , More Than Human Victoria Strauss 96

3 sf masterworks 1 contents - continued

29 Frederik Pohl, Niall Alexander 98

30 James Blish, Christy Tidwell, Nicholas Whyte 100

31 M. John Harrison, The Centauri Device Charles Dee Mitchell, Bryan Alexander 102

32 Philip K. Dick, Dr. Bloodmoney Mark Monday, David Soyka 104

33 , Non-Stop Rich Horton, Charles Dee Mitchell 107

34 Arthur C. Clarke, The Fountains of Paradise Rob Weber, Glenn Myers 109

35 , Pavane Brian Clegg, Manny Rayner, Margaret Johnson 112

36 Philip K. Dick, Now Wait for Last Year Charles Dee Mitchell, Guy Salvidge 114

37 Samuel R. Delany, Jonathan Thornton 117

38 H.G. Wells, The First Men in the Moon Michael Battaglia 119

39 Arthur C. Clarke, The City and the Stars J.P. Lantern 121

40 , Thomas M. Wagner, Neal Asher, David A. Hardy 123

41 Frederik Pohl, Jem Andrew Spong 126

42 Ward Moore, Bring the Jubilee Peter Young, Andrew Spong 128

43 Philip K. Dick, VALIS Bruce Gillespie, Patrick Clark, Tim , Paul Williams 130

44 Ursula Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven Bruce Gillespie, John DeNardo 133

45 , The Complete Roderick Andrew Spong 135

46 Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said Mike Philbin 138

47 H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man Amy H. Sturgis, Chris Hill 141

4 sf masterworks 1 contents - continued

I , Manny Rayner, Andrew Spong, Christopher J Garcia 143

II Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness Jonathan Thornton, Megan Medina, Tanya Brown 147

III Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle Charles Dee Mitchell, Jonathan Terrington 152

V Walter M. Miller, Jr., Eli Johnson, Mark Monday, Peter Young 155

VI Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End Ian McDonald, Mark Monday 157

VII Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress Jesse Hudson 159

VIII , Anthony G. Williams, Andrew Spong, Peter Young 161

X , The Day of the Tony Keen, Penny Hill, Andy Wixon 164

48 Sheri S. Tepper, Grass Cheryl Morgan, Andrew Spong 169

49 Arthur C. Clarke, A Fall of Moondust Kate Atherton, Lee A. Butler 172

50 Greg Bear, Eon Charles Dee Mitchell, Mark Chitty 175

51 Richard Matheson, The Shrinking Man Charles Dee Mitchell, J.P. Lantern 178

52 Philip K. Dick, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch Alma Alexander, Charles Dee Mitchell 181

53 Michael Moorcock, The Dancers at the End of Time Charles Dee Mitchell 183

54 Frederik Pohl & Cyril M. Kornbluth, Eric Brown, Anthony G. Williams 185

55 Philip K. Dick, Time Out of Joint Guy Salvidge 188

56 Robert Silverberg, Mark Monday, A.C. Fellows 191

57 Philip K. Dick, The Simulacra Charles Dee Mitchell, L.J. Hurst 193

59 Philip K. Dick, The Penultimate Truth Charles Dee Mitchell, Joe Pfeiffer, Simon McLeish 195

5 sf masterworks 1 contents - continued

60 Robert Silverberg, Cécile Cristofari, Peter Young, Tony Atkins 198

61 , The Child Garden Randy McDonald 200

62 , Mission of Gravity A.C. Fellows, Scott Lynch, Tony Atkins, Manny Rayner 203

63 Philip K. Dick, A Maze of Death Mike Philbin 206

64 , Tau Zero Anthony G. Williams, Kate Atherton, Tony Atkins, Chris Mander 208

65 Arthur C. Clarke, Jesse Hudson, Anthony G. Williams, Dave O’Neill 212

66 , Life During Wartime Ross E. Lockhart, Simon McLeish, Cécile Cristofari 215

67 , Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang Amy H. Sturgis, Megan Medina 217

68 Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic Annalee Newitz 219

69 Walter M. Miller, Jr., Dark Benediction Andrew Spong 221

70 Walter Tevis, Mockingbird Simon McLeish, Lars Guthrie 223

The Contributors 225

6 SF Masterworks: One Reader’s Brief Overview

Peter Young OT LONG BEFORE my abduction into fandom in the year 2000 – something I blame entirely on the regular n Monday night meetings of the Reading Science Fiction Group – Millennium launched their SF Masterworks list with a couple of titles in January 1999. I remember discovering them, plus several later editions, one Spring afternoon in Reading’s own specialist SF store (the now-disappeared Friar Street Bookshop), and headed home with a handful of titles and a reinvigorated optimism for British SF publishing. I’d spent roughly fifteen years away from reading anything remotely genre-related (excepting Samuel R. Delany’s autobiography The Motion of Light in Water) up until the point, in 1997, when I discovered ’s on the mainstream shelves at WHSmiths on Waterloo Station, before taking the Eurostar to Paris for the first time. Russell and her story stole that journey from me, but I’ve long forgiven her – and I also had a lot of catching up to do. For most of the time since, I’ve looked forward to a new Masterworks publication almost every month, and part of the fun in the early years of the series was not knowing what was to hit the shelves next. A Clarke? Maybe a Pohl? Another PKD? Another PKD? And if that wasn’t enough, there was the Masterworks list as well, plus Gollancz’s handsome SF Collectors’ Editions, and on other shelves we had Orion’s Crime Masterworks series. We have Malcolm Edwards and his colleagues at Gollancz/Orion to thank for all of these. Now in the days of Amazon and the ISFDB it’s easy to learn what’s coming many months before it hits the bookstore shelves. And now that it’s 2014, a further fifteen years down the line, I realise I’ve spent those fifteen years enthusing about this beautifully produced series of some – or perhaps most – of the best British and American SF ever published, with occasional glances towards , Eastern Europe and Australia. The series took a haitus for nearly a year in 2002 before finally adding Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man in 2003, then

014 a slow trickle of new titles followed. The series seemed to be going adrift circa 2008/9, when far fewer new titles were appearing, and one reprint even had a typo on the spine. However there was soon word that the series was to be relaunched, and, at last, 2010 was when Joe Fan got a look-in, where the new cover designs caught just about everyone by surprise. Plenty of words have been written about all the titles on the SF Masterworks list. In compiling this fanzine, I Masterworks 1 2 Masterworks probably read thousands of reviews, in magazines, fanzines, websites and blogs. Quickly, a form of mental shorthand was set in place for the kind of reviews I wanted to showcase here. I knew instinctively what I particularly didn’t want: the kind of nonanalytical review that fills almost every corner of Goodreads; similarly, at the other extreme, when a reviewer takes pains to come across as exceedingly academic, I just kinda… zoned out. Peter Young

8 What I was looking for can be summed up as well-written ‘opinion / context / commentary’ as opposed to something resembling a ‘formal review’ template, and something akin to a ‘four star’ rating rather than a gushing ‘five’. And of course, the more original, the better. Of course, if you need something more formally structured in your reading of reviews, check out the SFF Masterworks Reading Project, check out Vector, check out Foundation, check out NYRSF. I’m not being dismissive at all, by the way; after all, my own reviews have appeared in several of those venues. They just don’t usually offer the kind of commentary I was looking for, for this project. I also knew from the start that this fanzine would be a big beast, and early on I realised it had to be split into two PDF issues, although 240 pages for a single issue is perhaps around the upper limit of what’s reasonably manageable as a PDF fanzine. I expect the greater use of Big Sky #3 and #4 will be to read the reviews of books already read or those that are in one’s TBR pile; or another approach would simply be to pick the titles that interest you most, then maybe go and pick some more. However, such is the wealth and variety of titles in the SF Masterworks series that it also wouldn’t hurt to read the reviews and commentary herein from first page to last: there is certainly enough variety of approach – and needless to say, originality and often great humour – in much of the reviewing that I honestly doubt it would be a monotonous experience. This fanzine also comes at a time when there seems to be another pause in new books for the current series, so the titles featured in Big Sky #4 run as far as up to that break as is currently known. It can be no easy task putting together a publishing project like this, so a pause is perhaps hardly surprising as the series is evaluated for the future, and with production of the large Gateway Omnibus editions taking precedence for the moment. At the time of writing, Amazon listings indicate forthcoming titles next year from Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Wilson Tucker… even possibly Iain M. Banks, whose Feersum Endjinn was first rumoured to be appearing as a Masterworks title several years ago. We’ll have to patiently wait and see. In the meantime, I hope this comprehensive overview of the series so far proves useful and highly entertaining, and my sincere gratitude and admiration goes out to everyone involved.

9 Style notes With so many reviewers appearing here with work not initially written for this publication, I’ve necessarily had to adopt a very laissez-faire approach to ‘house style’. To make so many conform to my own style preferences might risk upsetting a large number of this fanzine’s contributors, all for the want of some vain notion of adherence to my own taste. Therefore you will encounter several ways of conveying the same two important words – “sf”, “SF”, “science- fiction”, “science fiction” and even (goddammit) “sci-fi”, as well as several other individual quirks of taste which I have simply let stand.

Bibliographic notes It’s been a necessity to divide this fanzine into two issues, and for consistency’s sake I’ve chosen to show the covers of the newer series, however at the time of going to press there are still a small number of first series titles that have not yet been reissued with new covers. The numbering of the SF Masterworks list has at times been complicated by the appearance of titles in either one, two or all three series. For clarity’s sake, I’ve sequenced all titles as per the date (precise or approximate) of their first appearance as an SF Masterworks title. Therefore, new titles in the first hardcover series – which appeared in 2001 and within which some of the titles had already appeared in the paperback series – are listed chronologically as appearing between #47 and #48. The Man in the High Castle ended the first series, appearing as #73. Several titles across both series have had cover art misattributed on their back covers. Where known, these have been corrected for their appearance here.

A note on internal text linking – or the lack of it Big Sky is designed for the iPad and other e-readers that provide easy scrolling to particular pages, however I know it’s a justified criticism (as was mentioned in a LoC in Big Sky #2) that it would also help if internal links could connect Contents entries directly to the titles. Pages ’09 v5.2 for some inexplicable reason has this function disabled, however linking to exterior pages is no problem. Until Apple do an update that re-enables internal linking I can only apologise, and I’ll be issuing a fully-enabled version as soon as this problem has been overcome.


FARAH MENDLESOHN Joe Haldeman’s writing has been personally very influential: All My Sins Remembered is one of the first two science fiction I read (the other was Brian Stableford’s The Florians) and as I’ve noted elsewhere, those two books turned me into an sf reader and set me on the road to becoming a Quaker. The Forever War was one of the bricks in that road. The Forever War is set suspiciously close to the author’s present: the officers and sergeants of this future army have served in Vietnam. In the intervening years, the human race has got off world, past the moon and has developed a space range, and the ability to colonise sufficient to come into contact with alien beasties who can’t just wipe us off the map or follow us home to find out where these pesky intruders come from. It’s all highly unlikely even by 1970s standards which did still tend to underestimate the degree to which space travel would be the one area of technology where we were doomed to spend a century or more using chemical trebuchets to get us into space. But The Forever War isn’t really about space, and it isn’t really

2014 about aliens: it’s about us, about love, loss, and separation not only from loved ones but from our own culture. Haldeman is a truly romantic writer, for whom the great events of the world matter essentially to the degree that they affect our ability to form relationships. This comes out

Masterworks 2 Masterworks in many of his books and in many of the interviews he has given;

perhaps even more so in his poetry. So in The Forever War the war is a Cover illustration by Chris Moore framing device for the classic narrative of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy is reunited with girl. Along the way however Haldeman pauses to Peter Young

January 1999: SF Masterworks series #1 SF Masterworks hardcover series #IX SF Masterworks second series 12 explore what relationships can mean or be in an army that has a policy of rotational “bunking”; using the Spartan model he demonstrates the ways in which affection can create internal bonds of loyalty that suffice when there is no loyalty left to the regime. In a world where relativity means that once separated, there can be no reunion, Haldeman demonstrates how changes in society can cause the now excluded to cleave together – the he grants is not of reintegration but of the creation of new communities, the world moves on and we must accept that however much the young revolt us, it’s their world now. Not all of the book has worn well: although the future Haldeman offers is one in which homosexuality becomes a norm, it still leaves the narrator shuddering, and while this could be understood as just the narrator, the link made between homosexuality and the obliteration of human diversity into Man, is chilling and unattractive. If there is one thing that comes over in all Haldeman’s work, it is his resentment at the degree to which during warfare, we become things that someone else will point and direct. We may or may not be ethical animals, but once we are caught up in the machine, our ethics mostly become irrelevant. Yet there are few atrocity stories in this book: the worst is in the very first engagement with the enemy, when the soldiers discover they have been conditioned to go into a beserker rage. In this condition they behead, eviscerate and obliterate, and quite a large number promptly have breakdowns in the field, or are ruined for combat (and life) forever after. The oddity about The Forever War is that it is, on revisiting, a rather slight book. It tells a very small story “against the of war, they fell in love”, and yet, because it is in some ways the most important of all human stories, the impact of rereading remains every bit as impressive as it did when the book first came out. The influence of The Forever War is muted: military sf writers still write military sf which may lack the gung ho and glory of the 1950s but has not inherited the melancholy of the 1970s either, but there is one text that is profoundly influenced by The Forever War, and that is ’s The Ballad of Halo Jones. In The Forever War, William Mandella and Charlie Moore are part of the well educated elite, their resentment of their conscription contributing to their paralysis in of the machine. Halo Jones, is a member of the underclass, and a volunteer, used to subverting the world she lives in for every possible advantage. All three must wait the war out, but Halo is better able to offer small and sometimes large resistances. [2014]

13 CHARLES DEE MITCHELL Joe Haldeman had trouble finding any takers for the hardback publication of The Forever War. This was in 1974, and publishers doubted the market for a science fiction novel by a Vietnam vet that clearly used that war as a background. Analog Magazine serialized the work, but even it balked at a section originally titled “You Can Never Go Back”. This part of the story tells of a trip home by the central character, then Private William Mandella, and the rest of his surviving troops after their first and what they all assume will be their only tour of duty. But because this war is being fought on planets reached only by FTL travel, the veterans return to an earth that has aged twenty some years compared to the two years of subjective time they have experienced. Earth is a crime-ridden, over-populated and polluted mess. Although they could conceivably find work as personal bodyguards, one of the only growth industries around, Mandella and his friends choose to re-enlist. Analog thought this section would be too depressing for their readership. The Forever War is still discussed as one of the great novels of the , but many of its readers today were not born when that war was fought. Its continued relevance has to do with its ability to speak to the ways in which war shapes human experience. Mandella, despite his many promotions in rank, remains on some level a grunt from the late 20th century. He ages perhaps a decade fighting a war that lasts 1,100 years. Technology changes radically, and triage improves so soldiers missing limbs from combat can grow new ones and return to a new front line light years away. Major Mandella comes to lead troops whose English has so altered he has trouble understanding them. Their sexual arrangements are even more baffling to the old soldier still only a decade or so their senior. Haldeman’s flawless storytelling places all these changes in the context of a series of military engagements that are detailed and exciting. But the story is one of exhaustion and disillusion. Mandella survives a millennium of war. The human race has been at war since one tribe of prehistoric man attacked another. Continued calls- to-arms ring hollow, as obscene as they are inevitable. [2012]


CHRIS BEKOFSKE I’d argue this is Matheson’s most famous work, if only because it was filmed three times, spreading its themes to generations. The original, 1964’s The Last Man on Earth, was a Vincent Price vehicle that was pretty good for a B- movie, hitting on most of the novel’s points though Price was miscast as the everyman protagonist. The second was 1971’s The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, which had little to do with the novel and was more a re- imagining of the “last human” theme in an apocalyptic world ravaged by radioactive fallout and mutation. The third was Will Smith’s 2007 blockbuster I Am Legend; the first few acts were close to the book with brilliant visions of a New York wasteland, though the ending diverged from the book simply to make it a happy one, dropping (among other things) the metaphors and meaning of the title in lieu of a Hollywood Happy Ending. Fourth time’s the charm, right? It is the future; the year is 1973. Robert Neville survived the plague. His family did not. His neighbor, Ben Cortman, didn’t either, though he arrives night after night to taunt Neville. In fact, for all Neville knows no one else survived the spread of vampirism that caused the dead to rise from their graves and the living to thirst for blood. Neville has fortified his house and holed up for years, scavenging for supplies during the day, withstanding the assault of vampiric mobs at night. Truth be told, Neville doesn’t have time to do much more than survive, though he does have plans – to find the cause, maybe even a cure. And he does have needs – companionship, Cover illustration by Jim Thiesen conversation, the pleasures of the flesh, crude versions of which the

January 1999: SF Masterworks series #2 SF Masterworks second series 15 use to mock him as they call for him each night to leave his house. Neville prowls the barren streets of Los Angeles by day, slaying vampires, dumping their husks into the charnel pit devised by the authorities to cremate the dead to prevent their reanimation. Neville experiments with the superstitions of old, seeking for a rhyme or reason why some things – mirrors, garlic, sunlight, crosses – are effective, while others – running water, bullets – are not. He is the last man on earth, but he is not alone: after spotting a dog during the daytime, there are signs that there are others about. And the truth of his isolation is the single most dangerous, damning fact in the world. Much has been made of Matheson’s influence on the apocalypse (zombipocalypse) genre; certainly, in our post-Night of the Living Dead world his shambling hordes of plague-spawned vampires have more similarities to the in 28 Days Later or World War Z than the vampires of Dracula and Interview with the . Their intelligence is limited, though their thirst for Neville’s blood is not, and they swarm his house every night to assault it with bricks and fists. Some of the similarities come from Matheson’s attempts to avoid the gothic overtones and rationalize vampirism through science: making its root a germ spawned by biological warfare at the end of a vague World War III, spread by dust storms and swarms of mosquitoes that ravaged the “victorious” powers. And Matheson’s use of “science” is where he is most creative and most tenuous, as was pointed out by ’s . After a snap decision, Neville changes his long-standing opinion and decides the cause is germs after all. Why? Plot. After going through two microscopes and thirty-seven slides of blood, self-taught everyman Neville makes the discovery the world’s greatest scientists couldn’t (or rather one they didn’t reveal to the public): a single bacillus. Case closed, it’s germs. Why? Plot. Every so often, Neville asks himself a question the reader’s been pondering – e.g., why haven’t the vampires burned his house down if they want him so badly – which gets some off-hand explanation. Why? Probably because the answer was the first thing Matheson could think of. The reader must struggle over a series of contrivances that lack realism but make for great entertainment, and if scientific verisimilitude is your thing, this book could be infuriating. What Matheson does best is create an everyman character – a talent he was renowned for, with his Ersatz Matheson Everymen – and place them in uncomfortable, tense situations. Matheson was very open about the fact that all of his characters were variants of Richard Matheson, which is why they often have the same quirks and vagaries, their blandness and lack of ambition thrown sink-or-swim into dangerous situations. That’s where the tension comes from. They’re not two-

16 fisted pulp heroes or brainy super scientists, they’re everyday people living Grand Theft Normal Boring Lives. Now, without any formal knowledge or training they must survive, thrive, and overcome dangerous odds and adversaries. Neville has the short end of the stick since he must survive in a world where walking outside after dusk is a death sentence. What Richard Matheson penned is a masterwork of isolation and survival in a dying world, one that just so happens to involve plagues of vampires. His idea of rationalizing supernatural horror by scientific means is a brilliant idea, even if his science is questionable and some of his answers flimsy. (Contrast ’s Darker Than You Think, which tried to do the same for lycanthropy decades earlier). Where Matheson shines is portraying the bleak isolation of his protagonist: the moments of tension, the emotional build-up for something as simple as trying to save a sick dog. The novel is short, and flawed, but resonates with subconscious dread and crippling loneliness in a bleak apocalyptic setting. Recommended by far. [2013]

CHARLES DEE MITCHELL Matheson’s novel was recently given a special Bram Stoker Award by the Horror Writers’ Association for Best Vampire Novel of the Century. I have not read much of the competition, but I have no quibble with the selection. I Am Legend came out in 1955 and I read it about a decade later. I still remember that it caused me intense anxiety, and the lingering experience of anxiety, rather than having the bejesus scared out of you, and has over the century become the hallmark of . Facing each night the somewhat tedious but potentially deadly onslaught of vampires throwing rocks at your well-fortified home, while you sit inside drinking whisky sours and listening to classical music, would wear on one’s nerves. Matheson says he got the idea when he saw the Tod Browning Dracula as a child and left the theater thinking how horrible it would be if everyone was a vampire. The first unsuccessful film adaptation of Matheson’s novel, and there would be more to follow, was called The Last Man on Earth. Flashbacks provide the story with narratives of the increasing worldwide panic and Neville’s personal loss of his wife and daughter. Matheson’s main focus, however, stays on Neville’s solitary existence, both its mundanity and moments of exhilaration and panic. Look at Matheson’s bibliography and you will find that he has provided many shared cultural moments of anxiety and fright for the better part of the last sixty years. I Am Legend was his auspicious beginning. [2012]


MANNY RAYNER They Shall Have Stars James Blish was very interested in Christianity, which he approached from an unusual perspective, and many of his novels are in essence imaginative new heresies. Two particularly startling examples are and The Day After Judgement. In the first book, the war between Heaven and Hell ends with the Apocalypse and the appearance of Satan, bearing the news that God is dead. In the second, the final revelation is that even this is part of God’s plan: Satan is unwillingly forced to become God himself, and assume the halo of the Divine. I can’t decide whether this shows deep religious faith or is appallingly blasphemous, though I lean towards the former interpretation. In They Shall Have Stars, Blish presents a novel interpretation of the Second Coming. One thing we ought to be able to count on is that, were He to return, it would be in an unexpected form. Here, Christ indeed returns and delivers on His promise to reward the faithful with everlasting life in the heavens, but not in the way most religious people had assumed. He reappears as Bliss Wagoner, the unassuming Senator for Alaska, who quietly diverts Federal funding to start two key research projects. One of them will eventually result in practical faster-than-light travel; the other in an immortality drug. At the end, humanity has used the fruits of science to literally gain everlasting life among the stars. Again, is this blasphemy, or deep respect for the Divine Plan, and the part that science and technology Cover illustration by John Harris are intended to play in it? I’m sure I don’t know, and I’d be curious to hear

February 1999: SF Masterworks series #3 SF Masterworks second series 18 the opinion of someone who’s actually studied Christian theology. One of the interesting things about the book is that Blish never comes out and says in so many words that Wagoner is Christ, though he drops many clues. When I first read it as a teenager, I missed the point completely, and was puzzled by the brilliant final sentences. Wagoner has been put on trial for treason by Senator MacHinery (pretty clearly both Joe McCarthy and the Anti-Christ), and executed. From memory, the last two sentences are as follows: “Later that day, a man named MacHinery told the Senate: ‘Bliss Wagoner is dead’. As usual, MacHinery was wrong.” Blish was always very good at endings. With such a great idea, it’s a pity that the book is rather sloppily written; but the positive aspects outweigh the negative ones, and I’ve read it two or three times. Recommended to anyone who’s interested in unusual takes on . [2013]

BRIAN CLEGG A Life for the Stars They Shall Have Stars, the first book in one of the most original science fiction series ever written, is rather cerebral, spending a lot of time explaining the ‘science’ behind anti-aging drugs and the anti-gravity ‘spindizzy’ device that are central to the series, but this, the second book, is quite the reverse. Written primarily for young adults, but still enjoyable by the rest of us, A Life for the Stars gives us some real ‘Boys Own’ adventures as the main character, Crispin deFord, is press ganged by the city of Scranton as it takes off into space to find work. Scranton is really just a for our who finds his way onto the most remarkable of the flying cities, New York (more precisely ) with its charismatic mayor Amalfi (who should be played by Danny de Vito if they ever make the film – and with modern CGI, what brilliant movies the Cities in Flight stories would make. Wake up Hollywood!) Even though the story is adventure driven, there is time for quite a lot of Blish’s characteristic dips into philosophy and the nature of being human. Although inevitably a book that is over fifty years old will feel a little dated occasionally (in the next volume of the series, someone is pictured playing with their slide rule), and there are no strong female characters, nonetheless this is a cracking yarn incorporating some of the best SF inventions ever. [2013]

19 PETER YOUNG Earthman, Come Home Considering that the whole Cities in Flight series was written out of sequence, I thought Blish’s setting up of the story to come was deftly handled in They Shall Have Stars, although for me the true highlight was this, the third title Earthman, Come Home. The essence of the Okie galactic adventure is all here and given a hefty dash of politics and economics, with Blish’s philosophical meanderings rather more marginalised. We get the comically anachronistic Flash Gordon of the Hruntians and the sheer faster-than-light dynamism of the Okie cities’ final March on Earth – one gets a real sense of massive speed as the cities race back to the solar system. All of which helps make Earthman, Come Home a real trip when read in one sitting: I first read this on a flight from New York, already aware of Cities in Flight’s inspiration for a certain famous TV commercial, which helped make Earthman, Come Home even more memorable for all the right reasons. [2014]

MANNY RAYNER A Clash of Cymbals / The Triumph of Time As we saw with They Shall Have Stars, the first volume in this series, what Blish really enjoyed was creating new heresies. If he’d been born a few hundred years earlier, he’d probably have ended up being burned at the stake. In the event, he became a pulp SF writer, which I guess is slightly less painful. The theme in A Clash of Cymbals, the final volume, is nothing less than the end of the Universe. At the beginning of the book, the no longer mobile has ended up in one of the Magellanic Clouds, and its inhabitants have settled down there. But their extra-galactic idyll is shattered by the unexpected return of the rogue planet of He, which we last saw in Earthman Come Home. (Why is it called “He”? Given the generally religious/symbolic nature of Cities in Flight, it seems too much for this to be random. But I don’t get it). The Hevians have discovered that a parallel anti-matter universe is approaching our own, moving towards it along another dimension; I realized the other day that this was an early version of the “braneworld multiverse”. Our heroes build a transdimensional space probe out of photons and neutrinos, an engineering feat compared with which plaiting a rope out of moonbeams is hardly worth mentioning, and dispatch it into, as one says in modern idiom, “the bulk”. When it comes back, they find out that the two universes are soon going to collide. Like many other Christian mystics – Dante is one example that springs to mind – Blish loved numerology. The

20 collision is going to take place in 4004 A.D., a date that’s more than obvious. As everyone knows, the world was created in 4004 B.C. Christ was presumably born in either 0 A.D. or 1 A.D. (I’m embarrassed that I don’t know which one), and died in 33 A.D. The Second Martyrdom of Christ, in the person of Senator Bliss Wagoner, occurs in 2017 A.D., exactly halfway between 33 A.D. and 4004 A.D. Blish underlines these dates in a chronology that appears as an appendix; moreover, the original title of They Shall Have Stars, which features the Second Coming, was indeed Year 2017!. So I don’t think there’s much room for doubt about all this being part of a design. God is playing a large role in the story, though mostly off-stage. Going back to Clash, the New Yorkers and the Hevians figure out that, if they can be at the exact center of the Universe when the collision occurs, they will have a unique opportunity. (I know, I know. That doesn’t make sense for at least three different reasons. But it does in this book). They manage to get there, fighting off competition from another alien race that has had the same idea, and wait for the ultimate moment. As the countdown gets closer, and there are only minutes left, there’s a scene I liked. Amalfi, the Mayor of New York, suddenly asks the city’s very smart computers if they know what is going to happen. They answer: AT ZERO HOUR WE WILL BE TURNED OFF I thought this was a great line. Finally, the end of the Universe. As it collides with its anti-matter counterpart, each of the people present at the Center is projected into a different set of dimensions, formed in some unfathomable way from the cosmic catastrophe. Amalfi feels the others receding from him, and he is soon alone in his space-suit, the only inhabitant of a new, empty universe. They have worked out in advance that this will happen, and discussed the scenario in detail. They’ve decided that the thing to do is to open their space-suits, releasing the molecules of gas, and creating space-time in the process. (Remember that this is poetry, not physics). But Amalfi suddenly decides he wants to do it differently. His suit contains a miniature nuclear device. What would happen if he detonated it? They haven’t run that simulation, and no one has any idea. He presses the button. Creation begins. If only Blish had been able to do justice to this incredible, mystical vision: God’s plan is to give human beings technology so that we, too, can in turn become gods of our own universes. Unfortunately, like many of his other books, Clash is sloppily constructed and often rather dull. Kilgore Trout syndrome strikes again. Maybe someone will come along one day and rewrite Blish’s books properly. That could itself be the subject of an interesting story. [2013]

21 KATE SHERROD Oh man, if I had known from the beginning just how literally this title, Cities in Flight, was meant – I took it to feature the word “flight” in the sense of fleeing pursuit, rather than maneuvering through or space – I would have attacked this book a lot sooner. That’s one of the disadvantages of scooping up a whole lot of ebook titles at once; if you don’t examine the cover art, you're just going on author and title unless you take the trouble to look up the blurb. And the author.* Cities in Flight is actually an omnibus edition of four novels Blish published in the 1950s: They Shall Have Stars, A Life for the Stars, Earthman Come Home and The Triumph of Time. I could have read them discretely as I often do with such collections, but I found the central conceit of these stories – that a pair of technologies developed in the early 21st century allowed entire Earth cities like New York and Los Angeles and Pittsburgh and Scranton to lift themselves bodily, buildings, subways and all, from the planet’s surface and go into space as spaceships** – so compelling that I just kept right on going after the first novel, which detailed the development of the twin technologies, a gravity defying/harnessing field called the “spindizzy” and anti-aging drugs, that would allow this weird feat to be possible. Rather than just function as an elaborate prologue to the “real” narrative of the spacefaring cities, though, They Shall Have Stars is a great novel all on its own, as I’ll get to in a bit. But first, I want to share this cool fan-made video by Charlie McCulloch. Just because it sells the concept so marvelously, and is cool in its own right: Cities In Flight on Vimeo. But so anyway, the novels. These span from the political/budgetary machinations that made the spacefaring “Okie” cities possible, to a tale of a young man kidnapped by the departing city of Scranton, Pennsylvania, who later rises, out in

* I have mostly known Mr. Blish as the constructor of novelizations of episodes of (original series). He did this very competently, no complaints, but since the reader already knew the story from having seen it enacted by Shatner and Nimoy et al, his skill and imagination were eclipsed by memories of Shatner and Nimoy et al. At least they were for me. But then there was Spock Must Die! And Spock Must Die! was more than a bit brilliant, and it was on the strength of this (and the inclusion of two Blish works in the ‘SF Masterworks’ series) that made me want to read the man’s “own” work.

**Doctor Who fans will be hopping up and down and screaming about ‘The Beast Below’, and surely that episode owes a lot to these novels. No starwhales, though.

22 the galaxy, to become a man of some importance after he is traded off as useless to New York, NY, to the story of the mayor of New York’s thousand- year reign and the tribulations faced by a city whose motto “Mow your lawn, lady?” encapsulates its willingness to do any crappy job, anywhere in the universe, in a universe whose economy is collapsing, to that same city’s final establishment as actually being the center of the universe that many of us assume New Yorkers think it to be anyway. Heh. So, this one has a lot in common with Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, except its eons of time are spanned by a single generation of essentially immortal human beings, which means it has characters of a kind, but don’t go looking here for people you’ll love or hate or feel like you know. Blish is interested in charting a vast , just as Stapledon was; he just chose to give it a slightly more human scale for the benefit of his readers. So Senator Bliss Wagoner’s story of secret research projects and financial shenanigans bleeds into Chris DeFord’s rise to prominence bleeds into John Amalfi’s tribulations at the helm of the city so nice they named it twice bleeds into Amalfi and a bunch of pseudo-cosmologists doing pseudo-cosmology until the reader’s face melts… They could just as easily all be the same guy. Why they’re not is anybody’s guess. But that’s okay. What these novels lack in character they make up for in grandiosity, imagination and occasional goofiness – as well as the odd (and I do mean odd) moral dilemma of a kind that could only occur when big industrial cities are out in the universe doing odd jobs, planet by planet, solar system by solar system. And hey, if you’re going to do science fiction, might as well really freaking do science fiction, right? [2013]


JESSE HUDSON There are a variety of ways in which a books lingers with the reader after they’ve finished. Emotional impact, imagery, character empathy, the message, and a variety of other reasons have the opportunity to impress us to the point we may be unable to forget a book despite that plot details may fade with time. Dick’s 1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? caused this kind of reaction in me. None of the aforementioned elements, however, are the reason his thirty-seventh novel hangs in mind after reading it. It is simply the questions he asks and the myriad implications that follow. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the story of Rick Deckard, an android bounty hunter, who experiences a crisis of faith as the emotional proximity to those he is supposed to be “retiring” becomes clouded. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, man has begun inhabiting to escape nuclear fall out on Earth. Most cannot afford to emigrate, however, and remain on earth. As a result, androids, artificially intelligent beings whose only discernable difference with real humans is their lack of empathy, are sent alongside emigrants to help in the colonization. However, some escape and return to Earth where they live on the run from bounty hunters. Seeking to fulfill a contract on a group of eight escapees Deckard’s problems accumulate the farther he moves along the list, each android drawing the meaning of “retire” and “murder” closer and closer together. Anything but polished or descriptive enough, Dick’s writing style is sparse, presenting only a bare minimum of details to paint the scenes and Cover illustration by Chris Moore characters. And so while the bleak picture of Earth Deckard inhabits suits

February 1999: SF Masterworks series #4 SF Masterworks second series 24 the story, it, along with the other backing elements, deserve to be fleshed out in a longer novel. That being said, however, the novel does not lack for much more, the plot moves at a good pace and is well structured. Fans of Blade Runner will undoubtedly find more than what the film offered in the way of background content and side-stories, all of which go a long way toward highlighting the theme Dick was aiming at. [2011]

GUY SALVIDGE For some reason, I never thought a great deal of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? until now, more than ten years after I first read it. There was always something perplexing, even troubling, about the book as a whole. I didn’t like or understand the stuff about Mercerism, and I felt the action scenes to be inferior to those in the film Blade Runner, which was famously based on this strange little book. But now, on perhaps my fourth overall reading in ten years, I’ve changed my mind. The first thing that struck me about Androids this time was its simplicity of structure. At a little over two hundred pages, and with all the events taking place on the same day, PKD employs two main viewpoint characters and two only: Rick Deckard and J.R. Isidore. This austerity seems especially stark when compared to the book of PKD’s I mostly recently read before this: the unruly Doctor Bloodmoney. The second notable thing about Androids is the high-brow, even scholarly tone adopted, which sets it apart from most of this authors other books. SF critic and writer Stanislaw Lem once labelled this novel ‘a counterfeit coin’, feeling that it paled in comparison with Ubik. I used to think I knew what Lem meant by this, but now I’m not so sure. What I see here is an enjoyable, fast-moving police thriller that economically (even effortlessly) meditates on the nature of the real in a more immediate way than in, say, the slower paced The Man in the High Castle. In the aftermath of World War Terminus, Earth is a shambles. Most of the survivors have emigrated to the Martian colonies, and most of those who survive are ‘specials’ or ‘chickenheads’ whose genetic code has been scrambled by the radiation. J.R. Isidore is one of these. I should point out here that PKD has basically exported Isidore from the earlier (but then unpublished) Confessions of a Crap Artist. There and here, he is an idiot savant with a good heart. Here he works for a Vet Clinic that specialises in repairing false animals. Strangely, and only barely logically, almost all of the Earth’s animals are extinct. Those that remain are highly sought after, status symbols in themselves. Sidney’s catalogue lists the prices and availability of all creatures great and small, many of whom are thought to be no more. It is for this reason that Rick Deckard and his wife Iran have an electric sheep on their balcony. The electric sheep is

25 far cheaper than a real one, but Rick Deckard longs for the real thing. In the first chapter, we learn that that won’t be possible unless two things happen. One, he will need to retire a vast number of ‘andys’ (Blade Runner’s replicants), and Two, another bounty hunter, Dave Holden, will need to be out of the way. Both of these things come to pass in Chapter 2, which helps to cast a little light onto the economical (but very effective) plotting at work in this novel. What follows for the bulk of the novel is Deckard’s work day, in which he must try to do the unthinkable and ‘retire’ all six remaining Nexus 6 andys. A few of the scenes, such as the one where Deckard interviews Rachel Rosen and identifies her as an andy, are from Blade Runner, but others, including perhaps the best in the whole novel, were omitted from the film. This scene is the one where Deckard is arrested and taken to a fake police station, complete with a fake police chief but, crucially, a human officer who isn’t in on the plot. That officer, Phil Resch, comes to question his own humanity when pressured. Nowhere in PKD’s novels does he express the ‘What is Human?’ question as succinctly as he does here. It’s not all quite as good as this, however. It’s difficult not to read Androids alongside Blade Runner, as much as I try. The showdown between Deckard and Roy Batty is extremely anticlimatic and short-lived here. More interesting is the scene prior to this when the androids trap the spider J.R. has found and begin to snip its legs off. J.R. gets upset and flushes the spider down the sink, before Mercer appears and gives him a new spider (or is it the same one?) I say ‘appears’ because that’s exactly what Mercer, an old man climbing up a hill in some hazily-defined simulation, does. Is Mercer God? If so, why is he trying to help Deckard (as he does when Pris is about to set upon him) and why is he being denounced as a fraud by Buster Friendly and his Friendly Friends? PKD has no answer here. Ultimately, he’s less concerned with the thriller aspect than the philosophical implications, and that becomes all too apparent here at the plot’s crescendo. By the final pages, Deckard seems to have sunk into some existensial gloom from which he might never recover. His brand new goat has been thrown off of the balcony (by Rachel Rosen, for reasons unknown), he’s indebted to the goat dealer and he’s not far off being a murderer, in his own mind at least. Forlorn, he flies in his hovercar up to the Oregon border where he finds a toad. Thinking it’s his lucky day, he takes it home to Iran only to discover that the toad is a fake. And that’s the real end of the novel. But what does it all mean? Maybe I do know what Lem was on about after all in terms of Androids being a counterfeit coin. There’s a sense of PKD, for want of a better term, ‘faking it’ here (although what ‘it’ is isn’t clear). Where Ubik seems genuinely mystical, Androids, in the end, is just a tired dead-end. There would be more along these lines from PKD in the years between this novel and his next book of real worth, A Scanner Darkly. [2010]


DAVID LANGFORD Gully Foyle starts at the bottom and claws his way up to become one of SF’s strongest antiheroes. At first a nonentity, a dull space-hand with no future, he's marooned in deep space amid the wreckage of his ship Nomad. Foyle’s transformation begins when the sister craft Vorga appears, ignores a frantic barrage of distress flares, and passes him by. “Vorga, I kill you filthy.” The Stars My Destination is a wildly inventive revenge melodrama, inspired by ’s classic The Count of Monte Cristo. Driven by obsession, Foyle rescues himself – after a fashion – and returns, strangely disfigured, to the rich decadence of 25th century Earth. Society has been transformed by the widespread power to teleport or “jaunte”, and Bester gleefully explores the criminal possibilities. In a first, bungled vengeance bid, Foyle tries to blow up the docked Vorga and is thrown into an underground prison whose inmates are kept in total darkness (because to teleport, you must know where you are). Like the Count of Monte Cristo in the Chateau d’If, Foyle gets educated while still captive, escapes the escape-proof jail, acquires huge wealth and a title, and begins to plot serious revenge. Reappearing in his new identity as “Fourmyle of Ceres” – an upstart dilettante who runs a travelling circus and charms high society with his cal- culated eccentricity – Foyle tracks down Vorga crew for brutal interrogation. He rapes, tortures, kills. He's had himself rewired as a commando with hyper-accelerated reflexes, an infernal machine in human form. Like Cover illustration by Chris Moore the Count, who learned the trick in prison, he can see in the dark…

March 1999: SF Masterworks series #5 SF Masterworks hardcover series #IV SF Masterworks second series 27 Frenzied background activity includes war between the solar system’s Inner Planets and Outer Satellites. Massive OS nuclear attacks on Earth and Mars provide dazzling special effects for key episodes – one of them a love scene. IP Intelligence, OS spies and the merchant-prince owner of Nomad and Vorga are frantically chasing a superweapon called “PyrE”, now in Foyle’s hands; plus a personal secret which Foyle himself doesn’t know. Bester’s rapid-action plot teems with bizarre characters. A “blind” woman whose eyes, impossibly, function only in the radio/radar bands. A black woman cursed with projective telepathy – everyone can hear her thoughts. A man made lethally radioactive by a nuclear accident – reminding us that Bester once worked in comics, scripting supervillains like Dr. Radium. Above all, there’s the enigmatic Burning Man who flickers into existence at crisis-points of Foyle’s adventures, to distract, save, mystify… and vanish. Further eccentrics include the Scientific People whose religion is a crazy patchwork of technical jargon (“Quant Suff!”), and Cellar Christians practising forbidden worship in safe houses guarded by the Lethal Defense Corporation of Sweden. What makes this farrago work is the manic, obsessive tempo of Bester’s writing. In one interview, he explained that he took his pace from music: “I say to myself… I need the attack of Beethoven in the first movement of the Eroica.” He also liked to quote the famous Hollywood advice, “Start with an earthquake and build to a climax.” For decades there were two versions of Stars. The UK Tiger! Tiger! appeared first and was edited differently from the US The Stars My Destination. In Britain, Foyle’s repeated curse became “Vorga, I kill you deadly”, not “filthy”. Some typographic gimmicks vanished from the climactic “synaesthesia” sequence, where Foyle’s senses become cross-wired and he experiences sound as light, colour as pain, touch as taste… Alex and edited a best-of-both-versions Stars in 1996 – now the official text worldwide. Back when SF was often pale and antiseptic, Bester stood out for his enthusiastic vision of life’s seamy side. He invented flash crowds: “Jack-jaunters” teleporting into disaster areas to rob and loot. authors took their cue from the sleaziness of his mean streets. Many others were influenced. Michael Moorcock recently told me: “I would never have started reading SF (as such) if I hadn’t got hold of a second hand copy of The Stars My Destination in Paris in 1957 or 8. Until then, I hadn’t liked anything I’d seen…” This one really is a classic, and compulsively readable too. [2007]


ROB WEBER Recently, I read ’s novel . It is, among other things, a love letter to science fiction and contains references to numerous works currently considered classics of the genre. The main character Morwenna is quite a voracious reader. It prompted me to check out a number of the titles mentioned in the novel and Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany was one of them. It’s the first novel I’ve read by Delany and I was quite eager to find out why people hold his writing in such high regard. He received the for this novel in 1966 and it shares some traits with a number of other works often referred to as . Delany certainly was part of a new generation of writers, and Babel-17 was published when he was twenty-four. What’s even more remarkable is that he had already had six other novels published by that time. Although Babel-17 contains some elements that are so typical of Golden Age stories, the emphasis of the novel is much more focused on linguistics, sociology and . As much as I like science fiction, I feel the genre doesn’t get really interesting until the 1960s, when a whole new range of topics suddenly becomes acceptable and more attention is paid to the quality of the writing. This novel completely embraces the opportunities this New Wave offers. As such it sounded like something I might enjoy. And indeed, that turned out to be the case. During an interstellar war in which coalitions of several species vie for control of the explored galaxies, the human intelligence service investigates Cover illustration by Chris Moore a number of sabotages that have hit important human targets. All of them

March 1999: SF Masterworks series #6 SF Masterworks second series 29 are accompanied by a strange code language, dubbed Babel-17. Nobody is able to crack the code and in a desperate attempt to stop the sabotages, they turn to poet Rydra Wong. She is a woman with an unbelievable gift for languages and she quickly finds out that they are not dealing with a simple code. Wong insists on being given all information available before setting out on a mission to find the origin on Babel-17, a language more compact than anything she has ever encountered and one that fascinates her like no other. Babel-17 leans heavily on a strong version of an idea that was very popular in science fiction at the time: the Sapir- Whorf hypothesis. The basic idea is that the structure of language influences the world view of the speaker. The debate to what extend this is true is still raging but generally the influence is thought to be a lot weaker than Delany describes in his novel. The author included some very interesting ideas on languages, expression and thought throughout the novel.

“Why? Well most textbooks say that language is a mechanism for expressing thought, Mocky. But language is thought. Thought is information given form. The form is language.” — Wong to Dr. T’mwarba - Part I, chapter II

Given the problems people can experience in putting thoughts into clear language, I’d say the relationship isn’t 1:1. To me, language and thought are a lot more imprecise than Wong states here and I guess a lot of characters in the novel feel that way too. In a way she acknowledges that in her poetry.

“…You know what I do? I listen to other people, stumbling about with there half thoughts and half sentences and their clumsy feelings they can’t express, and it hurts me. So I go home and burnish it and polish it and weld it to a rhythmic frame, make the dull colors gleam, mute the garish artificiality to pastels so it doesn’t hurt any more: that’s my poem. I know what they want to say, and I say it for them.” — Wong to Dr. T’mwarba - Part I, chapter II

Her mastery of language sets Wong apart. Although she speaks just about everybody else’s language and can express other people’s thoughts more clearly and beautifully than the owners of these thoughts ever could, she has yet to find a language that can fully express her own thoughts. Wong thinks a lot about concepts, what languages have words for what concepts and how that affects thought. I guess this is best expressed in her interactions with the character known as The Butcher. Although he speaks a form of English, the word ‘I’ does not appear in his vocabulary, nor does it have any meaning for him. In fact the problem seems to

30 extend to other personal and possessive pronouns as well. Although this was brought about by a form of manipulation, not by natural language formation, it impacts The Butcher deeply and in the end offers the key to explaining his behaviour. Scientifically, I have some serious reservations about the way Delany links The Butcher’s actions to his unique way of thinking (shaped by the language he speaks) and the specific, engineered, omissions in the concepts he is able to grasp through his language. In a literary sense, Delany builds a wonderful story around it, though. I especially liked his search for someone who speaks ‘his language’. Aren't we all looking for that? Delany plays with language in this novel. Not just in the plot but the prose as well. It contains snatches of poetry, for instance, and an attempt to render Wong’s train of thought in Babel-17 into English that is quite a stylistic experiment. My edition includes an introduction by Adam Roberts in which he points out the importance of names as well. Something I probably would have missed without the introduction. Delany’s prose is … almost exuberant in this novel. The tale is pretty fast paced, almost inviting the reader to rush though the story. I frequently found myself re-reading sections or sometimes whole chapters because I felt I had missed things. Wong’s thoughts and the way she uses Babel-17 concepts to tackle problems lead to a lot of leaps and bounds that can be pretty hard to follow at times. It did fall into place eventually though. Maybe I’ve become a bit of a lazy reader, lately. Babel-17 certainly deserves its status as a classic of the genre. Although a linguist would probably have a field day pointing out all the errors in Delany’s novel, and the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is currently considered disproven, Delany has managed to build a very good novel around these concepts. It is a novel that does what science fiction ought to do, provoke thought on scientific theories and concepts that are packed into a good story. It’s obvious why this novel made an impact when it was published and it has certainly aged more gracefully than some of its contemporaries. As far as I’m concerned, this novel is required reading for any fan of the genre. And I think Morwenna would agree. [2014]


JESSE HUDSON The scholar Brian Atterbery in his book Strategies of Fantasy writes that works of can be divided only one of two ways: the beautiful and the damned. No middle ground to be had, technology and the supernatural remain relative to the era, and combining them disastrous to the point of comedy or successful to the point of being a mind-opening experience. Falling into the latter category, Lord of Light, unlike much of Zelazny’s other works of science fantasy, is a flawless blend of the archetypes of science fiction and the mythologies of Hinduism and . The result is simply the peak of imaginative literature. Working with Indian history, particularly the time of Buddhism’s rise to rival the teachings of Hinduism, Zelazny plays off this opposition to tell the story of Sam, the man who was a god but wasn’t. One of the original members of a spaceship crew stranded on an unknown planet, Sam rejects the totalitarianist ways of the crew who have made themselves out to be gods, ruling the populace with superior technology while satiating their own desire for worship and power. Forming alliances with and gods, Zelazny brings the Hindu pantheon to life in his fight against it, the Buddhist doctrine of right to life to the masses emphasized in his attempts to crash the gods’ party. Sam does not always survive the epic battles, but then again is just a matter of technology. The novel is divided into several sections that do not follow upon another logically; this cyclical story of Sam’s triumph must be pieced together like mythology itself, the Cover illustration by Fred Gambino story unable to be told another way.

April 1999: SF Masterworks series #7 SF Masterworks second series 32 In short, everything about Lord of Light works. The vivid imagery, narrative structure, the dialogue, the use of Buddhist and Hindu folklore, character motivation, the colors, the crackle, the connection to culture – everything propels Lord of Light into the highest ranks of science fantasy. [2011]

RICH HORTON The book opens with a renegade ‘god’ at an isolated temple, calling the book’s hero back from ‘heaven’. As the famous opening lines have it:

His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god.

Soon Sam is recalled to his destiny: to battle the ruling gods. The novel then continues with a long series of flashbacks to Sam’s earlier career. Sam starts a new religion, much resembling Buddhism, and finds to his surprise that it might be ‘true’. He interferes with the reincarnation scam. He travels to the depths of the planet to release some ‘demons’ (actually, the energy beings who previously occupied the planet). And finally he takes arms against the ruling gods in a battle we know to be doomed, followed by a final segment back in the novel’s present, and yet another battle. All this is both exciting adventure, and ingenious science fantasy. And throughout, the story is carried by Zelazny’s always interesting prose: often pretty, and more often clever. (At times clever to a fault, as with his pages-long setup for one of the most famous puns in SF history.) Most of all, Lord of Light has a strong theme, and a strong moral centre. Lord of Light is definitely worthy of its place among the standard-bearing works of science fiction. Not only does

Zelazny pull off the intriguing feat of creating a scientifically plausible world (given some extremely advanced technology, and a fair bit of handwaving) in which a fairly close rendering of the Hindu system of gods, demons, and their powers – and reincarnation – is real; he makes that just a nice background to an honest and moving story of a believable man. And his story is grounded on a sound theme. And finally, all the clever background ends up as more than just background: it reinforces the central meaning of the book. Definitely recommended. [2000]


KATE SHERROD I have definitely joined the camp of those who consider The Fifth Head of Cerberus to be set in the same universe as Book of the New Sun/Long Sun/ Short Sun. Indeed, the predicament in which Urth finds itself in BotNS now feels like the wages of the sins committed in the establishment of the societies described in Cerberus. Set on a double planet* some twenty light- years from Earth/Urth a good hundred years (at least) since its colonization by the French, who named one planet St. Anne and the other St. Croix, the three novellas comprising the book are haunted by a terrible consequence of that colonization, one that seems to be typical of humans among the stars in this universe – and in our own. For St. Croix, at least, was not uninhabited when we got there. But the aboriginals – abos for short – didn’t survive our coming for long. And now theories abound as to how and why that is so – or if, indeed, it is. Some St. Annes, at least, are obsessed with a theory that the abos had once been human, descended from an earlier wave of human expansion, which would mean that they had killed off their own kind. No one seems sure if that makes it better or worse. Another theory is that the abos possessed the power to mimic humans so successfully that they then lost their power of perfect mimicry,

* Which itself seems an awful lot like the double-planet system to which the Whorl brings its colonists at the end of Book of the Long Sun, one world being blue and Cover illustration by Chris Moore one green. But Gene Wolfe, when pressed “doesn’t know” why this motif of Urth/ Lune, St. Croix/St. Anne, Blue/Green recurs.

April 1999: SF Masterworks series #8 SF Masterworks second series 34 lost it because the humans they mimic don’t possess it, and either lived among the humans in forgetful secrecy as St. Anne/ St. Croix society developed or, in one radical interpretation, actually killed off and replaced the human colonists and live on now believing they are the colonists themselves. How would they know? It’s to haunting ideas like these that Wolfe scholars like Robert “Solar Labyrinth” Borski point when they start talking about the predicament of Urth in ’s day as a punishment inflicted on humanity by alien intelligences of the kind of awesome power we only get glimpses of until we encounter them full bore in Urth of the New Sun. I’m trying not to get spoilery here, but if the kind of unwitting bad behavior that founded is at all typical of how humans from Urth behave among the stars, no wonder the megatherians are fighting behind to keep Severian and other candidates from fulfilling their potential. Even without the game of drawing connections to Wolfe’s later work (The Fifth Head of Cerberus is only the second book Wolfe published; the dude was just warming up, here)**, these three novellas are satisfying reads in their own right, though when you’re done with them you’ll have spent so much of your brainspace on puzzling out all the questions of identity, in particular, that they pose, that you might doubt your own. The titular novella concerns a boy growing up in a high end brothel, whose father specializes in customizing his employees in ways the airbrush artists at fashion magazines could only dream of, but using a similar aesthetic, and who is himself the product of generations of experimentation not unlike what he himself practices in his lab as he grows up. The second, ‘A Story by John V. Marsch’*** is told from the point of view of a minor character in ‘The Fifth Head of Cerberus’, an anthropologist who is either making up or participating in a story of the lost abo culture and its first terrible contact with

** But this is an irresistible game. For instance, we know that some of the inhabitants of Urth in Severian’s time are returnees from the stars, returnees who came back weirdly changed and perhaps not altogether human (kind of like, say, the Ascians of whom it is impossible not to think when the protagonist of the middle story sees Shadow Children riding men like ponies) and brought back various odd creatures, and might even have terraformed the moon to make it into Green Lune out of homesickness for having a sister planet in their night sky.

*** Prefiguring his strange and weirdly entertaining Pandora by Holly Hollander, Wolfe seems to like to play with the concept of authorship in titles more than any other writer ever.

35 humanity. The third, ‘V.R.T.’ riffs on themes in the first two, calls into question all the assumptions the reader may have been making on the first read of those two, and sends her back to read them again to see whether she was wrong, right, confused or had been hit on the head by something and just dreamed them. Yeah, it’s like that. Because it’s, you know, Gene Wolfe. [2012]

JESSE HUDSON As The Fifth Head of Cerberus was written around the time of the Vietnam war, the strongest theme underlying its novellas is post-colonialism. The back story of the three novellas being that Earthlings have come and taken over the two planets – first the French, and later an unnamed global group. The natives of Saint Anne and Croix are dealt with according to a paradigm not dissimilar to US involvement in Southeast Asia in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The distance forced between the cultures in the book is so great, some character accounts doubt whether the natives ever existed. In fact, Marsch’s mission in the third novella is to journey to their rumored location in the mountains to discover whether any remain. In the end, The Fifth Head of Cerberus contains a strong variety of ideas, both thematic and conceptual. The number of possible perspectives to take on the book, as can be seen, is a treasure trove just waiting to be unearthed. Wolfe’s idea rigidly fixed in the details, the book is thereafter pliant to the point of accommodating a wide scope of storylines, timelines, and themes: from globalization to identity, totalitarianism to post-colonialism, a wealth of material being available to the attentive reader – an amazing feat for such a short book. As such, it makes for an excellent introduction to Wolfe’s work. [2012]


ROB WEBER The collection Platinum Pohl was my first encounter with Pohl’s writing and a few stories into it, I knew I had to read more of his work. Pohl is well represented in Gollancz’s ‘SF Masterworks’ series so a copy of what is considered one of his better novels was easy to find. Better may be a bit of an understatement – Pohl needs an entire shelf just to house the awards he has won for this book: Gateway won the Nebula, Hugo, John W. Campbell and Locus awards. All for one book. Now each of these have been known to make odd choices but winning all four… well, I figured this book’s got to have something going for it. And indeed it does. In the near future (seen from the late ’70s) Earth’s population has reached a staggering and unsustainable twenty-five billion. Robinette Broadhead works a job squeezing out Earth’s resources to produce food. One day he wins the lottery, his ticket out of a dreary existence in a dead- end job. Robinette buys a ticket to Gateway to make his fortune. Gateway is a facility to dock spaceships built by a mysterious and long-vanished race called the . Their ships are still functional but nobody has the faintest idea how they work. Brave or foolish men and women use them to travel the galaxy in search of new resources, technologies and materials to support Earth’s huge population. Some return famous and wealthy, some return in bits and pieces, some don’t return at all. Gateway contains two main storylines. One consists of Robinette’s sessions with the computer therapist he nicknamed Siegfried von Shrink. Cover illustration by Boris Vallejo From what we gather early on in the novel Robinette desperately needs

May 1999: SF Masterworks series #9 SF Masterworks second series 37 therapy. He has a lot of issues but one is dominating his life and the reader spends most of the novel figuring out what it is. Siegfried is a brilliant character if you can stand a little Freudianism. He’s ever patient and always needling Robinette to reveal just a bit more of himself. Robinette gets so fed up with him that he tries to gain the upper hand in very petty ways, but even that Siegfried manages to turn on him. Although not quite what one expects of a classic SF novel, the conversations between Siegfried and Robinette are fascinating, frustrating, humorous and, despite highlighting all Robinette’s negative qualities, even touching. Despite the outdated psychology I quite enjoyed this part of the book. The novel also contains a number of classic science fiction themes mainly incorporated in the second storyline. It is set on Gateway were a younger Robinette is trying to make his fortune. The way Pohl describes the trips the prospectors make, getting into a Heechee ship is as smart as putting a gun against your head and pulling the trigger to see if it’s loaded. When any trip may be your last, people tend to enjoy life while they still can. To escape the fear and stress of their situation, Gateway is very liberal when it comes to sex and drugs and Robinette takes full advantage. In the background, the curiously absent Heechee create a sense of mystery. Pohl raises an lot of questions about them in the novel but answers very few. Most of the book is seen through Robinette’s eyes but Pohl also includes snippets of material from other sources. He stresses the fact that Siegfried is a computer by showing us some of the code. It looks a bit like what little I remember of GW-BASIC and it’s one of the more clearly dated parts of the novel. They also include brief mission reports, stressing just how dangerous and potentially rewarding those expeditions are, and a number of classified ads circulating on Gateway. Robinette is a bit too busy hiding from himself to pay attention to such details so they provide a welcome insight into what is going on on Gateway. In the final chapters the two story lines come together in what I thought was a pretty strong finale. It does depend on whether or not you can stomach the psychology, however. The way Siegfried finally manages a breakthrough is, I suppose, controversial. Siegfried’s parting comment though… I certainly didn’t see that one coming. It opens up all manner of possibilities for sequels, of which Pohl indeed wrote a few. Gateway is in its fourth decade, and in some respects clearly dated. Advances in computer technology have far outstripped what Pohl describes and I’m pretty sure Freudianism is not nearly as popular with psychiatrists as it used to be. It nonetheless remains a very readable and highly enjoyable book. I liked Pohl’s dry humour and his tight control of the plot. I’m not that well read in 1970s science fiction but this certainly is one of the better ones I’ve come across. [2014]


TONY ATKINS The Rediscovery of Man is a collection of short stories, all set in the same universe at different time periods. This universe is largely ordered by the Instrumentality, a governing body spanning centuries and controlling in fine detail the lives of almost every living human. Like Aldous Huxley before him, Smith imagines a world in which

genetics and behavioral conditioning sanitize life to the point where individual achievement is nearly meaningless. Smith’s Instrumentality extends the control of science over nature somewhat further than Huxley, to the point where everyone is allocated four hundred years of life (instead of the roughly eighty years of youth the denizens of Huxley’s Brave New World lived). They live without fear of disease, weather, aging, hunger or the lack of material goods. Access to history is tightly controlled, and all divisions of language and culture have been more or less erased. At the height of the Instrumentality, the only human individuals not perfectly adjusted to the needs of their society and their own ability to fulfill those needs are extreme aberrations (and extremely rare). The title The Rediscovery of Man refers to the reemergence of chance and diversity as means of allowing the human race continued growth. This relaxation of some of the controls on their society arises in no small part from the study of undermen, animals modified to resemble, interact with, and serve humans. Early in the timeline of the Instrumentality, undermen are slaves, less than human, destroyed when they fail or become Cover illustration by Chris Moore inconvenient. They are utterly disposable labor, and only those who are

May 1999: SF Masterworks series #10 SF Masterworks second series 39 strong, witty, and lucky survive. Thus it is that the various species of underpeople grow while the human race in its perfect control over heredity and environment stagnates. The reemergence of human progress and the rise of the underpeople are two of the major themes. Minor themes include telepathy, the mob mentality and the progress of societies and technologies over millenia. Like Tolkien’s Middle Earth, you get the sense that Smith had a full vision of this universe stretching over millennia, and that each story was just a window into a fully-realized world. [2008]

JAIME ORIA ‘The Dead Lady of Clown Town’, ‘’, ‘The Lady Who Sailed the Soul’, The Crime and Glory of Commander Suzdal’, Golden the Ship Was Oh! Oh! Oh!’, ‘The Game of Rat and ’, ‘Queen of the Afternoon’. These are the hallucinatory and strange titles to some of the strange and hallucinatory tales penned by Cordwainer Smith. Stylistically weird (he apparently based much of his writing style on classical Chinese fiction like The Romance of the Three Kingdoms) and full of unique word coinages and ideas. Planoforming. Cranching. Klopts. Underpeople. Girly-girls (a kind of gene-engineered geisha, frequently feline-based). Stroon, the immortality-conferring wonder drug derived from mutant sheep the size of houses. Chronopathic idiots. Pussycat space pilots doing battle with void-dwelling . Aryan teenagers shot into cold-sleep by their Nazi rocket scientist papa. It’s ten kinds of weird all right, which is one of the primary reasons I read SF. Isn't it one of yours? Smith was a revelation to this thirteen year-old budding sf fan. E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith! Asimov! Clarke! ERB! Then along comes Cordwainer Smith. To quote the title of one of the earliest collections of his stories: ‘You Will Never Be The Same’. And I daresay I wasn’t. [2012]

RHYS HUGHES Smith started writing in the 1920s but he remained extremely obscure until publishing ‘Scanners Live in Vain’ in 1950. Before discovering Smith’s oeuvre I assumed that all pre-1960s SF authors always followed orthodox narrative structure and employed conventional ‘straight’ prose techniques. Cordwainer Smith is different. All literature of the imagination is ‘strange’ and most of it is created by men and women who are not particularly strange. Most tales of the far future maintain

40 the impression that they are imagined by writers who are living in the present: this is normal. But Smith’s stories give the impression that they are realistic or historical fictions written from the future. I believe Robert Silverberg made the witty suggestion that Smith was a real time traveller from the future who offered the mainstream, non-fantastical works of his own age to the science-fiction magazines of ours. This is a pleasing conceit. I have heard it said elsewhere that the strangeness of Smith’s style derives from Chinese methods of story-telling (Smith spent his formative years in ) but that doesn’t account for the strangeness of his visions. They are authentically strange, not forced or contrived, and I am enthralled by them. [2011]

SIMON McLEISH The original title of this collection reveals its purpose; it was presumably changed for this reprint because it would affect re- publication of the rest of Smith’s output – a novel, another volume of independent short stories, and a collection of related ones. As the best of his work, it provides an excellent introduction to every aspect of his writing. What is it that was – and in many cases still remains – distinctive about Smith’s writing? He has a unique ability to express the alien in a single phrase; examples include referring to space travel as “going into the up-and-out” and the first lines of his earliest published story, ‘Scanners Live in Vain’: “Martel was angry. He did not even adjust his blood away from anger.” There is a breadth of vision about Smith’s writing which marks him apart from his contemporaries. Like two of the most successful science fiction authors of the period, Robert A. Heinlein and (to a lesser extent) , Smith’s stories can be fitted into a consistent conception of a future history spanning hundreds or thousands of years. (Smith’s, reconstructed from the stories as his notes don’t survive, covers about twelve thousand years.) Comparing Smith with these other authors, a clear difference is immediately obvious. Most science fiction of the time is concerned with technological change; there is a tendency to assume that American capitalism will always be the mainstream of human culture. Smith, on the other hand, is interested far more in social and psychological change, with technology being used only to illuminate his ideas. [2001]


ALFRED SEARLS Eighteen distinct species of human being, that’s what you’re in for with Last and First Men. Not all at once of course, I mean it takes two billion years and 300 extraordinary pages from Olaf Stapledon to create this seminal landmark in literary science fiction. In fact this wholly remarkable work is so brave and so audacious in its scope that it leaves you dizzy at the sheer scale of the writer’s triumph of imagination. The early part of the book begins with the usual geopolitical speculative fiction of the kind that H.G. Wells so thoroughly bores his readers with, only here it is done with much greater success. The great empires of the day are as familiar to us as their petty squabblings and within a few pages they are at each other’s throats. They ally and scheme, and dream and fight and then very quickly, and quite simply, they are gone. All that is familiar to us, the empires of mind and mammon, nations and names, the languages of Shakespeare and Tolstoy, are simply swept away by the passing of the years; slipping first into obscurity, then passing into mythology, before finally succumbing to oblivion. This is both clever and shocking as it simultaneously allows Stapledon to free his narrative of the shackles of contemporary perception, and ruthlessly demonstrates the utterly unsympathetic nature of the passage of time. Everything dies and everything will be forgotten. From this point on, the reader is adrift upon the churning sea of Stapledon’s seemingly boundless imagination. The years roll by and Cover illustration by Les Edwards humanity persists, sometimes soaring to great and noble heights, sometimes

June 1999: SF Masterworks series #11 SF Masterworks second series 42 sinking into the abyss of savagery and barbarism. Hundreds, then thousands and finally millions of years drift by; years in which mankind is repeatedly subject to near extinction level events, events that are sometimes natural and sometimes self- inflicted. The race spreads its wings and other sentient forces are encountered and different species of man evolve and de- evolve, many of them simultaneously. All the while both evolution and revolution promote different branches of the human family and in time antennae, fingers and fins will all stretch out towards the light of the sun before succumbing once again to the evolutionary night. When I read this book I developed the distinct feeling that Stapledon may have pushed the human mind as far as it can go, in terms of what it can conceive of in relation to its place in time. I’ve personally not read anything since to dissuade me of that and rarely have I seen the treatment of ideas and concepts given such free rein as they are in Last and First Men. In the novel Stapledon subverts the usual trite literary conventions. Traditional characters are replaced by the various species of man and the idea of plot, along with the endlessly proselytized story arc, is made redundant, ridiculous even, by the sheer relentless march of time. Stapledon himself gave up a career in academia to write this book, in the hopes that he could reach and influence a wider audience. After eighty-two years Last and First Men is still in print and widely credited as being a powerful influence on successive generations of writers. Job done Olaf, bravo. [2014]

NICHOLAS WHYTE This is an epic story of the future of the human race, starting in the present day (ie. about 1930) and ending millions of years from now just before the destruction of the solar system by cosmic catastrophe. I think of Stapledon’s epic yet detached tone as a peculiarly English style of writing; I detect it also in Brian Aldiss, Christopher Priest, and especially who is in many ways Stapledon’s heir. The weakest part of Last and First Men for today’s reader is, unfortunately, the first section, where he describes a destructive war between England and France (a peaceful and neutral Germany standing by), followed by a succession of European conflicts which seem improbable to us. (In his foreword he hints that this is really a moral parable, a plea for the success of the League of Nations.) Also his instinctive racialism (I think that is the right word) strikes a sour note today. Still there are a couple of interesting hits, such as the sinister political party which adopts the swastika as its symbol, or the

43 much greater longevity of the communist one-party state in China as compared with Russia. Then we get onto the meat: the repeated near-extinction of humanity, whether through its own folly or natural disaster, followed by its reinvention of itself; emigration from Earth to Venus and then Neptune, having repelled invasion from Mars in the meantime; huge changes in the human form and lifespan. He achieves very well the epic scale of a few decades in one chapter, centuries in the next, millennia in the next. Having said that, this is very much a book of telling rather than showing; his excursions into narrative rather than descriptive prose range from the unconvincing to the embarrassing. (I am thinking particularly of the scene where the nude island maiden brings between China and America by having sex with the negotiators.) Yet despite its weaknesses, this deserves to be on the classics list. I think Stapledon’s influence, directly or indirectly, reverberates through the sf of the rest of the twentieth century. [2007]

KATE SHERROD I’m not gonna lie, folks; of all the books I’ve tackled so far this year, Last and First Men has been the toughest challenge to my resolve to only read one book at a time. That's not to say it’s by any means a bad book; it’s part of the SF Masterworks collection for very good reasons. It’s just that, well, gripping storytelling it ain’t. Penned in 1930 by a philosophy professor, Last and First Men is heavy on exposition and all but devoid of character, dialogue or even plot beyond “exploring the nature of the eighteen races of man from First (20th century earthbound Homo sapiens sapiens) to Last (Neptunian superbeings who live for thousands of years) and how their society kept on evolving and devolving and evolving again.” The text is presented as a sort of lecture series on the history of humanity, delivered by a Last Men scholar who doesn’t quite sneer at his predecessors and their flaws but doesn’t exactly hold them in reverence, either. Indeed, often the prose reads like that of a 19th century natural history text on, say, social insects, albeit very sophisticated ones. The early chapters of the novel are best read, by a 21st century sci-fi fan, as a strange form of à la, say, Harry Turtledove; in this case, our point of departure is not long after Last and First Men’s original publication date, for nothing like World War II and the Holocaust even remotely figures in this extrapolation. Stapledon possessed an acute talent for that, but humanity has always been full of surprises! One can smile indulgently at how off base he was, but to do

44 so is to completely miss why this book is a classic of the genre; after all, the rest of the 20th century is not even the first tenth of this book, and the First Men’s story covers thousands of years of struggle (sometimes genocidal) to form a world government, the creation of a scientific religion in which “divine energy” is the object of worship and the purview of a rigid guild of scientists, and the development of a culture of abundance (no disease, no want, a flying car for everybody) that values strenuous physicality (and flight) above all else, to the detriment of human intelligence. With predictable results. But wait! Like I said, that’s not even 25% of the book. I’ve never read any fiction so ambitious in scope, folks. The closest I can think of is maybe Stephen Baxter’s Evolution, but even it just took on the life-span of life on planet Earth. Last and First Men covers “about two thousand million years”, takes us, or a future version or eighteen of us to the outer solar system, and teems with phrases like “Not till many hundred thousand years had passed did…” It’s truly stupefying. It’s also very, very clever; to encompass so much time in just 300 pages or so, it has to be. There’s a mathematical progression governing the level of detail and verbiage devoted to each iteration of humanity; I suspect, though am not really a rigorous enough person to be sure of this, that this is an instance of exponential decay. At any rate, the narrative speeds up considerably once Stapledon has dispensed with our own species, the First Men, and keeps on speeding up until eventually a million years can pass in a sentence fragment. At one point, ten million years pass because it’s a time of barbarism and stasis. Well, okay, Mr. Stapledon; it’s your Memorable Fancy. For a giant William Blakean Memorable Fancy is what this book is, a visionary and somewhat allegorical tale spun out to illustrate the writer’s philosophy, hopes and fears. I would love to see an edition of this book illuminated in the way that Blake did his works. It would be an eminently lovely thing. Along the way, we get to watch Stapledon toss off a stunning array of concepts and ideas that were quite ahead of his time and the influences of which we can find throughout science fiction: the perils of genetic engineering, Peak Oil and its aftermath, the cyclical natures of high civilization and barbarism, aliens that are genuinely and profoundly alien (i.e. not Star Trek humanoids with extra nobbly bits on their faces), the fragility of knowledge, the notion that humans can easily evolve back into animals if care is not taken… It’s easy, in short, to see how Last and First Men came to be such a very influential book. People talk about how Heinlein originally dashed off all of the sci-fi tropes with which we have become so familiar, but for a lot of them, Stapledon was there first. [2013]


GARY LOVISI The title of the book Earth Abides is taken from a section in the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes, “men go and come but earth abides”, and that simple axiom sets the mood and direction of this masterpiece of end-of-the-world post- apocalyptic fiction. The book chronicles the end of America – and probably the entire world – and the rise of a new civilization through the eyes of Isherwood Williams, a young college student. Ish, as he is called, finds himself trapped and alone in the northern California mountains when a deadly plague wipes out all of humanity. He comes down from the mountains weeks later to find his old world – and America – gone forever. Stewart then sets his young hero upon a harrowing to make sense of what has happened and eventually to try to rebuild civilization. Earth Abides is one of those science fiction novels that is never really thought of as “real” SF. There’s good reason for that since Stewart was not at all a science fiction writer, nor was he a member of the pulp SF ghetto. Stewart was a writer of national bestsellers, a professor, and a famed historian. But Stewart did often tackle the theme of disasters and their effects upon survivors in his novels. In Ordeal By Hunger (1936) he tells the story of the ill-fated Donner Party. In Storm (1941) and Fire (1948), he takes on two natural disasters in which the fury of nature pull down all the arrogance and the civilized society of man. In Earth Abides, Stewart uses a far larger canvas to show how nature – Cover illustration by Les Edwards this time in the form of a deadly plague – brings down our mighty

June 1999: SF Masterworks series #12 SF Masterworks second series 46 civilization along with the haughty arrogance of mankind. He shows this all through the eyes of his hero, Ish – who observes how man himself has brought down his own civilization. This is a novel about people, particularly Ish, the last American, and his struggle to find other sane survivors, form a new society and keep the torch of knowledge and civilization burning brightly for his descendents. Ish has a tough struggle and obtains mixed results. I’d first read this novel about twenty-five years ago and enjoyed it very much – having fond memories of it. Upon re- reading it for this article I was surprised by how much of it I did not remember – particularly the bleak sadness Stewart incorporates into Ish’s story. The book gives us a hero who is a loner, but also one who is a champion of civilization – a very civilized young man. Ish is from that era of great Americans – the book was written just after our victory against the Nazis in World War II – a time when people wanted to do the right things, for the right reasons. Ish is one of those people, perhaps a bit too civilized for this new world, yet sometimes far less civilized than he wants to be in order to survive. Earth Abides was originally published in 1949 and was probably the first of the mid 20th Century end-of-the-world post-apocalyptic themed popular novels of the era – a genre in which science fiction would soon offer up many classic novels. However, Stewart was first. Other novels would mine this vein well, but all followed years after this one. Some of the more famous of these similar themed novels include I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, a Medal paperback original from 1954 – but published five years after Earth Abides. In an interesting aside, while no film was ever made of Earth Abides, three films were made from Matheson’s ground-breaking novel. Earth Abides was the seminal influence on these books and films, as well as many others to come. Some later works include Heroes Walk by Robert Crane (1954); Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank (1959); and even Farnham’s Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein (1964) – and there are many more – but all of them came after Earth Abides, and in 1999 Stewart’s classic novel became the 12th book in the Gollancz SF Masterworks series. Stewart takes us upon a trip into a dark and deadly future world. It is not a world of horror, but there are horrors in it. It is not a world that has turned totally bad, for there is good in it also. Ish finds that goodness through the people he meets. In that sense this is a thoughtful, rational novel, but one of deep feelings and emotion, even as it is packed with thoughts on how to live one’s life properly – even when it seems life itself may no longer be worth living. Ish’s journey lasts decades and we follow him as he forms his “tribe” of good people; his wife gives him children, and there are later grandchildren and

47 great-grandchildren. He grows old and is one of the last of the Old Ones left alive from before the plague – he is the last American. Ish watches as society rebuilds itself but not in any direction he has planned. He is not a dictator – sometimes hardly even a leader – he is a loner with the personality of the philosopher or observer – but he knows he must do whatever he can to make this world a better world. He does that. “Men go and come, but earth abides” – Stewart’s novel also tells the story of the Earth itself, of its power to revitalize itself, to change and heal itself, even as it reduces the mighty symbols of human civilization and arrogance to dust and rust, and eventually vast lost memories. No less a leading literary light than famed poet Carl Sandburg wrote of the book: “If I should be naming five novels out of the last ten years most worthwhile, most worth reading, I would certainly include a book titled Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. It reads as a good story and has profound meanings. I thank brother Stewart for writing it.” I can’t say it better than brother Sandberg has, except to say that like men, books also come and go but this fine novel also abides. [2014]

MANNY RAYNER In this pleasant, low-key post-apocalyptic classic, nearly all the human race has been wiped out by a mysterious disease. Yet, as the title suggests, the rest of the world continues and barely notices we’re gone. I was reminded of this novel the other day when a friend was telling me about her father’s view of the future. He thinks our society is doomed, and that we’re also inflicting incalculable harm on tens of thousands of other species. All the same, as she said, he doesn’t consider that it’s ultimately that important. It only took the planet about fifty million years to recover from the extinction of the dinosaurs, and most likely we aren’t as bad as the Chicxulub meteorite. So George Stewart was no doubt looking at things in too rosy a light, but it's nice to see that there are still a few optimists around. [2011]


CHARLES DEE MITCHELL Philip K. Dick just couldn’t be bothered by some of the standard verities of science fiction. He knew sf should often take place in outer space, but whereas other novelists placed their narratives in the 22nd or 23rd centuries, or some unimaginable distant future, in the novels Dick wrote in the 1950s and 1960s, he thought that forty or so years was plenty of time for man to start populating the universe. He also didn’t pay much attention to the news coming out from astrophysicists that the weather on other planets seemed to be uniformly bad. Martian Time-Slip takes place in 1994. Mars has scattered settlements and townships, mostly sponsored by national groups from Earth. The exception, and the most powerful group of all, is a Plumbers Union. I assume Dick had had some unpleasantness involving plumbers when he sat down to write this book. But plumbers are essential to the workings of the settlements. The weather is bearable if a little dry. One good trade-off is that you only weigh about fifty pounds, and housewives slip into halter-tops and Capri pants to visit neighbors. But water is in short supply and closely rationed. Arnie Kott, the vulgarian union boss, is one of the richest and most powerful men on the planet, although that may change. Rumor has it that the UN is planning to develop the FDR Mountains, drilling deep water wells and creating self- sustaining luxury living complexes. The land grab is on. Wikipedia has a coherent synopsis of the book, and I congratulate whoever wrote it. Topics touched on include: schizophrenia (which is almost Cover illustration by Chris Moore epidemic), black marketing, adultery, extensive drinking and drug ingestion,

July 1999: SF Masterworks series #13 SF Masterworks second series 49 pesky neighbors – in other words, it’s Dick’s Northern California neighborhood transfered to Mars. Much of the plot hinges on Manfred, an autistic child who becomes a test subject for the main character’s experiments with communication and ultimately . And let’s not forget the Beakmen, the remnants of the Martian race who are now reduced to wandering the deserts or working in the homes of wealthy earthlings. Dick always presents himself as progressive in terms of race and social policies in general, but his portrait of the Beakmen is among his strangest concoctions. Just as he didn’t care much for astrophysics, Dick also didn’t seem to keep up with physical anthropology. The Beakmen are described as Negroid and descended from the same source as earthly Africans. (Phil, all homo sapiens come from common stock, long predating any division into races. And so unless you are saying some Central African natives somehow found their way to Mars 30,000 years ago, you are really off on this one.) Also, this is a novel written in the early ’60s, and Dick was certainly aware of the Civil Rights movement. So what does it mean that Mars has a society somewhat reflecting the Antebellum South? The word slave is never used, but wealthy settlers have “tame” Beakmen working for them, refer to them as niggers, and enjoy giving them such high-falutin names as Heliogabalus. But of course, the Beakmen have deep, secret knowledge. Where was Dick going with this? This is one of Dick’s enjoyable train wrecks of a novel. I don’t want to slip into biographical criticism, but it reads like a combination of Dick’s marital problems, his extensive experience with psychiatrists, a general dislike of land speculators and plumbers, and some cock-eyed ideas about autism. And as nutty as the whole thing is, the conclusion is not only satisfying on many levels but genuinely strange as well. [2011]


MANNY RAYNER So too? what telepath do a you are think fun Oh of kind The It’s Demolished Man? [2012]

CHARLES DEE MITCHELL Not only Alfred Bester’s first novel, but also the winner of the first-ever (1953), it is lightning-paced, hard and glittering, with disciplined, taut prose, which raised the bar for writers wishing to escape the confounds of established science fiction of that era, succeeding brilliantly in vibrant word- painting and premise that inspired notables like Delany, Moorcock and Gibson. The reading is an exhilarating ride (I finished it in one and a half days). Ben Reich is the capricious, profit-driven head of the Monarch Corporation, haunted by a recurring nightmare of a man with no face. He seeks help from a telepathic psychiatrist and realises that the only means to Cover illustration by Jim Burns rid himself of the nightmare is to rid himself of his business rival D’Courtney. But in a world filled with “Peepers”, policemen with various

July 1999: SF Masterworks series #14 SF Masterworks second series 51 levels of ESP ability, committing murder is a tricky business. Reich nevertheless embarks on this atavistic purpose despite the threat of the ultimate sentence: demolition. It is essentially a murder mystery with a cunning villian and the obligatory relentless detective in pursuit, recognising that while technology will change, basic human nature will not. Alongside the effervescent plot with an odd twist or two, salient characters and enough energy to fuel any torchship, Bester also employs innovative techniques to tell his story. He uses typographical layouts in poetry format to represent the mental conversations of the telepaths, often interspersed with ‘normal’ dialogue, creating a very ‘real’ reading experience. Bester's inventiveness is remarkable! The psychology, arguably Freudian and motivated by oedipal feelings, is somewhat dated, but the reading is still a romp nonetheless. A tour de force of satire, lyricism, stylistic playfulness and pure science fiction invention. And reveals just why other writers continue to admire Alfred Bester so much. [2011]

MEGAN MEDINA If you find yourself rooting for the villain in this novel, it’s only because Bester’s rapid pace and dry wit draw the reader into his evil protagonist’s drama, against their better judgment. Ben Reich is an egomaniacal lunatic, but he is also charismatically droll about the whole ordeal. Even his pursuer, the assiduous Detective Powell, can’t help but share a relationship of mutual respect with his quarry – a common device in crime fiction, but intriguing, nonetheless. And even though the book follows Reich throughout the plotting and execution of his plan, some critical steps are withheld for later revelation. The lurking mysteries around this narcissistic killer keep the reader turning the pages. How did he manage this part of the plan? Why do people keep calling this asshole a good guy? Playing with language is Bester’s best strength as a writer. On a fundamental level, brisk and efficient verbs punch up the action. The opening pages are a refreshing welcome, especially after my recent foray with Isaac Asimov and his lack of dynamism. On an esoteric level, the espers make telepathic conversation a high art with linguistically crafty designs that sprawl across their minds and into the pages of the story. Bester’s use of psychology (albeit, old and icky psychology) to drive his characters to madness is the most critical component of the plot. Everybody knows Freud, and the old perv’s theories help to capture the primal, urgent tone of the novel. In some places, it may feel off-putting and unpleasant to the reader, but this ain’t no Dragnet. The Freudian principles

52 fit well into the character dynamics, and the creepy feeling doesn’t linger long as the POV changes with regularity. Still, any reader with just a slight grasp of historical psychology will probably predict some of the “hidden” character motivations, long before they are actually revealed. Regardless of all the good stuff, the fifties are still alive in Bester’s future world. Even the bleeps and blurps of “kittenish” computing machinery can’t mask the patronizing intersex exchanges that dominated the era. The men are gruff and prosaic. The women are sexy airheads. There is also a clumsy allusion to Reich as a “world shaker,” which calls to mind the fascist dictators that rocked Bester’s world in the prior decades. Still, Bester does his best to make it all work within his worldview, and the results are compelling sixty years later. [2014]

ANDY WIXON Here’s proof you should never walk by a charity bookshop if you have a few minutes spare: because you might find a stack of classic-but-latterly-obscure novels going for knock-down prices. Top of the pile was Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. Alfred Bester has acquired an obscure and very limited sort of celebrity outside of the lit-SF ghetto – or at least he had in the mid 1990s, to what extent that’s lingered I really don’t know – but we’ll come to that in a minute. The Demolished Man is one of a couple of books which really secured his reputation as one of the big guns of American SF in the 1950s, and deservedly so: the plot may rattle and creak a bit but the central concept is all killer, no filler. And to some extent that’s literally true: this is an SF take on a detective story, which to some extent anticipates Columbo in that the identity of the killer is never in doubt. Indeed, the murderer is the central character of the opening chapters: Ben Reich, ruthless mogul, decides to dispose of his bitterest corporate rival, and concocts a cunning plan to do so. His scheme had better be good, as he’s living in a society where around 5% of the population are functioning telepaths, albeit of different levels of ability. How do you plan and execute a premeditated murder when there’s a chance anyone you meet will be able to read your mind? How could a society composed of telepaths and non-telepaths function without ripping itself to pieces? Bester uses the plot of the murder, and the ensuing investigation by telepathic cop Lincoln Powell, to answer these two questions, and does so intelligently and convincingly. He achieves all kinds of effects, suggesting the strangeness of telepathic discourse, simply by breaking the usual rules of page layout: sentences veer wildly across the page, form columns, and

53 intersect with each other when a group of teeps are conversing together. It’s striking and original. This being a piece of mainstream ’50s American SF, the telepathy isn’t the only genre element to be included – there are colonies dotted across the solar system, whizzy bits of kit like time-displaced safes and harmonic disruptor guns, and flying cars – but it’s the only one that really counts. Similarly, Bester feels obliged to include some material (a very tame orgy) which was presumably grippingly risque back in the ’50s but just feels rather quaint nowadays. It gives some elements of the book a slightly dated quality, but not enough to spoil it. The same goes for the occasionally laboured psychology underpinning the central plot. One other thing that dates this book is the general political undertone of it. Reading the first few chapters, I found myself wondering why the teeps weren’t just in charge of everything, given their massive advantage over everyone else. By the conclusion, it’s clear that Bester is implying that, actually, they are. There’s a ruthless mixture of Darwinian evolution and Nietzschean philosophy going on here, with the better people deserving to be dominant. This even extends, somewhat startlingly, to the killer – Powell admits his admiration for Reich even while pursuing him, and (once Reich has indeed had his original personality Demolished) offers the opinion that “if a man’s got the talent and the guts to buck society, you want to hang onto him. He’s obviously above average”, and goes on to suggest that executing all the killers just leaves you with a society of ‘sheep’. Hmmm. Of course, psionic cops, a guild of telepaths supposedly bound by a code to serve the common good, killers punished by death-of-personality and the name Alfred Bester will all go together to instantly make some people think of (which I understand was a popular SF TV show in the 1990s). Fair enough, the influence is clear – but it’s just one element of many on the show. Just tagging The Demolished Man as “the book that inspired B5” doesn’t really do either of them any favours. This is a book which in many ways still seems fresh and interesting, and there’s potential here that I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t picked up on. Reading this book, I couldn’t help but imagine what Demolished Man: The Movie might be like, as directed by Christopher Nolan (the obvious choice, surely, given the dream imagery laced through it). But until Nolan himself develops telepathy and picks up on my idea, we’ll have to settle for what’s a very fine book in its own right. [2013]


KAREN BURNHAM I’ve been scared of New Wave sf for some time. In my project of reading sf classics I’ve been adding things from the late 1800s and early 1900s, hoping to delay the inevitable. I read ’s Dangerous Visions when I hardly knew anything about sf beyond the Asimov/Clarke/Heinlein axis. That was a shock, and I didn’t get much out of the ground-breaking stories collected there. I had picked up some of the best of that period piecemeal: Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed by Le Guin and some Philip K. Dick stories, but generally I’ve been avoiding it. So when Geoff Ryman assigned Stand on Zanzibar to members of this year’s SF Masterclass to read, I was apprehensive. But it’s Geoff frickin’ Ryman, and if he’d told me to re-read Battlefield Earth (god save me) I would’ve done it. Now that I’ve read Zanzibar I’m very glad he recommended it. It’s a book, much better than I expected. It’s interesting for its narrative techniques, its dystopian projections, and in comparing its predicted future to our own present. The book starts out with a long series of disjointed paragraphs, setting the tone for the future that the story is set in. I didn’t find this as off-putting as I expected. There’s a lot of made-up slang and jargon, but one can generally piece the meaning together from context. The paragraphs themselves reminded me of Googling – getting tons of snippets of context- free information. He continues through the whole book switching narrative modes: snippets, TV advertisements, excerpts from a “Hipster” sociology Cover illustration by Jim Burns book, and normal narration. Again, if you trust that it’s all going somewhere,

August 1999: SF Masterworks series #15 SF Masterworks second series 55 this isn’t that hard to read. The different pieces each shed additional light onto the future he’s built (about which more later). First, there’s the actual story. The plot follows two main characters. Donald Hogan is a white, male “synthesist”. He’s got what I consider a dream job: he works for the State Department reading widely, putting information together, making connections, and letting experts know about useful information they may have missed. That’s great until they “activate” him and force-train him as an assassin and send him to infiltrate an -like country. That’s not so much fun. Norman House is Donald’s roommate. He’s an African-American VP at mega-company known as GT. He’s pretty ambitious, and perfectly aware of the advantages and disadvantages that his race gives him. He becomes involved with a project to improve and exploit the African country of Beninia, a poor but strangely idyllic place that seems to evoke interesting changes in those who live there for any amount of time. At the juncture of the different plots sits Shalmaneser, a super-computer owned by GT. Both GT and the State Department use its processing power to run simulations and make predictions about the best courses of action, and when it gets confused everything could go to hell. There are a few key things that impressed me about this book. After reading so much older sf, the fact that Zanzibar is keenly aware of race, class, and countries other than those in Europe is particularly refreshing. It has a global perspective that I still find lacking in a lot of contemporary sf. Also, Brunner gets some of his extrapolation right on the money: an information-drenched world where knowledge is power, the ubiquity of advertising and communications, and the improvement in race and gender relations. That’s a pretty good track record. However, the extrapolation is also firmly rooted in the late ’60s: military drafts for perpetual warfare and draft dodging, frequent acts of domestic terrorism/sabotage, hyper- sexualized relations, etc. One thing it highlights is the fact that progress was made towards improving race-based civil rights far ahead of gender equality. In this book there are a couple of active women, notably the head of GT, but they’re barely characterized. All the other women in the book are cardboard stereotyped whores (“shiggies” in the slang of the novel). Compare that to the black VP and international diplomat who drive the action of much of the book. You can see why the Civil Rights Act passed and ERA didn’t, and why Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee for President and Hillary Clinton isn’t. Another contrast between Zanzibar and earlier Campbellian fiction is the different types of future they portray. Campbell’s writers notoriously predicted bright, shiny futures with lots of nifty tech and little social strife. Zanzibar predicts a near future so wrought with over-population that laws are increasingly draconian (e.g. you can’t have children if

56 you have a family history of color-blindness), and people are so stressed out by being constantly jammed together that any minor spark will cause a massive riot. In fact, the main question posed by the book is really: “How can the human race survive the coming over-population crunch, given that space colonization won’t come in time to save us?” In the over- romanticized idyll that is Beninia, Brunner suggests an answer, but it’s a thin thread to hang a lot of hope on. It’s very reassuring to me that while we haven’t reached the utopian heights that Campbell wished for, we also haven’t hit the dystopian depths that Brunner portrayed. As we always have, we continue to muddle through the middle ground somehow. Lots of people aren’t well off, some are abjectly miserable. Some people have all the shiny toys, most people don’t. There is environmental degradation aplenty, but we continue to find enough stop-gap solutions to stave off global catastrophe, even while local catastrophes are common. It’s what we do, and it’s what we’ll always do. That doesn’t make for as dramatic a storyline as , though: Humanity Muddles On is not going to be a best-seller. Still, when you think about how bad people in the ’60s thought today would be it’s hard not to feel a little smug. Our world may not be perfect by any means, but it’s a whole lot better than that. [2008]

KATE SHERROD Simultaneously reading like a deadly earnest Illuminatus! Trilogy scrubbed of all the conspiracy nuttiness*, a fictionalized parable of Toffler’s classic Future Shock, a finger-wagging sermon about the evils of overpopulation, and a whacked-out Jeff Noon media scramble, Stand on Zanzibar is one of the coolest bits of New Wave science fiction a reader could pick up. A lot of people who pick up a John Brunner novel – or indeed any older science fiction novel – in the 21st century get hung up on either the eerie prescience the author seems to have had about our contemporary world (the book was written in 1968 but set in 2010) or on what the author got wrong about it, but to do either is to miss the point here. Good fiction is good fiction, whether or not someone guessed there would be smart phones; ditto good social criticism. Stand on Zanzibar is both. The title comes from an observation made by a wag/sage of the novel’s world that the world’s current population of seven billion (yes, one of things he got right; we hit that number pretty close to the same time he projected) if stood together

* Which, I hasten to assure you, is still a very entertaining, if somewhat depressing, thing.

57 in one place shoulder-to-shoulder, would take up the area of the island of Zanzibar (when the book was written, the world’s population could fit on the Isle of Man, a much smaller bit of land). The world he depicts will remind fans a bit of that in Soylent Green**; its be-domed New York might also make one think of the be-domed city-as-spaceship New York in Cities in Flight. And as I suggested above, I kept thinking of Jeff Noon’s fiction, particularly Channel Sk1n. The plot Brunner chooses from among the billions of possible stories on that/this overcrowded world concerns a mega-corporation that is getting ready to buy a country, the men chosen to spearhead the project (which takes a long view of a Third World nation’s economic development into a new kind of global economic powerhouse as just another opportunity to increase shareholder value – eerily, kind of the way our modern private prison industry works!), and some of their friends. Because the nation in question is in Africa, the company’s single African-American (abbreviated “Afram”) vice president, Norman Niblock House, gets the nod, along with the US’s equally Afram ambassador to that little nation, Elihu Masters, who’s been best friends with the country’s president-for-life for some twenty years. Said president*** being a tired old man now, who has been pretty much single-handedly holding his little nation together since the British abandoned the whole colonialism thing and more or less forced him into the role of someone to whom they could hand off all their problems. But there is no good prospect for a successor, so why not bring in a corporation? The project is not viewed as the president selling out so much as a father with hundreds of thousands of helpless dependents trying to secure a future for them. Believe me, it sort of works. This is largely because there is so much else going on in this novel, which is apparently modeled on John Dos Passos’s USA trilogy****, at least structurally, for the narrative, plot forwarding chapters are interspersed with all sorts of non-narrative interludes of pure, hypermediated texture, including extended excerpts from the works of one Chad Mulligan, sociologist, who is this novel’s Austin Train figure (see Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up), a wise man who has gone ignored but

** Itself based on a novel by , Make Room! Make Room!, that came out two years before Stand on Zanzibar.

*** Whose name is Zadkiel Obomi, and I’ll refer you to the rest of the internet for points of view on that amazing coincidence/prediction. Yawn.

**** Which I haven’t read but now really want to.

58 may now be called somewhat resurgent, but only because drinking himself to death in disgust is taking too long and is actually kind of boring. But wait, there’s more! Because Norman has a white roommate, Don, a guy with a freak gift for pattern recognition who has spent the last ten years in deep cover as a member of the US Army’s “Dilettante Corps” in which his job is basically being a sort of Cayce Pollard for the government. In the course of the story, Don gets called up and has to go overseas to help out with an international problem involving a fictional Pacific Rim nation with whom the US is in a seemingly endless and bitter Vietnamesque war. Said country having made an announcement regarding a Great Leap Forward in eugenics and genetic engineering that holds incredible possibility and also, of course, incredible threat to the rest of the world. For the reaction of the First World to the planet’s overwhelming population problem is to plunge into eugenics with all enthusiasm. Laws governing who may have children and how many children they may have get stricter and stricter all the time – and in the , differ from state to state, so, for example, Nevada is close to a free-for-all whereas Louisiana is flirting with the idea of not allowing anyone to breed who can prove three generations of residency in that state in addition to the standard prohibitions on anyone with genetic defects of any kind reproducing. As the novel opens, the latest trait under fire is color-blindness. But what everyone is really afraid of is that someday producing too much melanin is going to be a prohibiting factor. Which is to say that racism – and sexism, which I’ll get to later – are prevalent elements throughout the text. As the US is at war with an Asian power, plenty of anti-Asian sentiment and offensive slang gets slung about (which, about the slang, get ready for that. The slang in Stand on Zanzibar could be the subject of a whole big and fascinating paper, to be pored over like that in A Clockwork Orange, but unlike Burgess’s novel, all of Brunner’s slang is derived from English), and blacks don’t get any better treatment. It’s all presented very matter-of-factly, even casually, which can be shocking but which is part and parcel of the societies we’re examining. Kinship and tribalism and associated inter-group violence, sociologists tell us, tend to come very much to the fore in cases of crowding. As is, apparently, a very casual, even cavalier, attitude towards women, the young and attractive variety of which are referred to in this world as “shiggies” and are passed around like party favors, traded like Magic the Gathering cards, apparently happy with this state of affairs and the nomadic, uncertain life they lead on the “shiggy circuit”. Older women

59 are only ever noticed if they happen by some freak of affairs to have somehow achieved serious corporate power, with a depressing few exceptions, and even the one younger-than-the-alpha female executive type who crosses our path is at first dismissed as on the scene just because her boss got tired of sleeping with her. To the slight credit of the man making this internalized observation about her, he does eventually include that she might be there on her own actual merits as well, perhaps. Partly. Ugh. The only other reason a woman might matter, of course, is as breeding stock. But only if she’s genetically OK. But hey, at least the potential father has to pass genetic muster as well. So I guess there’s parity somewhere. Ugh. But hey, all of literature has taught me how it sure do suck to be female, so I can hardly single out this book for special castigation. Especially in a year in which I have taken on Robert Silverberg. I do not cry out for a fan-edit of Stand on Zanzibar from which my gender has been removed, but, you know, yuck. That aside, this is a pretty fantastic read, a worthy companion to Brunner’s other blisteringly awful masterpiece, The Sheep Look Up. But where we could sort of, kind of, desperately cling to the idea that The Sheep Look Up was a self-denying prophecy, Stand on Zanzibar still feels like it could happen, is happening. But we already knew that, didn’t we? [2013]


BRUCE GILLESPIE Any year in which this book is published might be a great year for sf. Probably you’ve read so many reviews of this by now that you know the story backwards. I was most impressed by the fact that, for her first sentence, Ursula Le Guin writes, “There is a wall”, and then relates everything else in the entire novel to that sentence. Gawd! Sf writers just don’t take that sort of trouble. Well, Ursula Le Guin does. I want to write lots and lots about this book; especially about the hint the author gives in a later story that her “utopia” owes much to the ideas of Paul Goodman, who happens to be one of my favourite American non-fiction writers. This is a stately, gracious; but troubling book; one really shouldn’t do anything but admire it and keep quiet. [1975]

MARK MONDAY Why America Is Full of Toxic Bullshit and Why Ambiguous Utopias Need to Check Themselves Before They Wreck Themselves Going Down the Same Fucked-Up Path, by Ursula K. Le Guin. This excellent novel-cum-political treatise-cum-extended metaphor for the US lays its thesis out in parallel narratives. In the present day (far, far in the future), heroically thoughtful protagonist Shevek visits the thinly-veiled States of the nation A-Io on the planet Urras in order to both work on his Theory of Simultaneity and to pave the way for change on his homeworld. In chapters that alternate with this trip to Urras, we watch Shevek grow Cover illustration by Chris Moore from boy to man on the anarcho-communist planet Anarres – the

August 1999: SF Masterworks series #16 SF Masterworks second series 61 “Ambiguous Utopia”. Urras and Anarres have a difficult relationship: 150 years prior, revolutionaries from Urras were given the mining planet of Anarres in order to halt their revolutionary activities throughout the Urran nations. Upon establishment of their colony, Anarres cut off all but the most basic contact and trade with the despised “propertarians” of Urras. The Dispossessed is a fiercely intelligent, passionate, critical novel – yet it is a gentle, warm and very carefully constructed novel as well. Ideas do not off the page with fiery rhetoric – everything is deliberately paced; concepts and actions and even characterization are parsed out slowly. Its parallel narratives are perfectly executed, with different plot themes and character backgrounds brought up, expanded upon, and often reflecting upon each other. Ideas are unspooled in multiple directions and serve to continually challenge reader preconceptions. Overall this is not a novel that quickens the pulse (although there is some of that) but is instead a Novel of Ideas. If you are not in a contemplative mood, if you have no interest in systems of government or human potential or theoretical physics, then this is probably not the novel for you. It is a book for the patient reader – one who actually enjoys sitting back and thinking about things. Le Guin’s prose does not jump up at you; nonetheless, she is a beautiful writer – equally skilled with the little details that make a scene real and with making the Big Concepts understandable to dummies like myself. And Le Guin is sophisticated: she seems constitutionally unable to write in black and white – everything is multi-leveled, nothing is all bad, nothing is perfect. humans are fallible; ideas are fallible. Everything must change and yet the past is ever a living part of the present. America as A-Io is where much of Le Guin’s passion is displayed. However, the time spent in A-Io (roughly half the novel due to the alternating chapters) did not exactly challenge me. Perhaps because I am already critical of the USA, and have engaged in plenty of political shenanigans throughout my life, I wasn’t reading anything new; I am the choir to whom the novel preached. Still, I’m not sure I would say that this is Le Guin’s fault. It’s probably my fault, being an unpatriotic asshole who both loves and hates this crazy place, and who is in agreement regarding all the negative points – and the positive ones too (introduced fairly late in the novel by a Terran envoy). I am automatically sympathetic to all the points made about the ivory tower of education, hypocritical politicians, unncessary wars, the poisonous yet hidden class system, the demeaning of women, etc. Still, despite my lack of enthusiasm about A-Io, this is also where some of the most wonderful writing occurs, and where some of the most mind-expanding concepts are described. Where the novel really shines is in the depiction of the Ambiguous Utopia, Anarres. Everything is not peachy-keen on this arid, sadly animal and grass-free desert world. The ideals that created Anarres are indeed admirable; it was awesome to

62 see my own (and countless others’) anarcho-socialist jerkoff fantasies about how perfect it would be if we were all truly able to share, all able to chip in to help each other, if materialism was seen as an abomination, if we were able to give up on ridiculous hierarchical structures, etc, etc, et al enacted in a fairly realistic way and in a very positive light. But of course this is an “Ambiguous” Utopia, so Le Guin also shows how basic, power-craving, territorial human nature will always surface… how cooperative, communal living can also stamp down the individual, how it can make being different seem like a threat… how other-hatin’ tribalism is ultimately toxic, no matter the tribe, no matter the utopia, no matter if the tribe is an entire nation – or world. Le Guin makes a utopia, then she nearly unmakes it by unmasking all of its issues and ugliness, but she does not denounce it. I loved that. Le Guin and Shevek still see the beauty in this culture, in a place that is anti-materialist, anti- capitalist; their goal is to explore how such a system can truly be maintained – in a way that is genuine and that respects the individual, a society that is continuously revolutionary. And the true enemies of revolution are complacency and stasis. [2012]

MANNY RAYNER First of all: if you haven’t already read The Dispossessed, then do so. Somehow, probably because it comes with an SF sticker, it isn’t yet officially labeled as one of the great novels of the 20th century. They’re going to fix that eventually, so why not get in ahead of the crowd? It’s not just a terrific story; it might change your life. Ursula Le Guin is saying some pretty important stuff here. So, what is it she’s saying that’s so important? I’ve read the book several times since I first came across it as a teenager, and my perception of it has changed over time. There's more than one layer, and I, at least, didn’t immediately realize that. On the surface, the first thing you notice is the setting. She is presenting a genuinely credible anarchist utopia. Most utopias are irritating or just plain silly. You read them, and at best you shake your head and wish that people actually were like that; or, more likely, you wonder how the author can be quite so deluded. This one’s different. Le Guin has thought about it a lot, and taken into account the obvious fact that people are often selfish and stupid. You feel that her anarchist society actually could work; it doesn’t work all the time, and there are things about it that you see are going to cause problems. But, like the US Constitution (one of my favorite utopian documents) it seems to have the necessary flexibility and groundedness that allow it to adapt to changing circumstances and survive. She’s done a good job, and you can’t help

63 admiring the brave and kind Anarresti. Another thing you’re immediately impressed by is the central character, Shevek. Looking at other reviews, everyone loves Shevek. I love him too. He’s one of the most convincing fictional scientists I know; I’m a scientist myself, so I’m very sensitive to the nuances. Like his society, he’s not in any way perfect, and his life is a long struggle to try and understand the secrets of temporal physics, which he often feels are completely beyond him. I was impressed by the alien science; she gives you just the right amount of background that it feels credible, but not so much that you’re tempted to nit-pick the details. You’re swept up in his quest to unify Sequency and Simultaneity, without ever needing to know exactly what they are. And his relationship with Takver is a great love story, with some wonderfully moving scenes. There’s one line in particular which, despite being utterly simple and understated, never fails to bring tears to my eyes. As you also see in The Lathe of Heaven, Le Guin knows about love. What I’ve said so far would already be enough to qualify this as a good book that was absolutely worth reading. What I think makes it a great book is her analysis of the concept of freedom. There are so many other interesting things to look at that at first you don’t quite notice it, but to me it’s the core of the novel. What does it mean to be truly free? At first, you think that the Anarresti have already achieved that; it’s just a question of having the right social structures. But after a while you see that it’s not nearly as straightforward as you first imagined. Real freedom means that you have to be able to challenge the beliefs of the people around you when they conflict with what you, yourself, truly believe, and that can be painful for everyone. But it’s essential, and it’s particularly essential if you want to be a scientist; I know this from personal experience. Another theme that suffuses the book is the concept of the Promise. If you can’t make and keep promises, then you have no influence on the future; you are locked in the present. But promising something also binds your future self. There are some deep paradoxes here. The book folds the arguments unobtrusively into the narrative, and never shoves them in your face, but after a while you see that they are what tie all the strands together: the anarchist society, the science, the love story, the politics. It’s a much deeper book than you first realise. As I said, it might change your life. It’s changed mine. [2009]


PETER YOUNG Ballard disowned his first novel The Wind From Nowhere, so most people’s J.G. Ballard collections now have to start here. It’s a typical Ballardian cataclysm: an overactive sun has produced a melting of the polar ice caps with a submerged Earth undergoing a new Triassic era, and London is now a steamy, coral-encrusted jungle populated by giant iguanas. Robert Kerans is an expedition biologist, enraptured by the disturbing dreams that people share at this latitude, and he chooses to stay when his expedition departs. He then encounters the manic Strangman and his seductive African entourage, who are all similarly caught up by the end of the world but in a far more sinister and symbolic way. The Drowned World openly references the influence on Ballard of Paul Delvaux, who seems to provide a creative counterpart to Ballard’s own destructive imagery, and once you ‘get’ the character of Strangman, a man with a real heart of darkness and the only properly developed character, Ballard’s intention becomes clear and the rest falls into place. It’s a somewhat stilted read now but memorable for the visual panorama it leaves you with, and given the biblical nature of this apocalypse it’s also refreshingly free of much religious referencing at all. [2008]

KATE SHERROD The Drowned World could easily look like a climate change cautionary tale nowadays, depicting as it does a planet on which all the major cities are Cover illustration by Chris Moore under hundreds of feet of water, the average daytime temperature is a good

September 1999: SF Masterworks series #17 65 120-140 degrees, and the biosphere is reverting to something much like its Triassic state, teeming with giant ferns and reptiles that some people are starting to suspect are evolving back into dinosaurs. But the book (first published in 1962) predates modern theories; here the sun is the culprit; a series of really bad solar flares having stripped away a lot of the protections Earth’s atmosphere provides, the planet has gotten hot and steamy; The Drowned World could well be a sequel to Stephen Vincent Benét’s poem ‘Metropolitan Nightmare’, which is even older. So the characters here are neither hand-wringers nor moralizers. Robert Kerans, Colonel Riggs and Beatrice Dahl are studying the vast series of lagoons that used to be London as the book opens. But it’s time to go back to the relative safety and comfort of the Arctic Circle; the iguanas and ’gators are getting uppity and the heat is going to get unbearable. Everything looks good to go – but nobody asked Beatrice. And Beatrice, like many other members of the expedition, has started to have “deep” dreams that seem to be seducing her into staying, into giving up her humanity as it is commonly understood and becoming a quiescent consciousness submerged in jungle and lagoon. And because she and Kerans have become a couple during their time in the Lagoons-That-Were-London, he’s going to stay, too. Besides, Kerans kind of likes his living arrangements, in the penthouse of the ruins of the Ritz Hotel – a penthouse that’s now more or less at water level, and still crammed full of a long-dead resident’s silk shirts and other treasures. What follows is a short – shockingly short by modern standards; I had almost forgotten that novels once took up just 133 pages! – account of a myriad of ways in which people can go mad outside of civilization. We have looters, a savage king (who arrives on a paddle steamer escorted by hundreds of alligators who seem to respond a bit to his will), and more than one person who has decided to do as the dreams suggest and just sort of zone out and become human lizards. When the savage king finds a way to drain the lagoon where Kerans and Beatrice are basking, the better to get at the treasures he imagines are still to be had in the abandoned stores and museums at the bottom, things get even stranger, which I would not have thought possible. I had my own “deep” dream after reading The Drowned World in which I basically invented my own sequel to it and shared the sense of being subsumed in its waters; Ballard’s sequences are so vivid and compelling that I wasn’t at all surprised by this. I too, want to see London’s big planetarium filled with water and teeming with sponges and coral and angelfish, the little specks of light from the water’s surface far above forming a new set of constellations that Kerans imagines mirror those that appeared in the night sky when Earth’s climate was last like this. Ballard is a wonder! [2011]


MANNY RAYNER I’ll start with a roundabout introduction. Garry Kasparov was not just one of the best chessplayers of all time, he was also one of the best analysts. Even as a teenager, he was always coming up with the most amazing ideas. Chessplayers often prefer to hoard their ideas; it can be worth a lot to surprise your opponent in a critical game, and there are many stories about grandmasters keeping a new move in the freezer for years, or even decades. Kasparov asked his trainer if he should be hoarding too. “No, Garry!” came the sage reply. "Use them now! You’ll get new ones.” And, indeed, this turned out to be a correct prediction. Kurt Vonnegut wrote The Sirens of Titan early in his career, and I wonder if he didn’t receive similar advice. The novel contains enough ideas for half a dozen normal books, and fairly bubbles with creative energy. I like it much more than Slaughterhouse Five, and I’ve always wondered why it isn’t better known. I suppose it doesn’t actually make sense; but, for goodness sakes, do things always have to make sense? Free associating for a moment, Candide, A Grand Day Out and the Old Testament are all undisputed masterpieces. None of them make sense, and they would be greatly diminished if they did. Put them together and package the result as a ’50s SF novel, and you might get something a little bit like Sirens. So, you have a naively optimistic central character, who suffers the most appalling reverses of fortune in a way that somehow ends up being more comic than tragic; but, instead of going to South America, he spends Cover illustration by Chris Moore most of the book wandering around a Solar System which is very slightly

September 1999: SF Masterworks series #18 SF Masterworks second series 67 more credible than Nick Park’s cheese-flavored Moon. He’s pursued by a God who’s rather too fond of elaborate practical jokes, but who is simultaneously trying to use the story to convey deep truths about the meaning of life. Unless He’s just kidding. It’s a bit hard to tell, but isn’t that normal for pronouncements made under the influence of divine inspiration? I see I’ve left out all the good bits. I haven’t mentioned the chrono-synclastic infundibulum. Or Bea’s sonnet ‘Every Man’s an Island’, about how to breathe in space. Or Salo, and his message for the people at the other end of the Universe. Or Universal Will to Become. Or even the Sirens. If you haven’t already done so, why don’t you buy the book and check them all out for yourself? It’s an easy read, and it even has a happy ending. I think. [2009]

KEDAR Do you read a Vonnegut book, or does the book read you? Does it expose your thoughts to the most detailed analysis of humanity, human behaviour, and human mind and then tells you to not give a damn? Except that it also seizes the phrase ‘to not give a damn’ from your control. Leaves you hanging midair. Questioning. So what to do? What is to be done? Apart from whatever has already been done? You go beyond the story. See Unk staring at you pointedly with a hazy gaze. Figure out if he thinks whether you are in control of the story or is he the real commander. Go beyond the cliché, beyond the at-times stupendously obvious humour. Look at the blanketed irony. Then either sleep in the warmth of ignorance or throw away the cover and dive deep in the chills of reality. Reading Vonnegut is probably a religion. The Church of God the Exquisitely Sarcastic. Shake hands with Rumfoord. If he allows you to do so. Peer through the kaleidoscope of allusions. The allusions in the form of the War, Harmoniums, Old Salo. A machine with a heart, as opposed to humans with emotions hardened as Titanic peat due to over exposure to something unrecognized or overtly familiar. Kazak, the dog on the leash. The soulless slave of gravity. In between become “unstuck in time” while reading the events that led to the initiation of the formation of “The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent”. Keep reading and re-reading several passages. I have a feeling that I am lost. Lost while comprehending the gravitational depth for each line Vonnegut has written. I don't know whether I really liked this book or I really want to like it more than I did. I wonder what planet influenced me to

68 write this review. The Hindu religion does give a lot of importance to planets and their influences on your life and the reviews you write. I will abstain from asking myself these questions after a Vonnegut book in future. Best is to try and emulate the sweet sounds of Poo-tee-weet. I need a stiff drink. [2012]

CHRISTOPHER J GARCIA I’ve never really wanted to be rich. I’ve always wanted to be famous. To be both? No. Not for me. Money is dangerous. Money is pain. Money is, well, it’s money. You can’t avoid it. Vonnegut knew that. Vonnegut got that. In many of his books, he looks at money, and those who have it. For money’s not money unless it’s owned by someone. That’s not the central message of The Sirens of Titan, but it is a message, and one that came through to me in a strange way. You see, there’s a lot of extraneous stuff in The Sirens of Titan. Pretty much all the of science fiction, in fact. It’s not a novel about technology’s impact on humanity, or how we can discover new worlds in our quest for knowledge. It’s about what people with money can do when they have money and a will to do away with it. This is economic science fiction! My favorite flavor! What's that? You don’t see where I’m coming from. Allow me to explain… You see Winston Roomsford is a rich, rich, rich man. Rich enough to build spaceships. Rich enough to afford a wife who doesn’t love him. Rich enough to be rich! He goes off into space and becomes disconnected, not only from his planet, not only from his timestream, but from his money. He’s a man floating in a sea of chance, along with his dog. When he becomes separated from his fortune, he became aware of the The Past and The Future all at once. He also became a practiced liar. Malachi Constant is the richest man on Earth. He’s fabulously wealthy, and incredibly arrogant, but he goes on the great journey, and his money becomes irrelevant. He becomes a better person, for values of better, and that is another message. Whereas Roomsford becomes, let’s say, enigmatic, Constant becomes far more human. He actually becomes a person, not just a bank account. Or at least thats how I see it. Maybe Marx was right – the only way to encounter anything is as a dialectic in economic theory… [2014]


MARK MONDAY Ghyl Tarvok is the son of a kindly but distracted woodworker on Halma – a planet that is ruled by an aristocracy, tightly managed by its public welfare department (which incorrectly calls its governmental system a “Welfare State”), and exhibits traits of a dogmatic but not entirely authoritarian theocracy as well. ‘Emphyrio’ is a legend out of time: a heroic young man who calmly challenged invaders and who ushered in a period of peace for his people. Young Ghyl dreams of many things: owning a ‘space-yacht’, traveling to far worlds, discovering the truth behind the legend of Emphyrio, making his home a better place. The novel Emphyrio is about Ghyl gradually understanding the mysteries in his life – his own dreams and desires, his father, the true history and rulers of his world. It is not a fast- paced tale of adventure (although there is a little of that)… its structure is more of a gently-paced Coming of Age tale. I connected with this novel in a couple ways. Who doesn’t dream of leaving their mundane environs to see the world(s) beyond? What kid hasn’t looked around and wondered if there were mysteries and wonders that they could somehow experience eventually, if only, if this happens, if they could do that, if only it were like this, etc.? Who hasn’t had those stabs of jealousy at the idea that many people are financially fully capable of casually jetting off to see whatever they want to see, while everyone else is stuck scrimping and saving just to have a one-week excursion to some banal place that everyone else is going to anyway? Being inside Ghyl’s Cover illustration by Chris Moore curious and envious head was like being inside my own head, at different

October 1999: SF Masterworks series #19 SF Masterworks second series 70 points in my life. I also connected with Ghyl’s quietly contemptuous, eventually seething reactions to all of the petty political, fiscal, and religious bullshit that ties people down into living their lives like mice in a maze, led by this bit of cheese, constrained by walls, forced to move in certain directions. Innoculated against difference and individualism and thinking outside of all of our carefully constructed boxes. Vance’s depiction of Halma’s organized religion was a particularly ingenious and sardonic invention. All the hypocrisy, all the passive-agressiveness, all the public shaming… placed adroitly within a faith that is concerned with literally Leaping onto various squares symbolizing Right Behavior and avoiding those Bad Squares. It was all so mordantly comic – and also frustrating, depressing, and sickeningly hollow. But amusing! Over half of the novel simply shows Ghyl growing up in this stifling but not exactly horrendous environment. Besides a certain wizened puppetmaster, characters are not portrayed as hideously evil or malevolent. The biggest jerks are the rule- minders, the businessmen, and the aristocrats… and also the rule-breakers, the folks who reject society, who want to get away with rejecting that society but still live off of it. Vance has an even hand when it comes to disdain and critique. The remaining part of the novel is the actual “adventure”. here also Vance does not indulge the reader in wish- fulfillment. Hijacking a space-yacht can get truly ugly. Exotic locations are not always pleasant. The answers to lifelong questions can be disappointing. Sometimes trickery is the only way to get what you want, even if you are a person who prides himself on his honesty. In Emphyrio, Vance strips down his often ornate writing style to fit his goals. He is writing about the banally prosaic nature of most lives and so lushness of language is understandably absent, for the most part. But this is still Jack Vance, so even when he streamlines his more baroque tendencies, the reader is still able to enjoy his expert turns of phrase, his constant irony, his wry characterization, and his supreme ability to distill the ethos of a certain tradition or city or culture or planet into a few carefully chosen and beautifully constructed sentences. Will there ever be a genre wordsmith as accomplished and as stylish as this author? [2012]


GUY SALVIDGE A Scanner Darkly just about stands alone in PKD’s career – none of his other books are written quite like this – which is a strange thing given that he wrote well over forty novels, and most of them run together into one ‘meta-novel’. Scanner is different, at times very different. And it’s very successful. The theme is drug abuse, the subject a thinly-veiled description of PKD’s own experiences of the late ’60s. This is as close to an overtly political novel as PKD ever wrote (Radio Free Albemuth, written directly after this, also springs to mind). The characters in A Scanner Darkly are fascinating. We start with Jerry Fabin, a drug-addled man who believes that aphids are crawling all over his house, on his skin, and in his lungs. He buys can after can of bug spray, showers constantly, and spends his time collecting the make-believe aphids in various containers. It’s not long before he’s carted off to one of the dreaded federal clinics. Charles Freck is another stoner, and ultimately a character peripheral to the main events featured here (although he does have one amazing cameo concerning a botched suicide attempt). But our main three characters, the inhabitants of a particular house in Southern California, are the schizophrenic Bob Arctor, the sinister Jim Barris and decrepit Ernie Luckman. Donna Hawthorne is the fourth major character in the novel; she takes the role of drug dealer, love interest in Bob’s case and, later, federal narc. It’s a strong cast and one based, apparently, on actual people PKD knew during this late-’60s period. Cover illustration by Chris Moore Another interesting thing about Scanner is that it differs in tone and

October 1999: SF Masterworks series #20 SF Masterworks second series 72 often in execution in comparison to practically all of PKD’s other work. For example, the novel is littered with what William Burroughs called ‘routines’ or short anecdotes that play out in the minds of the various dopers, to comic effect. In an important sense, the plot of Scanner doesn’t move forward very quickly in the first half of the novel, because PKD is focusing on the idle stoner of the various characters. Much of this is hilarious and true to life, but as I said, it’s very different from PKD’s earlier work. The plot doesn’t really get going until the second half, when Bob Arctor begins to forget that he is also Fred, the police narc who has been assigned the task of surveilling himself, i.e. Bob Arctor. His identity as a narc is protected by a nifty thing called a ‘scramble suit’ which is practically the only SF trope in the novel (in fact there’s very little that’s science fictional about this book at all – and one might argue that PKD could just as well have ditched the SF trimmings altogether). Increasingly, ‘Fred’ (Bob’s narc identity) sees Bob as a potentially dangerous character, and ends up fully participating in the machinery of ‘justice’ that would arrest or even ‘snuff’ Bob altogether. There’s a whole host of long philosophical monologues (and occasionally dialogues) in the middle third of the book. Fascinating as these are, I have the feeling that they do somewhat bog the narrative down. On the other hand, this kind of speculation (mainly in regard to the functioning of the two sides of the brain, and the corpus calloseum that connects these hemispheres) is relevant to the events unfolding, mainly but not exclusively in Bob/Fred’s head. PKD inserts several apparently unrelated passages into the narrative mid-sentence, many of these intrusions being in German, to show Bob/ Fred’s increasing confusion. Here the humour goes right out of the story, and we are reminded of PKD’s central point here: that while the drug world might seem like fun and games for a while, eventually the name of the game is Death with a capital D (in this case Substance D). The narrative gets moving again in rapid fashion in the final third. I won’t spoil the plot for those who are yet to read this most poignant and sad of PKD’s novels, but suffice to say that the old master has more than a few curve balls in store for the reader who felt him or herself to be on stable ground at last. The ending is devastating. There’s no other word for it. A Scanner Darkly will be long remembered, long read and viewed (in its film version) and represents one of the real triumphs of PKD’s career: he lived through this to tell the tale. [2010]


JESSE HUDSON “He looked down once more upon the ruined city, then continued, ‘And if after all there is no Star Maker, if the great company of galaxies leapt into being of their own accord, and even if this little nasty world of ours is the only habitation of the anywhere among the stars, and this world doomed, even so, I must praise. But if there is no Star Maker, what can it be that I praise? I do not know. I will call it only the sharp tang and savour of existence. But to call it this is to say little.’” As an eighth grader, I was required to watch the short film Powers of Ten. Though the opening scenes and graphics are beginning to show their age, there is no replacing the sense of wonder its nine minutes leave the viewer with. Continually expanding, and expanding, and expanding from Earth, to solar system, to galaxy, to universe, and beyond, it is a great parallel to Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 Star Maker. The novel taking the reader on a philosophical and spiritual trip of similar perspective, infinity seems the only limit. Future history at its most representational, plot is scant in Star Maker. The “story” of a man who disembodies himself, the narrative takes his mind, and the reader, on a journey from the English heath to the depths of time and space. Starting in minutes and seconds and gradually shifting into aeons and aeons of time and thought, the cycles of existence and humanity’s place within that movement are what is at stake as the nameless protagonist attempts to come to existential terms with the breadth and Cover illustration by Les Edwards

November 1999: SF Masterworks series #21 SF Masterworks second series 74 meaning of the galaxy, and whether, after all, there is an omnipotent Star Maker. As such, the idea of ‘transcendence’ only scratches the surface of Star Maker. As Stapledon continually extends and expands his disembodied observer’s viewpoint, the novel’s scope never fails to top itself. And not only spatially; the author also challenges the idea of mind – communal mind, galactic minds and the cloud of time permeating all. As rather than realistic speculation, the narrator’s quest for understanding swells to proportions that seem fit to make the mind itself explode. It was J.R.R. Tolkien who championed the idea of ‘eucatastrophe’, yet Stapledon seems to have taken it to the nth level, leaving the reader to shake their head in wonder at the degree to which one can ‘overcome’ despite the odds. Stapledon trained in both philosophy and English literature, and the book is eminently quotable on the nature and quandaries of existence. Hefty doses of indirect Daoism, questions regarding monotheism, application of the Eternal Return, hints of Spengler’s Decline of the West, and many other ideas and concepts inform the novel. Not atheistic, rather more agnostic, the book remains open, questioning, even yearning for the unknown and an answer to it. With the cosmos removed to symbolic status, Stapledon comes to an individual philosophy of metaphysical spirituality (not an oxymoron) which integrates itself fully with the narrator’s view from the heath. Up to this point, I’ve actually given short shrift to the imagination invested in Star Maker. Stapledon’s creative powers are likewise formidable; the worlds, alien races, and universe – tangible and otherwise – come fully to the mind’s eye under the author’s guiding descriptions. Some fleet across the page for a brief moment while others stick around the majority of the book, but all are described in vivid, original terms that lend the book a mark of palpable imagination – no small feat given the publishing date. In the end, Star Maker is existential transcendence like no other science fiction. Undoubtedly a descendant of Edwin Abbott and H.G. Wells (that is, as opposed to Jules Verne), the philosophical questions asked, and sometimes answered, hearken back to turn-of-the-century genre. At the same time, Stapledon puts his stamp on matters that remain relevant to this day. Applying smoother prose to the proceedings, the thematic angle of the novel is one more along personal, rather than societal lines. Certainly cycles of humanity and life are in play, but deep within the milieu lies a deeper searching for personal, spiritual meaning. Never taking the easy road out, the conclusion Stapledon comes to is one of this world in mind only, no wise sage in Western religion is able to put the realism of ambiguity into such finite terms. Arthur C. Clarke, , Brian Aldiss and a host of other writers, in turn, owe their respects to this timeless work from Stapledon. [2014]


CHARLES DEE MITCHELL Karl Glogauer is the son of a Christian father and Jewish mother who emigrated from Europe to England in the 1930s. Karl was born in 1940, experienced the London blitz as a infant, and sent to schools and Christian church camps as a child. He is drawn to religion, but in intense and somewhat disturbing ways. He is willing to play Christ on the playground of his grammar school, but has to fake passing out when hanging crucified from the playground fence becomes too uncomfortable. He develops an early, fetishistic obsession with the look of a silver cross hanging in the adolescent cleavage of his female schoolmates. There is fumbling schoolboy sex and a series of girlfriends, and always a religious craving that takes him on a journey through the spiritual fads of the 1960s. Although he has a long- term relationship with a no-nonsense anthropologist, he works in a spiritualist bookstore that hosts a weekly Jungian discussion group. The Jungians are more interested in their personal obsessions with UFOs, Lemurians, and our possible links to Saturn. One member, however, is an aristocratic scientist, currently tossed from the scientific community for his far-out theories. When Karl visits this man’s country estate he learns that his fellow has built a time machine. Behold the Man opens with Karl’s crashing landing in Judea in AD28. The time machine is beyond repair and he is stuck. Fortunately he is taken in by a group of Essenes led by John the Baptist. Since Karl’s spiritual studies have included learning Aramaic, he can communicate with his new Cover illustration by Jim Burns friends, although his accent is so weird they assume he is Egyptian. Karl’s

November 1999: SF Masterworks series #22 SF Masterworks second series 76 goal is to witness the crucifixion of Christ, to answer once and for all his questions about the meaning of the messiah. This is the point in the review where I would seem to be wandering into spoiler territory, but really from the title of the novel it is fairly obvious what is going to happen. Moorcock’s accomplishment lies is treating Karl’s experience in both the first and the twentieth century with the same clear-headed narrative style that never slips into satire and always respects his main character’s experience, questing nature, and growing awareness of the role he has to play. [2013]

MANNY RAYNER You know those science fiction novels where they go back in time, and discover they’ve become some well-known historical character? Like Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, where the hero finds out he’s become the Person from Porlock. This novel takes the idea pretty much to its logical conclusion… not sure it’s possible to trump becoming Jesus Christ. It’s well worth reading. Science fiction writers are notorious for having great ideas and then blowing the execution (the Trout Complex, as it were), but this time Moorcock gets it right. I wonder if any brave director will try and film it some day? [2009]

PETER YOUNG Behold the Man is high up on my ‘great Christmas reading for athiests’ list. While most of the time I don’t grok the intricacies of Moorcock this novella is, in contrast, very direct and in retrospect has an inevitable twist on a common time-travel tale – how no one got around to writing this particular plot resolution until as late as 1969 is anyone’s guess. Fom the early scene in which a young Karl Glogauer gets crucified on the school fence, you know the direction the book will take you, all the time with a knowing smirk, as the pieces all fall neatly into place and Christianity gets roundly debunked. Throughout, we cut between scenes of Glogauer’s life among the pre-Christian Essene’s and his 1960s life in England, where we bear witness to his feelings of abandonment and insecurity, the formation of his attitudes to sex and his variable success with women. His sixth-form discussions on religion and philosophy are all embarrassingly reminiscent and took me on my own uncomfortable trip back to the past; the result for Glogauer, however, was to end up as a tool for the politically ambitious John the Baptist before discovering his Messiah Complex and playing a pivotal role in the origin of Christianity. With all this crammed into just 124 pages (and consumed along with a dozen mince pies) it’s pretty impressive. [2011]


JOHN DeNARDO If you plan on reading Robert Silverberg’s The Book of Skulls – and you should – go into it knowing that it’s one of those books labeled “science fiction” that reads more like mainstream fiction. The premise is simple enough but with an element of the fantastic thrown in. Four college roommates embark on a quest for immortality when one of them, the scholarly Eli, discovers an ancient manuscript in the university library. He convinces his roommates – Timothy the spoiled rich kid, Ned the gay poet, Oliver the bright farm boy – to join him on his quest because immortality is only granted under certain conditions: four candidates must appear together but only two will achieve immortality in the Brotherhood of the Skulls. Of the other two, one must commit suicide and one must be sacrificed. Today (this book was written in 1971) this sounds like the premise for a cheap reality show and so it is no wonder that the young men search for the Brotherhood only half-believing it’s true. Logic tells them this is a hoax but the desire is so strong within them that any chance, no matter how remote, is worth a look. So they travel from New England to Arizona in search of the mysterious Brotherhood. The trip itself takes about half the book while the second half involves their trials. But the plot, as intriguing as it is, is only secondary in The Book of Skulls. The book is really a character study – a four-character study to be exact. The narrative is structured in alternating first-person views from each Cover illustration by Jim Burns character. Through their eyes and thoughts we learn about their histories

December 1999: SF Masterworks series #23 SF Masterworks second series 78 and background, their thoughts and fears, their sexual escapades and prejudices, their weaknesses and their secrets. (Oh they have secrets!) And the mood of the story is perfect for their quest. Each reading session left me feeling introspective and the ending left me feeling wonderfully somber. This isn’t the kind of book that blows you away but its poetic writing and insightful look into the minds of its characters makes you keeps eating it up anyway. Silverberg shows his command over the written word with every page. You get to know these characters, even if you don’t necessarily like them. They play well within their own narratives as well as in the interaction with each other. Who will willingly commit suicide to help his friends? Who will be killed to save the remaining two? These are questions you keep asking throughout the book, but the answers don’t really matter. It’s the personal peek we get into their lives that holds your interest. The question of immortality is only secondary. And therein sits an issue I had with the book. Well, not an issue so much as an unmet expectation. The book is labeled as science fiction and has a plot that reeks of fantasy, but it reads like neither of these. This book could just as easily be classified as mainstream fiction. This is not a bad thing in itself – genre definition should be an aside, right? A good story is a good story, isn’t it? Ultimately it comes down, I think, not to genre definition but to expectation. My expectation was that of being a science fiction novel. As Silverberg explains in an enlightening and entertaining afterward to the 2006 Del Rey edition, the science fiction element could be argued to be the immortality aspect. Maybe so. But sf readers should know that the book is light on what one normally thinks of as sf. It simply reads like mainstream fiction. But a damn fine piece of fiction it is. [2006]


ANTHONY G. WILLIAMS The Time Machine was Wells’s first novel, published in 1895, and made his reputation. It is narrated by an unnamed guest at a Victorian dinner party given by a man identified only as the Time Traveller, and consists of the Time Traveller’s account to his guests of a journey to the future from which he had just returned. The story was controversial on publication because its principal theme was that mankind would evolve. Since resistance on the part of fundamentalist religious groups to the idea of evolution in general, and human evolution in particular, still exists even today, their condemnation is not surprising. What must have been even worse to many people is that Wells showed a humanity which had devolved into two degenerate races: the small and beautiful but unintelligent Eloi, who lived an apparently idyllic existence on the surface of a garden-like world, and the hideous and evil subterranean Morlocks. The novel, or more precisely novella since it is only eighty pages long, principally deals with the Time Traveller’s stay with the Eloi and his encounters with the Morlocks. A particularly interesting suggestion in the story, also obviously prompted by Darwin’s theories, was that the decline of humanity had occurred because civilisation had become too successful; the upper classes lived such idyllic lives that the evolutionary pressures which had sparked the development of intelligence had disappeared. The lower classes, slaving away in the darkness, had similarly become adapted to their environment. Cover illustration by Christopher Gibbs In the world of the Eloi and the Morlocks, the ruins of an obviously glorious

December 1999: SF Masterworks series #24 (with The War of the Worlds) SF Masterworks second series (hardcover) 80 past (still in our future) were still scattered across the landscape. Leaving the world of the Eloi behind, the Time Traveller rushes into the far future. He stops only when the sun has become a vast, dim and stationary red ball in the sky. All is silent, with just a few creatures scavenging a living in the thin air of a cold and almost dead world. For me, these brief images carry more evocative power than the rest of the story. The themes of The Time Machine are as relevant today as they were then; the style of the story-telling has changed a lot, but the ideas still resonate. The impact which they had on a Victorian world largely unexposed to science fiction can be imagined. About the only anachronism is the short timescale, which only reflects the lack of knowledge when the story was written. The Eloi and the Morlocks are said to live just over 800,000 years in the future, the end of the world in only thirty million years. Compared with modern works there is also a total lack of characterisation, but that doesn’t really matter here – this was a novel of ideas. [2009]

AMY H. STURGIS I adore re-reading this classic. It is “must read” material for anyone interested in the development of science fiction in general or the inspiration for in particular. It also shows H.G. Wells at his social-scientist best, both critiquing the social realities of his time and applying his understanding of evolution to larger processes and patterns in the human experience. Several aspects of this remarkable novella keep me coming back for more. I love the portrait of the lone inventor- explorer and intimate setting of the Time Traveller’s recounting of his adventure behind closed doors. There’s such a poignancy in the contrast between the Victorian anything-is-possible, science-as-progress momentum behind the Time Traveller’s experiment and the disturbing portrait of the future he encounters, in which humans are unutterably degraded and devolved and, at the last, completely irrelevant. The ending of the novel has the same sense of the smallness of humanity put in its place within the vastness of the disinterested universe that I get from the cosmic perspective of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction. The Time Machine’s beauty is a bleak one, balancing the thrill of what humanity is capable of through daring and reason against the horror of what humanity is capable of through complacency and willful neglect – and awe at those forces that humanity altogether. [2012]


BEN BABCOCK It's easy to be a jaded reader of science fiction, especially if you grew up with the conveniences of Star Trek, Star Wars, and the reality of spaceflight. So it's important to remember that writers like H.G. Wells never got to see the famous Blue Marble photograph of Earth; they never got to see what our planet looks like from space – something most of us take for granted in this era. This awareness, our conception of the Earth as a big blue marble, has become so pervasive as to make descriptions like this seem… odd:

...our own warmer planet, green with vegetation and grey with water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad stretches of populous country and narrow, navy-crowded seas.

(Emphasis mine.) Wells didn’t grow up with the Apollo missions; he only dreamed of men walking on the moon. So to write a story about Martians invading Earth, one saturated with speculation that uses the most cutting- edge science available to him in the 1890s, is all the more amazing and deserving of praise. The War of the Worlds is not a novel of the ages because of its story or characters – indeed, it lacks both – but because it is a testament to the power of one’s imagination. No, where Wells truly excels is his portrayal of the Martians as the Other and his exploration of how humanity reacts to the invasion of the Other, to absolute and utter catastrophe. The Martians never parley with Cover illustration by Chris Moore humanity, neither to threaten nor to deliver ultimatums. They are taciturn

December 1999: SF Masterworks series #24 (with The Time Machine) SF Masterworks second series (hardcover) 82 and methodical, ruthlessly organized in their effort to dominate the Earth. Our entire understanding of them is predicated on the narrator’s perception, on his perhaps fallible assignation of thoughts and desires to the Martians. They are, he supposes, doing this out of a need to survive – Mars being a dying planet – but it’s worth noting that this is total supposition; for all we know, the Martians were utterly malevolent and their planet was fine. The Martians certainly bring out a certain malevolence in humanity. There’s no shortage of books that show the dark side of humanity, of course. But the alien invasion story is unique because of its ability to render us, as a species, totally impotent:

For that moment I touched an emotion beyond the common range of men, yet one that the poor brutes we dominate know only too well. I felt as a rabbit might feel returning to his burrow and suddenly confronted by the work of a dozen busy navvies digging the foundations of a house. I felt the first inkling of a thing that presently grew quite clear in my mind, that oppressed me for many days, a sense of dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master, but an animal among the animals, under the Martian heels. With us it would be as with them, to lurk and watch, to run and hide; the fear and empire of man had passed away.

This is not the first time Wells compares us to animals; earlier in the book he compares his initial underestimation of the Martians as tantamount to the dodos’ lackadaisical attitude toward the first sailors on Mauritius. However, the sentiment doesn’t truly sink in until Wells’s narrator re-encounters the artilleryman, who sums it up: “We’re beat… This isn’t a war. It never was a war, anymore than there’s war between man and ants.” From here, the book briefly digresses into a dim vision of humanity’s future under the heels of the Martians. The scary thing is, I can see it happening. Our greatest strength as a species is how adaptable we are – but that strength can also be a disadvantage. Civilizations have grown comfortable under the rule of tyrants (just don’t ask for the recipe for Soylent Green…); I was ready to envision humanity under the Martians. It’s worth remembering too that this all happens, and was written, before World War I. But does this sound familiar? It may be that in the larger design of the universe this invasion from Mars is not without its ultimate benefit for men; it has robbed us of that serene confidence in the future which is the most fruitful source of decadence, the gifts to human

83 science it has brought are enormous, and it has done much to promote the conception of the commonwealth of mankind. Finally, everyone knows how the story ends, even though few people probably even read the entire book: the Martians are felled by tiny, microscopic bacteria, because “there are no bacteria in Mars.” Of all the science in this book – much of which is accurate, by the way, if not precise – that is the most ironic statement, for scientists currently searching for life on Mars, past or present, are focusing on finding that life under a microscope. So fortunately for us, I don’t think the Martians will be aiming their rockets at Earth anytime soon. [2009]

BASIL WILLIAMS Mr. Wells has evidently studied and attempted to imitate the methods of Jules Verne in this account of an attack from Mars on earth. But while perceiving that Jules Verne’s plausibility come largely from a scrupulous exactitude in matter-of-fact details, he has not seen that matter-of-fact details need not necessarily be vulgar and commonplace. There is too much of the young man from Clapham* attitude about the book; the narrator sees and hears exciting things, but he has not the gift of making them exciting to other people. He reminds one of the man of whom it was said that he had travelled to more interesting places and talked with more clever people than the rest of the world, but had really seen and heard nothing for himself. The idea of the invasion from Mars – which, by-the-by, Mr. Wells says he owes to somebody else** – is magnificent, and the machines and weapons used by the Martians for devastating the earth must have been stupendous; but the whole business fizzles away in the most disappointing fashion. For example, what a splendid opportunity is lost in the description of the exodus from London! One thinks what a writer with a great eye for poetical effect like Mr. Meredith*** would have made with such an idea; whereas Mr. Wells is content with describing the cheap emotions of a few bank clerks and newspaper touts, and the jostling in the road which might very well do for an account of a Derby crowd going to Epsom. Mr. Wells must look carefully to his writing; he began well, but he evidently writes too much now, and is too apt to trust solely to the effect of his blood-curdling ideas, without taking the trouble to give them distinction. [1898]

* The “man on the Clapham omnibus” was contemporary shorthand for “the common man” and is used to suggest how ordinary Wells and his characters seem to this critic. // ** A reference to Wells’s dedication of The War of the Worlds: “To my brother Frank Wells, this rendering of his idea.” // *** George Meredith (1828-1909), English novelist, poet, journalist and contemporary of Wells, was a famous master of style.

84 JONATHAN TERRINGTON It has arisen to my attention that this interesting work of fiction demands from me its own review. In fact I don’t believe I have attended to many of Mr. Wells’s works as of this stage of my existence. This shall have to be amended once I have taken over the world holidays… I appreciate H.G. Wells’s work immensely but for some odd reason I like this less than I like The Invisible Man. Perhaps it is the psychological horror prevalent in his other noted novel – the idea of a man being alienated and outcast because of a terrible scientific accident – which grips me more. Or perhaps it is simply an act of my natural maturity. That if I were to go and re-read this work I would find new depths in it to add it to my favourite classic works. There has always remained one aspect of this text however that has always made me a little frustrated. Normally I would never complain about deus-ex-machina in any work of fiction. After all look at how many brilliant authors such as Douglas Adams are able to combine such an effect with humour. Yet the ending is such a blatant deus-ex-machina act that stunned me when I first read it and left me going: as if. Yes the ending is at the same time a brilliant and realistic attempt to convey what would likely happen to unprepared invaders from outer space. However I cannot help feeling that H.G. Wells let me down (perhaps I was expecting some grand finale with explosions, action and people dying rather than the way he chooses to end his work).

85 I think it is perhaps the ending of this book which has annoyed me the most out of any great book I have read. And it is perhaps the reason for my love/hate relationship with the text. Yet I will in the future return to this work to see if time has altered my perceptions and whether with greater literary maturity behind me I can appreciate the hidden nuances of Mr. Wells’s prose. [2012]

NICHOLAS WHYTE I had forgotten just how good this is. Its two hundred pages far outshine all later (and mostly longer) invasion-of-Earth stories (or even just disaster stories like The Stand). It feels so very fresh, one of the basic plots of science fiction being written for the first time. Yes, of course it’s strongly reliant on tales of human wars, both those set in the contemporary late nineteenth century and those set in the (then) near future; but this chilling sentence – of mildly dodgy grammar but impeccable pace – in the first paragraph makes it clear that this is not about the Germans:

Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

In the earlier chapters, there’s a fixation with circumstantial detail – especially of the geography of Surrey – which gives the whole narrative an immediacy which is curiously intensified as the conflict goes on and fewer and fewer characters get names – ‘the artilleryman’, ‘the curate’, and rather oddly to today’s reader, ‘my wife’. (And ‘my brother’, though his lady friends, the Elphinstones, do get names.) So much here is reminiscent of later stories and indeed of history – the rescue of the English refugees by small boats from the rest of Europe is an odd inversion of Dunkirk; the tripods pop up in John Christopher; the gas warfare waged by the aliens against London was soon to happen in real life. Anyway, a really excellent, short read. [2009]


MANNY RAYNER Flowers for Algernon’s twin is Thomas Disch’s Camp Concentration. Both were published within a few months of each other. Both are first-person narratives, presented as a series of diary entries written by the main character. Both address the same question: suppose a medical procedure were invented that could make people much smarter. What would happen? Now given the rules of the game, how are you going to present the narrator getting smarter? Keyes picked the obvious solution: in this book, Charlie Gordon starts off real dumb. You read the early entries in his dirie, and he rites like thiss. hees ilitrate and he dont even no wot it means. but hes a good guy with a big hart. Charlie is given the procedure, and he starts getting smarter. Of course, it’s technically quite easy for Keyes to show his vocabulary, grammar and spelling improving, and the way he gains more insight into his situation. The trickiest thing in the book is the romance. Charlie’s always had a crush on the nice teacher at his evening class, but he’s never been able to do a thing about it. Now he’s able to put the moves on her. But as he gets more and more intelligent, he finds he’s outgrown her. He meets a brilliant woman artist and starts up a new relationship with her. At the apex of his trajectory, Charlie is a world-class scientist. He turns his intelligence on himself and learns that his brilliance is only temporary. Soon, he will lose all his new powers. He will inexorably descend the curve again, and before long he will be as dumb as he was at the Cover illustration by Chris Moore beginning. Shortly after that, he will die. He dispassionately presents all

January 2000: SF Masterworks series #25 SF Masterworks second series 87 these discoveries in a scientific paper. Not long after, the decline begins. He can no longer read the things he’s just written. His relationship with the artist is over. The most heart-rending scene is when he’s returned to his old level: forgetful and confused, he goes back to his evening class and sees the nice teacher again, not even remembering their brief affair. She runs out of the room weeping, and he can’t quite figure out why. In the last diary entry, he half-understands that he is a few days from death, and leaves instructions to the person who finds the diary. Keyes has a clear plan in mind and succeeds well in what he sets out to do. The book is quite well known, got made into a movie, and has even ended up on school reading lists. But Disch wanted to try something much riskier. His hero starts out, not just normal, but already pretty smart. Moreover, he’s a writer, though admittedly not a very successful one. Now what would you get when you took a smart writer and made him enormously smarter? How would you depict that through the medium of his own writing? It’s obviously impossible, and Camp Concentration has indeed never become famous. Of the few people that look at it, most remain deeply unimpressed. yet somehow I prefer Disch’s ambitious failure to Keyes’s easy success. Keyes engages my emotions, but Disch manages to hit me somewhere deeper down. Perhaps it’s a more interesting kind of tragedy. [2012]

PETER YOUNG Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, has had his intelligence experimentally enhanced to such a degree that he becomes ostracised and emotionally remote, unnerving even the scientists who created his vastly superior mental abilities. Then Algernon, the intelligent mouse who served as the prototype for his experiment, prematurely dies and Charlie must face the possibility that his redemption was only temporary. This is a novel I inexplicably put off reading for many years, and I now wonder how much it was influenced by Theodore Sturgeon’s similar 1947 novella ‘Maturity’, which I also read no long before this. I still haven’t seen the film Charly but I did enjoy the remake (which reverted back to the book’s title), even if, as I can see in retrospect, it did reinterpret some of the book’s best scenes. Daniel Keyes crafted an insightful and highly readable book, one that succeeds in just about everything it sets out to do while also exploring most of the philosophical avenues. It’s also noticeable how Keyes can look into the hearts of his

88 characters to show just how inescapably fallible they all are, no matter how great or small their intellectual achievements. A book that’s never superficial, I’d also recommend it to anyone who doesn’t habitually read science fiction as an example of how SF doesn’t always need science in order to tell its most humane stories. [2006]

JOHN COXON I didn’t know what to expect from this novel. I often have troubles with stories that are too long for their central concept, and since this novel is an expansion of a , I was worried that it would fall foul of that problem. Thankfully, at no point did I get bored or find the plot meandering unnecessarily. It takes a while for our protagonist, Charlie Gordon, to morph from an IQ of 68 to the intelligence he ultimately achieves, but I think that’s necessary to slowly introduce the changes that are happening throughout (for those of you thinking “but IQ isn’t a measure of intelligence!”, there is a discussion in the novel as to whether this is a good way to measure it). I loved Charlie’s naïvety when it came to Alice and also when it came to the others with whom he ends up working. His emotional maturity is obviously not at the level it should be for a man his age, and so it was occasionally hard to read parts of the novel focusing on the interactions between him and other people in the story. I felt sorry for his anger and confusion in these situations; but most of all it was his slow realisation and interaction with the colleagues at the bakery that really made me sad for him. The reader’s reaction is mirrored by Alice’s reaction as he tells her everything in the beginning of the book and she becomes upset hearing the tales of him at work. The parts where he is a genius are interesting, as he becomes a different person and finds that his personality has changed alongside his intellect. This alters his ability to relate to and be with people, until he meets Fay; I was glad that he found someone who made him more human in the latter half of the novel. Ultimately, however, it is his descent back to where he started that is truly heartbreaking. I found myself in floods of tears as a confused, IQ-of-68 Charlie makes his way back to Miss Kinnian’s classroom and sits down, forgetting everything that has come before. Charlie eventually remembers that things have changed, and decides to go to a home, to take himself away from people and avoid upsetting them. This revelation that he is putting other people’s needs before him is a reinforcement of his regression, and even thinking about it makes me well up. [2012]


RANDY BYERS Ubik is as much a metaphysical novel as it is a work of science fiction. The central science fictional idea is of a technology that preserves dead people in a kind of dwindling half-life that allows the living to continue to communicate with them for a while before they pass from this mortal coil completely. The novel starts out in the world of the living, but it isn’t long before we move to the ambiguous world of the dead. In this afterlife, we learn, there is a struggle between a malevolent force of entropy and chaos and a benevolent force of resilience and order. This has a very gnostic feel to it, particularly the malevolent demiurge figure, Jory, who is apparently the ultimate cause of the world of illusion the characters in the afterlife experience. Then again, in Dick’s novels there really is no ultimate cause, because any narrative reality is subject to question and sudden collapse or reversal, as happens throughout Ubik. In any event, a struggle between good and evil in the afterworld is nothing if not metaphysical, even if it’s couched in science fictional terms. Still, it’s probably unfair to say that Ubik isn't really science fiction. It takes place in the near future, and there’s a moon colony and Martian crickets are on the menu. People have psi powers, such as telepathy and precognition. Psi powers are a rationalized form of magic, but it’s possible to treat them in science fictional or speculative ways. The other clever stfnal idea Dick uses here is that there are anti-psi powers as well. Joe Chip and his co-workers (called inertials) are employed by a company that sells these Cover illustration by Chris Moore anti-psi powers to people who want protection from prying telepaths. (Dick

February 2000: SF Masterworks series #26 SF Masterworks second series 90 is always conscious of what people have to do to make a living, even in outlandish situations.) Early on we’re introduced to Pat Conley, one of those dark-haired, manipulative beauties so common in Dick’s novels, who has a previously unknown form of anti-precognition that allows her to apparently reverse time to erase foreseen futures. Dick puts this fantastical idea through several recursions, once in which the novel is suddenly plunged into an alternate reality before our very eyes as Conley exhibits her talent (an alternate reality that leaves a lingering imprint on the world of the book thereafter) and again when it becomes more and more likely that she is the malevolent demiurge controlling reality in the afterlife, before the blame shifts to Jory. The psi powers and anti-powers may themselves be essentially metaphysical, but Dick thinks about them in speculative, extrapolative ways, as though metaphysics were the science the ancient Greeks thought it was. For years I’ve remembered the ending of Ubik to be a coin flip in which the face on the coin revealed by the flip tells the reader that reality once again isn’t what we thought it was. This isn’t quite right, because the coin isn’t actually flipped, which eliminates the element of chance that memory found so brilliant. Yet coins remain a key element of the novel, from the coin-operated door that threatens to sue Joe Chip when he tries to dismantle it rather than pay to exit, to the constantly slipping age of the coins the characters carry, which signifies the regression of reality itself to earlier eras. Coins signify the debased commercial world in which these characters operate, where money is required for even the simplest existential need. Dick milks this for great satirical humor, but he isn’t dismissive of the commercial world. The coins provide key clues as to what’s really going on, and the constant barrage of advertisements (every chapter is headed by an advertisement for a product called Ubik) also contain important messages and pointers to the truth. Ubik is the universal healer and restorer for whatever ails you, and it comes wreathed in advertisements and available at a reasonable price. We live in a degraded world, but redemption is available even – or especially – at the most degraded level. Dick’s sympathy is always with the little guy, the small time operator, the luckless dreamer. Joe Chip (perhaps a chip off of Le Guin’s uncarved block) is a guy who’s always broke in a world of devices constantly demanding nickels and dimes from him. Yet that final coin reveals that perhaps it’s the downtrodden Chip, not his vital boss, Runciter, who’s been God all along. Many critics see Ubik as Dick’s turn toward the religious themes that prevailed at the end of his career, and the ambiguous coda to the book implies that, in a surprise twist, the meek really shall inherit the earth. [2014]


CHRIS AMIES It’s 1998 and the world is a mess. Algal bloom infests the seas and has started to make the transition to the atmosphere. Meanwhile, in early 1960s at a university in California, young Gordon Bernstein discovers some strange interference in a physics experiment, which he can’t explain but which, it is suggested, just might be evidence of extraterrestrial transmissions. Benford published this novel of environmental disaster and big science in 1980, between the two timeframes of the story. It was an era when environmental pollution was starting to be taken seriously; the nuclear threat was receding but people were realising that a lot of damage had already been done to the world. John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up delivered a powerful attack on environmental disasters in store for careless humankind some eight years earlier. Timescape, although it delivers a similar picture of a blighted future world, is more of a novel of scientific speculation which establishes once more the figure of the scientist as hero. John Renfrew and Greg Markham in 1998, and Gordon Bernstein in 1962-3, have to save the world. Unconvincing: the English setting for the 1998 sections of the novel. Why Cambridge? It leads Benford to some very odd observations that actually stop the flow of the novel while this reader tries to re-suspend his disbelief. It is all a bit similar to the 1970s TV series Survivors (which is of the right era to have influenced that aspect of Timescape) and other films Cover illustration by Chris Moore and novels where tweedy rural types try to come to terms with a world

March 2000: SF Masterworks series #27 SF Masterworks second series 92 turned upside down. Convincing: the portrayal of scientists at work and the horrors of dealing with bureaucracy. The scientist characters are well portrayed, although Bernstein is a bit clichéd as an innocent lad abroad on the big bad West Coast. Other characters are less well-drawn, and Gordon’s mother can only be there for comic relief. The unpleasant and manipulating Ian Peterson is bizarrely described as a “prig”, which, as he has the morals of a tomcat, hardly seems the right word. Benford drags in that same old marker of a parallel world, the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963. In this version Kennedy is shot but survives. Perhaps only that event is sufficiently well-known that it will always be used to signal that the world of a particular novel is not our own. Put it down to writerly shorthand. None of which detracts from this being a classic, often funny, intriguing and puzzling. It was well worth reprinting. [2000]

CHARLES DEE MITCHELL Benford wrote this novel in 1979 and set it in both the recent past of the early 1960s and the near future of 1998. Reading it today, we know that we are reading of a 1998 that never happened, although perhaps it never happened because of the incidents in Benford’s narrative. Earth in 1998 faces an ecological crisis that is rapidly approaching apocalyptic proportions. Pesticides used mostly in the Southern hemisphere have created diatomic blooms. Massive die-offs occur in the ocean, and there is evidence that the viruses created by the blooms have become airborne. In Cambridge, England, scientists are working with tachyons to send messages into the past in hopes of averting the catastrophe. Tachyons are to this day theoretical particles capable of moving faster than light. In Benford’s novel they are a proven reality, and his scientists target earth in the 1960s with messages warning of the coming disaster. They are received by a group in La Jolla working nuclear resonance experiments. Although this team first perceives them as , the patterns that emerge become unmistakable messages, sometimes hopelessly garbled and at other times explicit. Why possibly changing the past in this way will not produce unavoidable paradoxes is explained in one of Benford’s several long physics discussions that goes completely over my head. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but it seems that if the messages were successful, earth would not be in the mess it is in 1998, and therefore they would not need to be sent. I

93 cannot judge how effectively Benford deals with this issue. (It has something to do with a light switch stuck between on and off.) But even when the science talk gets obscure, Benford keeps his story going with believable and engaging characters. These are dedicated scientists facing not only new, paradigm-shaking concepts, but also dealing, in their respective presents, with campus politics, domestic crises, the English class system, a Jewish mother situation, a girlfriend who is voting for Goldwater, and a deteriorating social world veering from the inconvenient to the chaotic. Benford’s cast of characters includes heros, villains, and fools. In the 1960s narrative, a La Jolla professor looking into the experimental anomalies decides they are messages from an alien civilization. His irresponsible exposure of this theory almost derails the serious work being done. (At the end of the book we learn that he has since become a successful science popularizer who appears on The Tonight Show.) Ian Peterson is an upper crust British administrator sent in to keep tabs on the experiments. He is a cad, a compulsive womanizer, and in the end proves true to his class by setting up a bunker compound he foolishly thinks is a defense against the coming apocalypse. The final chapter takes place in 1974. This leaves the main plot line open-ended, but Benford gives us a vision of time that is difficult to grasp but evocative and possibly even hopeful. [2013]

SIMON McLEISH Timescape is classic science fiction, not quite about time travel but considering how history might be affected by the possibility of sending messages to the past. Half of the novel is set in San Diego in 1963, and half in Cambridge in 1998, with chapters more or less alternating between the two settings. (The dates were clearly chosen so that the novel appeared halfway between the two.) In 1998, the world is experiencing a massive environmental catastrophe caused by mutations in plankton induced by the indiscriminate use of certain chemicals in agriculture. Physicists in Cambridge are investigating tachyons, sub-atomic particles which travel faster than the speed of light, and it occurs to one of them that it would be possible to send some kind of message to the past by sending a beam of tachyons to the point in space where the Earth once was, and interfering with physics experiments being carried out at the time when the Earth was at that position (direct detection of the tachyons being impossible, as technology wouldn’t be in a position to pick them up at that point). The early sixties were chosen as a target because experiments which can be affected by beams of tachyons were beginning to be studied then.

94 Some people divide the science fiction genre into ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ writing. Hard SF is concerned with science: it views the genre almost as a way to carry out an informal discussion of more less speculative ideas, usually in physics, in a fictional setting. Soft SF is more often interested in the social aspects of science and technology, centring on culture. It is perhaps something of an outmoded way to view the genre, which seems to be more simply speculative in nature (i.e. centred around “what if?” ideas) than anything else, where science fiction elements (such as space travel) are not simply props to a story which doesn’t depend on them except as part of the background. If the distinction has any meaning, then Gregory Benford has usually been regarded as a hard science fiction writer, partly because he is also a physics professor and partly because he is also concerned to get the science in his stories as compatible with known fact (and interesting fact-based speculation) as possible. Most of the physics in Timescape is based on what was known or what at least seemed plausible in 1980, including what is quite likely to be the earliest mention of dark matter in a science fiction novel. The exception to this is the tachyons, which physicists still generally doubt could possibly exist. How they could behave if they did exist has been the subject of a certain amount of speculation, and Benford builds in part on this. And of course, tachyons are needed for the central plot device in Timescape of sending the message back in time, even if this violation of causality is one of the main reasons that their existence is considered unlikely. Benford has a rather convoluted but clever and interesting mechanism to get out of this trap, which I will not give away. At the same time, Benford is able to write well enough to avoid the major criticism often levelled at hard SF writers, that they neglect important aspects of the story such as characterisation because of their overwhelming interest in the scientific idea. In Timescape, the reader does care about the characters in both timelines, and the background is believable – possibly in part because the setting is the physics research community of which Benford is a member in real life. It all works well, and the end product is a fascinating novel – at least, I think it would be to anyone interested in the physics. [2012]


VICTORIA STRAUSS Sturgeon is best-known as a short story writer, and More than Human is definitely a story writer’s novel. Its constructed as three separate novelettes (the central one, ‘Baby is Three’, was originally published in Galaxy) which together link up to tell a larger tale. This structure echoes the novel’s theme: the creation and evolution of a Gestalt, a single being composed of disparate parts that are incomplete alone but together form a whole. In the first section ‘The Fabulous Idiot’, the Gestalt is born, as its components come together for the first time: Lone, a mentally defective youth with a powerful telepathic gift; Janie, a stubborn child with telekinetic abilities; Bonnie and Beanie, twins who are incapable of speech and yet can teleport their bodies at will; and Baby, a profoundly retarded infant whose brain works like a computer. Each of these handicapped, misfit individuals is incapable of functioning on his or her own, but together they add up to a complete being: as Baby tells Janie, “the I is all of us.” In the second section ‘Baby is Three’, the Gestalt grows up, emerging into the outside world and facing the challenges of survival. Several years have passed; Lone, the “head” of the Gestalt body, is dead, and his place has been taken by Gerry, an abused street urchin consumed by anger and hatred. Handicapped before because of Lone’s limited mental capacity, the Gestalt is handicapped now by Gerry’s moral emptiness. Gerry’s ruthlessness serves the Gestalt, though, for he is willing to do anything to preserve it against separation. Cover illustration by Chris Moore In the concluding section ‘Morality’, the Gestalt matures, completing

April 2000: SF Masterworks series #28 SF Masterworks second series 96 its evolution into a fully-realized being. Again, many years have passed; this time the narrative proceeds from the viewpoint of Hip, a young man who has been the subject of a cruel experiment by Gerry, and whom Janie, rebelling, decides to rescue. Ultimately, Hip turns out to be the Gestalt’s single missing element, without which it cannot take the next step in its development. The question is whether callous, conscienceless Gerry can accept the necessity of change. The Gestalt is an idea that preoccupied Sturgeon, who examined it in various ways in a number of his stories. In More Than Human, its roots in psychiatry (in which Sturgeon was also very interested) are clear: the entire middle portion of the book is framed as a long psychiatric session, in which the Gestalt slowly, for the first time, achieves self-awareness. Sturgeon’s humanism, and his belief in the transformative power of love, are also evident here. Many writers who address the “more than human” theme assume that such super-beings must be hostile toward those they’ve evolved beyond. But rather than a superceding of humanity, Sturgeon’s Gestalt represents the greatest fulfillment of human potential. As such, Homo Gestalt has a moral duty to guide, inspire, and protect Homo Sapiens – which is only logical, for ordinary human beings are the Gestalt’s source material. More Than Human is powerfully written, in a style both sinewy and poetic. The characters – each of whom follows a path of personal evolution that echoes the evolution of the Gestalt – are strongly and compassionately drawn: the story turns on them, on their weaknesses and their strengths, as much as it does on Sturgeon’s tightly-conceived plot. The structure of the book, with its separate sections told in very different voices, might in other hands have seemed disjointed or confusing, but like Homo Gestalt, Sturgeon attains a transcendence of form: ultimately, the sections “blesh” – Sturgeon’s term for the Gestalt’s awareness, a combination of blending and meshing – into a single, integrated whole. (While it would be nice to theorize that this interplay of theme and structure was deliberate, it seems more likely that it came about by default, both because the book sprang from a story and because Sturgeon was a story-writer first and a novelist second. More Than Human achieves its transcendence not because of its structure, but in spite of it.) Originally published more than fifty years ago, More Than Human does not seem dated: the universality of its themes and the depth of its meditations on the nature and future of humanity are appropriate for any time. It's a must-read from one of the great masters of the genre. [2000]


NIALL ALEXANDER How thin the line between and man… Roger Torroway is a man, at the outset of Man Plus. A man with a man’s problems. He worries about why his wife, Dorrie, doesn’t seem to want intercourse with him any more; his career, after an early high when he saved some Russians from certain death on re-entry, appears to have hit a brick wall – though a dead-end job as an astronaut is still something, he supposes; overall, Roger feels as if time is slipping away from him, and there’s precious little he can do to coax the beast that ambles ever- onward back. But Earth’s troubles are more serious still. Tensions between the world’s most powerful nations are at an all time high… nuclear war is all but a forgone conclusion at this stage, and with the apocalypse knock-knocking at the door, the President has invested all America’s hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow – a tomorrow at all – in a mission to Mars. Enter the Man Plus project. NASA understand that they can’t in the time allotted change Mars to suit man, but maybe, just maybe, they can change man to suit Mars. As the third of three backup subjects, Roger Torroway had good reason to believe the Man Plus would never come a-calling. But when it comes to the punch, all the other candidates start dropping like flies, and Roger finds himself in an unenviable position, with the stakes in play no less than the fate of the human race. Reluctantly, he volunteers to be Cover illustration by Chris Moore the man in Man Plus.

May 2000: SF Masterworks series #29 SF Masterworks second series 98 Roger Torroway is a man for only moments of Man Plus, however. A few chapters in, he is made a monster of: given a new skin, cameras for eyes, cybernetic joints and a battery-powered brain. Pohl effects his transformation day by excruciating day, culminating in the deeply discomfiting moment when the mad NASA scientists lop off Roger’s todger. But alas, the obstacles this courageous man must overcome are not discarded with his manhood; even then, Mars – and so the deliverance of Earth – are a long way off. I’ll confess to taking pleasure in being able to say what I’m about to – that from first to last, Pohl gets right under the skin of this Real American Hero – but there’s truth in some wordplay, to wit: while Torroway is not a particularly complex protagonist, nor of a sort set to surprise anyone with even elementary experience of classic SF, Pohl’s characterisation makes it ineffably easy to invest in this man to the slaughter. Lonely and conflicted, confused and uncertain and afraid, Torroway is not immediately Man Plus – he is but a man, the same as any other. Man Plus is a short enough novel to read in an evening, by dint of which its pace seems more solid than perhaps it is – nevertheless, on occasion some readers will wonder whether this mission is ever to get off the ground. But Pohl is smart, I think, to spend most of his time describing the journey than documenting the inevitable destination, for it is the metamorphosis of one man into a Martian-friendly monster that truly sells this Nebula award-winning narrative. And with every surgery… with every irreversible snip, Pohl evokes a deepening sense of dread in a hermetically sealed environment wherein a stray thought or the sound of a pin drop could mean the end of everything. Man Plus is a fantastically taut tale from “one of the grand old men of SF”, quick and easy to digest, yet shot through with such moral and marital dilemmas that you’ll likely find your thoughts returning to it well after you’ve turned the last page. And for all that it was written some forty years ago – hence its modicum of political incorrectness – Man Plus yet bears a startling sort of relevance to contemporary events, and begs in a timeless question: what would you, yes you, give up to save the world? What lengths would you go to to safeguard a loved one? In sum, could you be Man Plus too? [2011]


CHRISTY TIDWELL This book is worth reading for its attempts to bring together science and religion and for its insistence on taking religion seriously in a science fiction novel (a rarity). The chief protagonist, Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez, a Jesuit priest and a biologist, is a member of a team sent to the planet Lithia to evaluate the possibilities of using it as a waystation without causing harm to either humans or the inhabitants of Lithia, 12-foot reptilian creatures who are highly intelligent and rational. The “case of conscience” that Ruiz- Sanchez must face is whether or not the Lithians’ ability to live morally, ethically, and productively without God is possible without interference from the devil. Is this planet’s Edenic existence evidence of the fact that morality and goodness can exist without God? Or is it evidence that the devil is capable of creating ruses such as this to trick people into believing they don’t need God? The book is somewhat uneven, dealing with this issue bluntly at times (as in a long explanation of the theology and biology of this point late in the first part of the book) and at other times leaving it alone altogether (as in the second half of the book when Ruiz-Sanchez disappears for long stretches of time and the focus shifts to other characters with other concerns). In addition to the problem of focus is the question of perspective. The two sides of the issue are made very clear indeed throughout the book, but it is hard to tell which side Blish himself supports or which side the reader is meant to be nudged toward in the end. Typically, science fiction privileges Cover illustration by Fred Gambino science and rationality over things such as faith and religion and there is

June 2000: SF Masterworks series #30 SF Masterworks second series 100 some skepticism toward Ruiz-Sanchez’s interpretation of the state of affairs within the book, but those characters who express their skepticism are either bad guys or no more reliable than Ruiz-Sanchez, who is treated sympathetically throughout. The final events of the book are left just open enough to allow an atheist reader to see how deluded Ruiz- Sanchez has been or, alternately, to allow a Christian reader to see the awful power of God and of Ruiz-Sanchez’s faith in Him. In this way, I suppose, the book itself becomes “a case of conscience”, a case that the reader must solve for him or herself based upon the clues provided by Blish, a case that raises another set of questions entirely in the end: Why does Ruiz-Sanchez make the final choice that he does? How does his grief at his choice reflect upon the morality of that choice? And finally, what of the Lithians? Ruiz-Sanchez’s concern has been primarily with theology and Lithia’s implications for humans, but what of the possibility that (as in Harry Harrison’s ‘’) the real risk was not to the humans involved but to those others who are touched, tainted, by humans? [2008]

NICHOLAS WHYTE A Case of Conscience is a curious assortment of several different stories set in 2050, with the two big factors in the plot being the Roman (which Blish mostly gets right) and the alien planet of Lithia, which is an oddly perfect society. It is certainly, in intellectual terms, far ahead of a lot of the SF circulating in the late 1950s. But I think it misfires crucially on a couple of points. The first is the decision of the central character, the Jesuit Ruiz- Sanchez, that the Lithians are the direct creation of the devil. This is crucial in plot terms but (as the Pope points out to him in a later chapter) theologically very dubious. And although the presence of an alien child on Earth results in an effective and comprehensive breakdown of the human social order, I’m not completely clear on whether we are meant to think this is actually a Bad Thing; Blish’s future Earth is more repressed and more debauched than ours, beyond the point where one can see it as an allegory, which means that we readers are a bit adrift as to what he is trying to say. If the story were written today, the key character would be Cleaver, who deceives his exploratory mission colleagues, sees Lithia as a strategic military/industrial asset, returns to it to rape it of its resources, and, at the end, inadvertenty destroys it. A Case of Conscience remains a decent effort to inject serious religious debate into the genre, but it is overshadowed by later efforts. [2009]


CHARLES DEE MITCHELL Several things I read about Harrison’s book described it as ‘proto- cyberpunk’. I thought of it as sf noir which, come to think of it, maybe makes it proto-cyberpunk. The future Harrison describes is one dark place. Escalations of the Arab/Israeli conflict has divided the Earth, which is no longer hardly worth visiting, between the two forces. Other planets offer their own special hells, often little more than spaceports and port cities filled with junkies and prostitutes. John Truck, our hero, has given up peddling amphetamines, and now looks for whatever long distance hauls he can pick up. But he finds himself the most sought after drifter in the galaxy, wanted by both Israelis and Arabs because he is the bastard son of one of the last, purebred Centaurians, a race wiped out in a genocide a century or so ago. In the ruins of Centauri, an archeologist has discovered a ‘device’. Everyone assumes it is a weapon, but one that can only be operated by a person bearing Centaurian genes. This is hard-boiled with the body count and colorful characters you would expect to go with it. Genreral Gaw, female leader of the IWG (Israeli World Government), is a squat, tough broad given to calling everbody “duckie”; the leader of the UASR (United Arab something- or-other) has the prescient name Kadaffi. There is a femme fatale, one Angina Seng, but the most fascinating characters are members of a religious sect known as Openers. They replace more and more of their epidermis with plastic in a effort to achieve total transparency. John Truck falls victim to Cover illustration by Chris Moore one of their non-elective surgeries.

July 2000: SF Masterworks series #31 SF Masterworks second series 102 From 1968 to 1975, Harrison was literary editor of the British sf magazine New Worlds. So along with J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock, Thomas Disch and others he oversaw a genuine transformation in the literary style and subject matter of the genre. His leftist political stance delivers a good solid bitch-slap to Margaret Thatcher’s England and is a message worth keeping in circulation. [2011]

BRYAN ALEXANDER The Centauri Device is a bitter anti-space opera and a vital precursor to cyberpunk. Important reading for anyone interested in sf. The plot concerns the voyages of Captain Truck as he shambles around the galaxy being pursued by military superpowers. The latter convince the former to help find the title's ancient superdevice. There's a lot going on in Centauri, and I'll mention a few things. First, the grimness and bitterness of the story smacks science fiction space opera upside the head. Almost nothing in the far future is gleaming, awesome, or even very decent. Most of the scenes take place in bad bars, police interrogation chambers, trashed alleyways, and bedsits for nearly starving people. Characters are junkies, poor people, failures, thugs, prostitutes, beggars, losers. The two military interstellar empires (based on Arab nations and Israel, weirdly, sort of hilariously) are powerful but disgusting and entropic. Most plots ends badly, failing, human civilization flopping towards mediocrity. Call it space opera, or a response to Flash Gordon. It's a melancholy book, lacking any sense of a future. Most of the characters look to the past, all too often the 20th century, or their own sorry backstories. There isn't much hope for a better tomorrow. (That 20th century fixation is one of the few imaginative weaknesses of the novel.) Second, and following this, Centauri lays important groundwork for cyberpunk. We see the world dominated by stupid powers, and the hero an antihero who can't really make the world a better place. We also see some culture mixing of the kind Gibson did well in . Not much cyber, but plenty of punk. Third, the novel shows once again Harrison's excellent style. Each snarling, brooding paragraph is beautifully shaped, setting up ideas with a precise minimum of words. [2013]


MARK MONDAY Dick places his absurdist situations, bleak scenarios, and quirky characters within an almost pastoral, post-apocalyptic San Francisco-bay area. The setting is primarily a small town in Marin, with everyday people slowly trying to rebuild themselves and their world. The writing is typically loose and off-kilter. Results are sublime. And very strange, per usual. Two oddly endearing yet threatening characters stood out for me amongst the compellingly diverse cast: Hoppy Harrington – cringing, deluded, armless and legless, gifted with increasingly terrifying powers and a very specific plan to take over the world; his nemesis Bill – whiny, yearning, able to speak to the dead, an unborn twin to a self-absorbed 7 year-old girl, longing for a release into the larger world. Watching these two face off against each other was worth the price of admission – their escalating conflicts are wonderfully amusing and often genuinely thrilling. and yet they are but two pieces in an intriguingly mystifying and often ironic larger puzzle. This is a book of many minor, human notes; mournful and hopeful in equal measures. A true pleasure to read. [2013]

DAVID SOYKA When I was a kid, black and yellow posters that declared “Fallout Shelter” appeared at regular intervals along the hallways of my school. It was a favorite stupid joke to pretend to fall every time you went by one of those signs, a way to poke fun at grown-up solemnity. Even more ridiculous were Cover illustration by Chris Moore the regular air raid drills, which required walking quietly in single file from

August 2000: SF Masterworks series #32 SF Masterworks second series 104 your classroom to stand in the hall with your hands over your head. As if that could somehow or another ward off a nuclear explosion. So here was something that I was taught in school that wasn't on the formal curriculum – my first lesson in absurdity. These were the days when the United States was trying to close a missile gap with those pesky Ruskies (a gap which in fact never existed) with ever-increasing throw-weights that could blow up the world several times over. The emerging strategic doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD (who says the government doesn't have a sense of humor?), sought to achieve deterrence (though, arguably, it did) by threatening to respond to any nuclear launch by our enemies with overwhelming strikes guaranteed to wipe us both out. Talk about your Pyrrhic victory. Back then people were thinking a lot about what might happen next, assuming that there could even be a “next.” The prospect and consequences of nuclear war permeated the zeitgeist – ranging from the bleak black and white irony of Twilight Zone television episodes to awful, poorly dubbed Japanese horror films about nuclear mutants to the numerous science fiction books that obsessed with nuclear apocalypse. And perhaps no one obsessed better than Philip K. Dick. A good example is Dr. Bloodmoney, originally published in 1965 with the subtitle “How We All Got Along After the Bomb”. If you were alive at that time, it’ll serve as a chilling reminder of the underlying and understandable paranoia of the time (one of Dick’s personal obsessions, by the way, exacerbated by heavy drug usage, another fallout of the era). As Dick himself describes his state of mind in the novel’s afterword, which seems to have been written in the late ’70s, “Back in 1964 I was expecting [the end of the world] at any time; I kept checking my watch… such were the fears of the time.” If this is all ancient and perhaps unknown history to you, it’s a good place to start a study of an emerging front of writers who, unlike the atomic ray gun wet dreams of the Golden Agers, sought to depict war, and particularly a nuclear war, as preposterous horror. Perhaps the most famous of these are Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Fail-Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, and Nevil Shute’s On the Beach. Dr. Bloodmoney should certainly figure somewhere in there as well. Dr. Bloodmoney is sometimes compared to Dr. Strangelove, director Stanley Kubrick’s classic celluloid of nuclear misanthropy. Though the Germanic protagonists (inspired by the Nazi V-2 rocket scientists whose wartime crimes were overlooked by the US in compensation for the loan of their ballistic talents) of both works share severe cases of

105 megalomaniacal paranoia, and the film’s subtitle of “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb” echoes Dick’s, they are really quite different. For one thing, as Dick himself notes, his novel is much more optimistic. The title character, who is actually referred to by the Germanic “Bluthgeld”, is a brilliant scientist who believes himself a godly incarnation of destruction, capable of bringing down atomic ruin simply by willing it. As is typical with Dick’s handling of the issue of whether just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you, you can’t be quite sure how crazy Dr. Bluthgeld really is. Dick is masterful at “getting into the head” of the paranoid, depicting how coincidence and happenstance serve to solidify delusions of grandeur and suspicion of others. (Speaking of paranoid, there’s a funny throw-away reference to Richard Nixon, who at the time was all but counted out as a major political figure, serving as the Director of the FBI. Though the prediction about Nixon’s future in public service was a bit off-target, it took a Dick to point out another Dick’s penchant for paranoia.) To quote Dick on this character, “It is not the Russians I fear: it is the Doctor Bluthgelds, the Doctor Bloodmoneys, in our own society, that terrify me.” Dr. Bluthgeld is not, however, the central character. Indeed, there really isn’t one, but rather an array of characters whose multiple viewpoints often collide in mid-chapter, a distinguishing technique that has come to be known as “Dickian.” Their intertwined fates unfold in, to again quote Dick, a world in which “society has reverted, but not to the brutal level that we might expect.” Some of them are transformed, not necessarily for the good, by this society; some cause the society to be transformed, for better or worse. This is a novel about transformations, the creation of evil, and the sheer persistence of the human spirit to overcome its most mundane manifestations. Still relevant today, even if we aren’t expecting the bombs to fall on our heads any minute now – because the bombs have taken other forms and they may still fall. Even without our knowing it. [2000]


RICH HORTON Non-Stop is a generation ship novel, in some ways a reaction against some earlier generation ship books. (Perhaps most obviously Heinlein’s Orphans in the Sky, the book version of which was published after the Aldiss novel, but which was composed of two Astounding novellas from the ’40s, ‘Universe’ and ‘Common Sense’.) The idea is that the generation ship has broken down. After hundreds of years, most of the inhabitants have forgotten even that they are on a ship. They live nasty, brutish and short lives in the corridors of the ship, amid a tangle of hydroponics. Their emotional lives seem stunted; their physical lives dangerous. The viewpoint character is Roy Complain, a hunter of the tribe of Greene, who lives according to the brutal “Teachings”, which valorize egotism and violence. Complain is recruited by a “priest” named Marapper to join a band of five people in a journey to “Forwards”, the front of the ship (as the priest assures them it really is), to find the “control room”. Their journey is full of incident: battles with evolved rats and with “” and with the mysterious “outsiders”; discovery of the “swimming pool”; encounters with weightlessness. Eventually they find the compara- tively civilized “Forwards” section. Then revelations start to move faster, spurred by the discovery of a diary from one of the original ship Captains. The climax is action-filled, leading to a final revelation that changes our entire understanding of the book. The structure is typical of what in the Science Fiction Cover illustration by Fred Gambino Encyclopedia calls ‘conceptual breakthrough’ stories. This one is impressive

September 2000: SF Masterworks series #33 SF Masterworks second series 107 because Aldiss, knowing that the reader knows the fundamental element the main character doesn’t know from the beginning, still manages a continuing series of surprises, an increasing sense of revelation, and manages to make the surprises and the ultimate ‘truth’ thematically worthwhile. For this edition Aldiss has made a number of minor revisions. As he writes: “The adventure remains the same… Only a few words have been changed. But of course words make all the difference.” Aldiss rings several clever changes on the general concept of the generation ship. The book is full of revelations, some expected by the experienced reader, some quite surprising. By and large, it’s a worthwhile and original novel, though there are weaknesses. The opening sections, despite a fair amount of action, drag a bit. The closing sections move very quickly, but partly this movement is propelled by some plot silliness (a hard-to-believe, and late-introduced, love story, Complain getting accepted into Forwards society too easily, and some silly biology to drive the critical crisis that first caused the ship’s problem, and which then leads to the moving final situation). Still, in the context of ’50s SF, the scientific silliness is pretty much par for the course, and it’s used in the service of a striking and rather bitter conclusion. It’s definitely early Aldiss, and by no means his best work, but Non-Stop is nonetheless worth reading, and quite a significant contribution to the long SF history of generation ship novels. [2000]

CHARLES DEE MITCHELL With his first novel, Aldiss created a society that has evolved after twenty-three generations lost in space on an enormous ship bound home from a colonizing mission centuries before. The Greene Tribe are little more than savages, following The Teachings that mostly promote self-interest and superstitious fear. The Greenes, who live in the Quarters, a jungle infested with rampant hydroponic plants and waves of midges, know vaguely of The Forwards, another, more advanced society, but there are also the Giants and The Others to contend with. As with other Aldiss novels I have read, Greybeard and , this is the tale of a journey into the unknown by characters who can be either brave and honorable or not at all what they seem. Aldiss has sophisticated fun with the language and ideas that have evolved among his characters, but he also never lets the action flag. Having read four Aldiss novels, I am beginning to see what all the fuss is about. [2010]


ROB WEBER After his brilliant novel Rendezvous with Rama (1973), The Fountains of Paradise is the second novel of Arthur C. Clarke to win the Hugo and Nebula double. It is also something of a dividing line in Clarke’s oeuvre. Most of his output after The Fountains of Paradise are considered lesser novels and a lot of them were co-written by other authors. The majority of novels by Clarke I have read were written after this one and I must admit, in terms of characterization they are poor, however I don’t think he ever lost his touch when it comes to describing technical details of space travel or impressive feats of engineering. The Fountains of Paradise may not be the strongest novel ever to win a Hugo or Nebula, but it certainly contains those elements in abundance. With the invention of new super strong materials, new possibilities in architecture and engineering arise. After completing a bridge across the strait of Gibraltar. Dr. Vannevar Morgan is looking for a new challenge. One that will ensure his place in the history books: the construction of a space elevator. It is basically a long cable tethered to a counterweight beyond the , that could be used to transport people and material out of the Earth’s gravity well without the use of inefficient and polluting rocket propelled launch vehicles. The tensile strength of the material must be enormous and on top of the engineering challenges, the ideal location for the Earth end of the cable is already occupied by a group unlikely to move. I’m not sure if this is the earliest example of a space elevator in Cover illustration by Chris Moore literature but I very much doubt it. The first scientific papers on the concept

October 2000: SF Masterworks series #34 SF Masterworks second series 109 date from the 1960s, so I’d be surprised if some science fiction writer hadn’t picked such a dramatic proposal up sooner than 1979. Clarke is definitely the man who brought it to a large audience, though. He uses it in several books although usually not in as much detail as in this novel. What did strike me was the influence this novel had on ’s Red Mars. The scenario for a space elevator on Mars, with its moon Deimos on one end and the volcano Pavonis Mons on the other, is pretty much exactly as Clarke describes it here, including the problem of Mars’ second moon. Robinson does explore what would happen if such a structure were to crash down in detail, a scenario Clarke prefers to leave to the reader's imagination. As usual with Clarke’s novels the consequences of the conditions in space, or in this case the very edge of space are very prominently present in the book. Clarke describes the conditions and challenges of such an environment for engineering and safety of the passengers and people working there. Note the emphasis on human error in some of the scenes. Clarke makes some very astute observations about the potential of the smallest (human) error to cause disasters. In the hostile environment of space, or the upper atmosphere, such problems are very likely to end in the loss of human life. The final pages of the novel are dedicated to such an event and Clarke manages to make it a nerve wracking experience. Another key element in the novel is the setting. Space elevators need to be located at the equator. For the occasion Clarke chose to move the island of Sri Lanka about 800 kilometres south and make a few changes to the geography of the place. The historical sites he describes mostly exist as he describes them, however, and I very much enjoyed these. Clarke’s love for this island is no secret but it doesn’t always show up in his writing. In The Fountains of Paradise, he certainly made an effort to do some of its cultural heritage justice. Clarke seems to see certain future developments as inevitable. I don’t think there was any doubt in his mind that a space elevator would one day be reality and that colonizing other planets is possible. On social developments he is less outspoken in this novel. Religion is clearly on its way out in this future though. It contains some rather provocative statements on the subject. One that made me smile was attributed to an alien probe passing earth in the twenty-first century:

The hypothesis you refer to as God, though not disprovable by logic alone, is unnecessary for the following reason. If you assume that the universe can be quote explained unquote as the creation of an entity known as God, he must be of an higher degree of organisation than his product. Thus you have more than doubled the size of the original problem, and

110 have taken the first step on a diverging infinite regress. William of Ockham pointed out as early as your fourteenth century that entities should not be multiplied unnecessary. I cannot therefore understand why this debate continues.

I wonder what the monk William of Ockham would have made of that. The Fountains of Paradise is an intellectually stimulating novel. I enjoyed reading it very much, in particular for the detail of the construction process on the space elevator. That being said, I’m not sure it is worthy of the awards is won. It contains a lot of stuff that Clarke had done before. Stylistically, Clarke is not a brilliant author and his characters are mostly fairly flat. By 1979 rigid scientific accuracy and a sense of wonder were no longer enough, or sometimes not even necessary, to make a science fiction novel stand out, which makes the choice for a novel that is supported completely by those two things a bit odd. Still, Clarke does what he does very well. For fans of his novels this is definitely one you’ll not want to miss. [2011]

GLENN MYERS All Arthur C. Clarke’s books have the same underlying theme (though in some books it is underlying more deeply than others): ‘Science, not religion, is the true locus for transcendence and wonder’. This theme is explicit in The Fountains of Paradise when a great mechanical elevator supplants an ancient religious stronghold and one chapter ends with this memorable summary of the religious point of view: “the billions of words of pious gibberish with which apparently intelligent men had addled their minds for centuries.” I think this is Clarke’s most personal book. Set in the fictional land of Taprobane, which is about 90% Sri Lanka according to the author, it’s rich and vivid with detail about the land that he adopted as his home. It also comes as near as Clarke ever came to describing his personal life, the transcendent joy he felt while diving, weightless, adrift from all his worries; and being carried around the house by his personal staff (Clarke suffered from polio and was wheelchair-bound for many years). Clarke is not at his best when describing politics and world affairs in his envisioned 22nd century. He is at his brilliant best when he is describing people in their battles with the laws of physics, and with technological dreams, and with envisioning alien life. This book starts in his weaker area but ends in his strongest. I think Rendezvous with Rama was better; but this is one of his best, and certainly his most revealing. [2012]


BRIAN CLEGG This was one of my old favourite books in my youth, re-read after a gap of about thirty years. On the whole it stands up well. Roberts’s alternative history book, set in a Britain where the break with the Catholic church never happened, and Rome rules Europe (and the colonies) with an iron fist was always held up as the SF and Fantasy book ideal for giving someone who didn’t get the genre to hook them – and I can see why. It is, without doubt beautifully written. Never so intensely ‘literary’ to seem false and forced, yet using carefully crafted words to really get you into the scene with a force that can be visceral. The alternative history is well crafted and the world, particular the steam engine segment, comes through magnificently (the semaphore section perhaps slightly less so, after so much exposure to ’s ‘clacks’). What I do think, though, perhaps with more experience of the craft of fiction writing is that sometimes the seams show. Roberts seems to have very little affection for his main characters, using them like pawns in a chess game. They play their part, then are discarded. This isn’t helped by the episodic structure that is almost a collection of novellas, rather than a true novel. And then there is the whole mystical, , ‘is it really alternative history, or is it a second shot at getting history right, somehow, given the references to Passchendaele and concentration camps’ thing. I can see what Roberts is trying to do, but I’m not sure it quite works. Even so, a cracking piece of speculative fiction that everyone should Cover illustration by Arthur Haas read. [2014]

November 2000: SF Masterworks series #35 SF Masterworks second series 112 MANNY RAYNER Some random highlights from this rather fine parallel world novel: – Semaphore stations can operate in full duplex mode, carrying messages simultaneously in both directions. – When issuing an ultimatum, it’s unwise to stand directly in front of a loaded cannon. – Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. [2010]

MARGARET JOHNSON Imagine a world in which Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated in 1588, in which the Spanish Armada defeated the English, and in which in the 20th century the Catholic Church controls all of Europe and the New World, suppressing all technology beyond the level of the steam locomotive. This is the world of Pavane, a book of six more-or-less connected short stories (called “measures”, in the dance metaphor of the title) followed by an epilogue, or “coda”. Pavane is remarkable not for the carefully worked-out details that characterize many alternate histories, but rather for its intensely visual style and hauntingly dark mood. Roberts started his career as an illustrator, and that shows in passages like this (from the first story, ‘Lady Margaret’):

At three in the afternoon the engine sheds were already gloomy with the coming night. Light, blue and vague, filtered through the long strips of the skylights, showing the roof ties stark like angular metal bones. Beneath, the locomotives waited brooding, hulks twice the height of a man, their canopies brushing the rafters. The light gleamed in dull spindle shapes, here from the strappings of a boiler, there from the starred boss of a flywheel. The massive road wheels stood in pools of shadow.

With passages like this, Roberts sets the dark, grim tone that pervades the book. The world he presents is not a pretty one, and even the epilogue, with its hints of a brighter future, cannot dispel the somber mood, since it also contains a surprising and disturbing twist. Some of the stories are more successful than others, but all are powerful and intelligent; this is an outstanding work of alternate history, which deserves to be better known. [2010]


CHARLES DEE MITCHELL I hate it when this happens. I try out a brand new hallucinogenic drug only to find out that it is addictive after a single use. Then, while suffering withdrawals, I’m offered help only if I agree to spy on my estranged husband who is now special physician to the ailing Sec. Gen. of the United Nations, Gino Molinari. I take more of the drug to get me through the trip to the White House in Cheyenne, Wyoming, only to discover that the drug messes not only with my sense of time but with time itself. I wind up stuck in a cow pasture in an auto-cab in the year 1935. The cab cannot make it to Cheyenne without refueling, and so we have to wait for the effects of the drug to wear off so we will be returned to the mid-21st century where the super-refined protonex that fuels the cab will once again be available. Actually that has never happened to me, but it happens to Kathy Sweetscent in Now Wait for Last Year, and true to the spirit of PKD novels this wild scene is barely a sidebar to what – or whatever – the book is about. Kathy will make it to Cheyenne, where the time-traveling aspects of the drug JJ-180 will mess with her life and that of her long-suffering, at least in his own mind, husband, Dr. Eric Sweetscent. He has an obese, hypochondriac despot to keep alive while earth is embroiled in a losing war between Starmen and reegs. Earth has teamed with the Starmen because they are humanoid. The reegs are six-foot tall bugs who must communicate through boxes that resemble training potties, but they are also winning the war. And Starmen are infiltrating earth, and Molinari, known affectionately as The Cover illustration by Chris Moore Mole, may actually be at death’s doorstep, or he might be yet another of the

December 2000: SF Masterworks series #36 114 simulacra he has had made of himself, one of which is his young, vibrant leader self while another is a bullet-riddled corpse lying in a glass coffin. Molinari is both a buffoon and shrewd politico. His constantly failing body may only be a ruse to get out of awkward meetings with the overbearing Frenesky, leader of the Starmen. I pictured him as a character actor whose name I cannot remember, but PKD himself thought of him as a combination of Christ, Abraham Lincoln, and Mussolini. (That was a personality triad PKD attributed to several of his favorite characters.) The plot starts running out of steam towards the end, but there are classic PKD moments of paranoia, intrigue, and absurdity. Now Wait for Last Year has made it into the three-volume set of PKD novels distributed by the Library of America, so its reputation must be pretty good. [2012]

GUY SALVIDGE I’ve always had a special liking of this book. I’ll try to explain why. Firstly, the setup is both classic PKD and yet interestingly unique: a guy called Eric Sweetscent is an ‘artiforg’ surgeon (short for ‘artificial organs’ – one of PKD’s better neologisms) who works for Virgil Ackerman, head of a company called Tijuana Fur & Dye. Eric has a wife called Kathy, who appears to be a thinly-drawn portrait of PKD’s third wife, Anne. There is an interstellar war going on between Terra, the ‘Starmen of Lilistar’, and the buglike reegs. The war aspect is the least interesting and least inspired aspect of the book. PKD clearly had little interest in trying to imagine a real interstellar war. He still speaks of ‘fronts’ in a way that seems terminally mired in the Second World War. What is interesting, however, is the head of the Terran defense, a man called Gino Molinari. Now Wait for Last Year is nothing if not uneven. The beginning of the novel is not especially promising, featuring a conversation between Eric and some of his associates. Here we see PKD the stylist in full ‘overblown’ mode, replete with overly long sentences and verbose descriptions. It’s fairly whimsical and trivial stuff. There’s something about ‘Wash 35’, which is a mini-reality constructed from the trinkets of the past to simulate Washington from 1935. This seems to prefigure The Truman Show. But PKD doesn’t spend much time on this, and the promising idea is all but forgotten (to be picked up again in later novels, to be sure). Now Wait for Last Year doesn’t really get going until Chapter Four, which consists of a wonderful conversation between Eric and Gino Molinari. The subject? Eric’s marriage to Kathy Sweetscent. Now we’re getting somewhere.

115 This conversation feels like one of the true ‘genuine’ things in this novel, and one is sorely tempted to attribute this to the fact that it serves as a cipher for Phil’s then-rocky relationship with his third wife. I won’t try to recap the content of this conversation, but suffice to say that it is written with real feeling. By this stage of the novel, Kathy has already tried the new drug JJ-180, the effects of which will basically drive the rest of the novel. One of the ‘great’ aspects of this book is the depiction of Terra’s ailing leader, who is painted as stern but human, fallible and yet wise. It turns out that Molinari’s strategy for avoiding having to deal with Terra’s ambiguous ally, the Starmen, is to become so ill that he can’t negotiate the Starmen’s covert takeover of Terran industries. This is where PKD’s talent for weaving apparently unrelated factors comes into play. We have an ailing leader, an ‘artiforg’ surgeon, an interstellar war and a drug which sends its users into a multiverse of futures. By the end of the book, these four factors will have become interminably intertwined. The second half of the novel basically consists of first Kathy, and then Eric descending into the drug world of JJ-180. What this consists of is multiple trips into alternate and contradictory futures which resemble nothing if not the Back to the Future films. This serves to highlight how prevalent PKD’s vision would become in the years after his death. In some universes, the war is going better than in others, and some realities see Terra allied with the reegs, not fighting them. Eric’s immediate goal is to find a cure for the extremely addictive JJ-180. PKD uses a somewhat lame device, that of the talking taxi cab (“I’m Johnny Cab,” anyone?), to facilitate the plethora of confusing realities. What I’m saying is that there’s a fair bit of telling, not showing. But perhaps it can’t be helped. It turns out that there are a whole heap of alternate Molinaris from different universes, some of which never became Terra’s supreme leader, who end up being used in our own universe. The novel ends on an optimistic note, with Terra trying ally with the reegs, and Eric vowing to stay with his drug-wrecked wife. This is a rollercoaster ride of a novel, teetering on the edge of incomprehensibility. But PKD manages to pull it off in a way I believe he failed in books such as The Simulacra. Time travel stories offer plenty in the way of time paradoxes, but PKD manages to run roughshod over these concerns with admirable panache. A note on the cover. In comparison to the 1970s Panther edition, which I own, the Millennium ‘SF Masterworks’ edition from 2000 serves, more than anything else I could say, as a indication of how rapidly PKD’s star has risen in the years since his death. Isn’t it ironic that in death PKD is providing much better for his wives and children than he ever could in life? It’s tempting to label the whole subject phildickian. [2008]


JONATHAN THORNTON Nova is a dark, powerful space opera with a ruthless antihero protagonist, a future infused with the Tarot and the Grail mythology, a meditation on how and why artists create, and simply an incredible piece of writing, Delany at his incandescent best. The really impressive thing is that Nova demonstrates just how focused and precise Delany’s writing is. At the centre of Nova is Lorq Von Ray, one of SF’s most unforgettable characters. Lorq is a man driven entirely by his obsession. The son of a prospecting family in the Pleiades, Lorq culminates a generations-long family feud by seeking to destabilise the Earth-centred Red family’s monopoly on Illyrion, the substance that fuels interstellar spaceships. He aims to do this by flying his ship through a dying star as it goes nova and capturing the Illyrion as it’s formed. But while Lorq’s actions have a political basis, his driving passion and ruthless ambition derive from his relationship with the heirs to the Red family fortune, Prince and Ruby Red. The almost Joffrey-esque Prince has a robotic false arm strong enough to crush glass into quartz, and is spoilt, vicious and petulant. Lorq is infatuated with Ruby, who is too devoted to her brother Prince to return his affections. Lorq recruits a ragtag crew of misfits to crew his ship in the race to reach a nova. The Mouse is an orphan of Roma extraction, a musical prodigy who plays incredible visions on his sensory syrinx. Katin is an intellectual and deep thinker hoping to write a novel, an extinct art form, but despite screeds of notes is unable to write even the first chapter. Idas and Lynceos are twins Cover illustration by Chris Moore who worked in the mines, one dark skinned, the other an albino, trying to

january 2001: SF Masterworks series #37 117 earn money to reunite with their brother. Sebastian and Tyy are a working-class couple from the Pleiades who travel with their alien pets and are well versed in the Tarot. Together, these characters assist Lorq on his quest and allow Delany to explore the various themes of the novel. There is a strong mythic element to Nova. As in his previous novel The Einstein Intersection, the characters inhabit mythic archetypes without being necessarily defined by them. This is shown by the characters’ attitude to the Tarot: in Nova, the Tarot is accepted by pretty much everyone, with the notable exception of the Mouse, as an accurate way of revealing hidden truths about any given situation. Tyy reads the Tarot for Lorq near the beginning of the book, which foreshadows unfolding events. Katin comes to view Lorq’s quest for Illyrion as a recapitulation of the Grail quest, giving the book itself its structure. The Mouse and Katin represent fundamentally different approaches to art. The Mouse’s music is spontaneous and emotional, while Katin thinks long and deeply about everything, to the extent that it stops him from actually creating. Nevertheless Katin’s years of observational skills have allowed him to read characters and situations to a depth that eludes the Mouse. Their complementary views and approaches balance each other out. So the Mouse is able to say:

“I was born,” the Mouse said. “I must die. I am suffering. Help me. There, I just wrote your book for you.”

Which is surely one of the most succinct summaries of the novelist’s art ever offered up. However, Katin is able to explain to the Mouse that everything comes down to “Psychology... Politics, and Physics. The three Ps”, which is a pretty good analysis of the forces that shape Nova. Delany’s strength as an artist lies in his ability to combine the flare and panache with careful, thoughtful craft, and the exchanges between the Mouse and Katin are him drawing back the curtain on the two complementary sides of his Muse. Nova was originally rejected from Analog because the editor didn’t think the readership would be able to relate to an SF story with a black protagonist, which in itself speaks volumes about the institutionalised racism Delany faced as one of the earliest African American SF authors. The whole cast of Nova is pleasingly diverse: Lorq’s mother is Senegalese but his father is Norwegian, and the other characters from the Pleiades share a similarly mixed background, in contrast to the characters from Earth who, tend to be strictly Caucasian. This is the fundamental difference between Lorq and Prince and Ruby Red. Lorq stands for change, for social upheaval, for a different way of life, whilst Prince and Ruby Red stand for stasis, the maintenance of power in the hegemony. And this is why Lorq wins in the end, because change is flexible. [2014]


MICHAEL BATTAGLIA An interesting benefit to reading books that were written over a hundred years ago is seeing the differences in concepts and attitudes that existed back then. And while this is the point where I should be talking about Wells’s ideas for what one might find if one travelled to the moon, I find more fascinating the glimpse into the daily British countryside life, when the land was composed of little villages where a man could retire in solitude or maybe even find a wacky scientist attempting to violate the force of gravity. That alone gives it a weird sepia tinge, as the moon stuff can clearly be read as idle speculation (or metaphorical commentary, but I suppose we’ll try to get to that). But the rest is a sort of depiction of British common life from a ground level view, when such a thing was contemporary. Now that it’s vanished, it seems even more like SF than the trip to the moon does. But a moon trip is what we are promised and by golly that’s what we’re going to get. In typical Wells style, we have a first person narration from Bedford, a bit of a rascal who meets the absent-minded Cavor and immediately sees pound symbols as the good professor describes his search for a material that will reverse gravity. Bedford imagines all kinds of useful things that will make him rich, while Cavor has different ideas, including building a sphere that will take them to the moon. Since everyone knows that the moon is perfectly safe and has air, both men decide to go since there’s no risks involved whatever. Upon reaching the moon they discover not only is the little satellite covered in air but there are plants and a race of Cover illustration by Chris Moore beings that live underneath the surface, who Cavor calls “Selenites” (later

February 2001: SF Masterworks series #38 SF Masterworks second series (hardcover) 119 “Mooneys” which doesn’t have quite the same ring). What follows then is a lot of haphazard running around and exploring before one of the men gets the heck out of there and the other stays behind to tell us what the inhabitants are like. This should all sound supremely silly in other hands (Jules Verne apparently thought it was a bit much, since his moon trip was far more realistic) but Wells has this knack of presenting it in such a fashion that the calm tone manages to smooth over the idea that much of this is ridiculous and flies in the face of known science or even logic. It’s basically fantasy with a scientific approach, with a lot of hand-waving to explain the parts that defy science and, taken in that light, it works quite nicely. Neither men are characters so much as opposites (barely) attracting, although the naked avarice of Bedford gives some needed spine to the narrative as the man is as far from noble as they come. Of course, other than one or two moments of blinding self-awareness he doesn’t exactly develop beyond what he is either, so make of that what you will. The real draw here is the scenery and the adventure and although Wells was no prose stylist able to wring poetry out of the fantastic, he does come up with several memorable images here of lunar sunrises and strange vistas. I don’t know if he really believed that the moon could contain this types of life, but his imagination is vivid and it’s a shame we don’t get to see more than we do. Things even get darn claustrophobic and intense once events fall into the underground and the initial appearances of the Selenites are unsettling simply because there seems to be no real way to communicate with them. But on the one hand it feels like it’s over almost before it really even begins, with one of the men managing to escape the moon with barely any of it explored. From there the man who remains behind gives us a series of radio transmissions detailing the Selenites’ society and you feel that this is where Wells’s mind was really focused. The stratification of their society, with Selenites designed for specific jobs and nothing else, reads like a cold commentary of sorts and the story loses some narrative drive as we’re explained in detail about their culture. A hundred years removed from what he’s commenting on it loses some of its sting but the imagery of it does remain, striking even today. It would have been nice to get more of that angle, since the plot essentially stops in the last twenty pages. But the simplicity of it keeps his ideas clear, which may be more to the point and he does manage to whip out a humdinger of an ending on the very last page, closing with a circumstance made even stronger with the knowledge that you're never going to find out what really happened. Yet it’s a testament to how strong the ideas are that this little work of SF, barely based on any science at all can still linger, almost taking us back to a time when anything was possible. This is a step beyond staring up at the night sky and imagining we can jump to the moon to meet the little men who live inside it, and all the better for how seriously it takes it. [2013]


J.P. LANTERN I have reviewed The City and The Stars in the past and found it lacking in several respects – most notably character development and a clear sense of conflict. But it is still regarded as a classic by many, almost more of an institution than an actual book, and I think anytime that happens in any genre, it’s important to suss out why. One of the phenomenal actions of this book is that it provides a vision of the future beyond the future as we see it, which is perhaps one of the most difficult and noble tasks of science fiction. Many science fiction writers attempt to show us where we are going – to clear the mist of the incumbent future and lay out possible paths. But Clarke is showing us instead the ultimate path of humanity, the path beyond all the twists and turns that our future history will create, and the single goal that will still elude us – to elevate our collective consciousness beyond the pettiness and in-fighting that has plagued us since the inception of civilization. We can view this novel as an answer to one particular “what if?” scenario – what happens to the world when scientific pursuit leaves the race entirely for millions of years, and then suddenly comes back? It almost takes on the nature of a parable, in this way, with the moral being, “Don’t stop treating important things scientifically.” Something else to note is that this work doesn’t compromise with its view of humanity – which as portrayed in The City and the Stars is an almost universally close-minded and dumb species. Clarke has, at length, made his Cover illustration by Chris Moore views clear on religion (short version: he’s not a fan). It becomes easy, then,

March 2001: SF Masterworks series #39 SF Masterworks second series 121 to view him as someone who would rather live in a world closed off to religion and one wholly devoted to secular thinking. But that’s the sort of reality what we are presented with here, in this story – and the two cities we see, despite having no actual of any sort, are still entirely stupid and made to look quite dumb for their over-reliance and blind faith in mechanisms they don’t entirely understand (Diaspar for the city crafted around ultra-leisure, and Lys for their telepathy). So, then, with this lens, Clarke’s argument is not against faith – certainly we can go far enough down into the inroads of science to start seeing science’s many analogues to religion when it comes to believing something exists when it doesn’t (like the hypothetical planet Vulcan, for example, to which proponents of Newtonian physics attributed the irregular orbit of without ever actually observing it). Human beings are vehicles of faith, in many respects, and certainly there’s a lot of literature devoted to how the basic human spirit requires a belief in something bigger than just our individual selves. But like anything else we are capable of, we are capable of having too much faith. The character of Alvin, despite his considerable flaws, is a cure to this condition – he takes almost nothing on faith at all. Nothing outside the city? Better check it! Nothing in the center of the universe? Not ’til I see! He is the model of scientific pursuit, so it’s only natural that he’s a little arrogant and foolhardy. Without those two characteristics, there would be almost no progress in the world of science (and maybe no progress, period). The ending contains a rather massive amount of straight exposition, which as a storytelling device is often seen as a sort of inelegant solution to the many problems that a writer creates. But here, again I think the analogue nature of the story shines through. In real life, equilibrium shifts in scientific understanding happen all at once (when they do happen), almost like world-spanning lightning strikes that electrify the entire scientific population as a whole. The nature of science is a beast that changes every time that it is thought to be totally understood. Its proponents rather enjoy this about it – the adaptability and the willingness to change. Its detractors, of course, dislike the manner in which new models of the universe must be rolled out every hundred years or so. So the ending of the book makes good sense, in this way. When the entirety of the understanding of both cities is revealed to be a lie, manufactured by ancestors to deliver an easy explanation for the universe, it’s rather analogous to what happens during something like the discovery of Newton’s Laws, or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, or Quantum Physics, and so on. All at once, the continuum is changed, and there’s not a lot for it outside of just trying to work with the new equilibrium as best as possible. [2014]


THOMAS M. WAGNER Blood Music is the sort of frightening novel of biological horror that Michael Crichton used to be able to write back in the good old days of The Andromeda Strain, and it helped put Greg Bear on the map in the early years of his career. In its level of sheer visceral involvement perhaps its only peers are the aforementioned Strain and the first third of ’s The Stand (the spreading-of-the-plague sequence before it gets bogged down in its own apocalyptic bloat). However, like The Stand, Blood Music does lose some of its momentum as it nears its finale, becoming at times downright cryptic and trippy. But the net effect is chillingly unlike most hard SF, and Bear admirably succeeds in sounding a cautionary note without lapsing into anti-science hysteria, as so many non-hard SF writers would do. The novel begins peacefully enough, as we meet Vergil Ulam, a loose cannon researcher working at a southern California firm called Genetron, which is working to perfect the world’s first biochips. These would be the first human-computer interfaces, silicon chips that, when introduced into the body, meld harmoniously and work together with your good old carbon based cells. But Vergil sees all this as being redundant. Since the genetic material in a cell itself is in essence one great computer, why not recombine a little DNA here and there and let the cells do the work themselves? Vergil succeeds, all too well. The human cells he is recombining become individual sentient entities Vergil calls noocytes. Fired from Genetron for his extracurricular activites (which they don’t Cover illustration by Chris Moore necessarily disapprove of; they just want to cover their butts), and ordered

April 2001: SF Masterworks series #40 SF Masterworks second series 123 to destroy his experiments, Vergil sneaks the cells he has recombined out of the top secret labs the one way he knows how: by injecting them into himself. I bet you think you can see where this is leading, right? Well, don’t be too sure. Bad ’50s B- movie monster clichés are handily avoided as Bear launches us into an almost inconceivably nightmarish scenario where Vergil’s impetuousness affects not only himself, but threatens humanity completely. The first half of the novel is close to astounding. Bear keeps everything racing along at lightspeed as he hurtles you into the unfolding horror so that you can only respond by shaking your head and saying “Oh no… oh no” over and over to yourself. But then this can be a story liability as well; as the tale races inexorably forward it can feel as if everything is happening too fast for you to catch your breath. The palpable suspense is offset by a feeling that you might want to read the last few paragraphs over again just to see if you might have missed something. Also, as the book enters its second half, it (like The Stand) introduces us to a number of new supporting players who are among the final survivors of the bio-apocalypse. These story threads, particularly the one featuring the odyssey of a lone teenage girl wandering through a horrifically transformed Manhattan, are often indelibly haunting. But they would have been more effective had Bear introduced these characters at the novel’s beginning, just like Vergil, giving us a greater involvement in their lives before everything hits the fan, and thus drawing even greater sympathy out of us for them. Introducing a slew of new characters over one hundred pages in throws off the story’s momentum just slightly, and the subsequent jumping back and forth of the narrative disrupts the excellent pace of the early scenes. Still, this is one bloodcurdling book… literally! It has a cinematic immediacy that holds you fast despite its occasional unevenness, and it’s just unpredictable enough in its narrative twists and turns to let you feel genuine awe for Bear’s imagination. Blood Music may not be the best hard SF biothriller ever written, but it inspires a sense of wonder even in the light of the frightening concepts it explores. With a little more depth of character, the novel could have made some timeless music indeed. But as it is, it’s got a great beat, and you can dance to it. [2001]

NEAL ASHER As expected I did very much enjoy this. I love the idea of transformations like the ones in this (telegraphed right from the start) and wasn’t disappointed with them. The book went from a bit of genetic manipulation to quantum mechanics and rewriting the laws of physics, with an interesting on how those laws are formed. It also dealt with immortality, and I’m a

124 sucker for that. One teensy little problem, however. This book suffers from what I’ll call ‘the slide rule effect’. Some of the older readers here will know exactly what I’m talking about: those old SF books with grand-scale sensawunda in which the astrogator works out the course of the superluminal starship using a slide rule – some anachronism that takes that vital ‘suspension of disbelief’ a step further away. All the way-out (or not particularly way-out) science in this is fine, but that a large part of the story takes place in the Twin Towers does bugger it up a bit. [2012]

DAVID A. HARDY Vergil Ulam is a researcher who, when he is fired for his unorthodox methods, injects himself with his special lymphocytes as the only way of saving his experiment with biochips which he hopes will use DNA as a method of information processing. He does not even really expect them to survive – but they not only do, but they go forth and multiply within his body, then spreading elsewhere, originally by means of sex (how else?). At this point it all seemed a bit familiar – didn’t this happen in a movie? From here, we follow mainly three individuals: an old college friend of Vergil, Edward Milligan; an ex-employer, Dr Michael Bernard; and a girl who is seemingly unaffected by the new cells, Suzie McKenzie. If, like me, you missed this first time round in 1985, don’t miss it this time. It’s classic SF, and this certainly is a classic, in which Bear excelled himself. It is also real, hard SF, so there’s no point in starting it unless you either know a little about cell chemistry and DNA, or are ready and willing to learn quite a lot! I still find the concept highly unlikely: that human cells can become intelligent and can organise themselves and communicate with their hosts, at first being as bright as lab rats, but ultimately changing the whole face of the Earth. But having ‘suspended disbelief’ to that extent (and Bear surely knows his stuff), the story is gripping and carries the reader to its stunning finale in a manner of which Clarke would be proud. [2001]


ANDREW SPONG Frederik Pohl’s Hugo and Nebula nominee Jem is a rich, complex and conflicted novel that considers what a future of planetary exploration may look like through the lens of the late Cold War politics of the eighth decade of the twentieth century. The Earth Pohl envisages is organised around fuel (‘Greasies’), food (‘Fats’) and people (‘Peeps’)-producing blocs rather than geographical land masses, which makes for some unusual alliances. A restructuring of social and economic arrangements has putatively been undertaken in order to preserve world peace:

No nation could afford to fight any other nation in the whole world anymore. Food, Fuel, and People each owned enough muscle to smash both the others flat, and all of them knew it.

Logic, however, has little to do with the nature of human relations, and it is Pohl’s jaded but historically contingent perspective on humanity’s seemingly irredeemable, atavistic and insuperable desire to compete and fight in perpetuity that drives the novel’s plot: ‘Remember Clausewitz: war is the logical extension of politics.’

Kung’s Semistellar Object was not much larger than a planet itself. As stars went it was tiny, barely big enough to fuse nuclei and radiate heat, but it had a planet of its own that sounded like fun. Hot. Humid. Dense Cover illustration by Dominic Harman air, but about the right partial pressure of oxygen to be congenial to life

May 2001: SF Masterworks series #41 SF Masterworks second series 126 – including the life of a human exploratory party, if anybody cared to spend the money to try it out.

The marginally habitable planet Jem features three beautifully realised alien races:

At least three species seemed to possess some sort of social organization: a kind of arthropod; a tunneling species, warm- blooded and soft-skinned; and an avian species – no, not avian, she corrected herself. They spent most of their time in the air, but without having developed wings. They were balloonists, not birds.

Pohl goes to some lengths to fashion separate historical, cultural and sociological matrices of understanding for two of the Jem's three races, and these passages form some of the work's most arresting, compelling sections. However, it is mankind’s persistence in preying on itself throughout the work that the reader may find most bewildering, if all too plausible:

The world she had left was blowing itself up, and the world she had come to seemed determined to do the same. And so, at the last, what can one say of them? What is to be said of Marjorie Menninger and Danny Dalehouse and Ana Dimitrova – and of Charlie and Ahmed Dulla, or of Sharn-igon and Mother dr’Shee? They did what they could. More often than not, they did what they thought they should. And what can be said of them is what can be said of all persons, human and otherwise, at the end: they died. Some survived the fighting. Some survived the flare. But in the long run there are no survivors. There are only replacements. And time passes, and generations come and go.

The novel’s cataclysmic conclusion is followed by an afterword considering the intriguing proposition that humanity will only thrive subsequent to its genetic makeup having been tempered by other influences. Left to its own devices, Pohl implies that the history of humanity will continue to repeat the cycles of tragedy and farce Marx identifies in the ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’. Pohl imagines the implications of the final act that the Fats’ commander Marge Menninger undertakes and the way in which the native species and the new arrivals intermingle in Jem’s future, six generations hence:

Why fight Utopia? he thinks to himself. And so in that moment he completes the process of growing up. And begins the process of dying. Which is much the same thing. [2012]


PETER YOUNG It’s worth approaching Bring the Jubilee with some enthusiasm, it being considered one of the top three alternate histories ever written, but depending on your disposition towards the subject matter – the South winning the American Civil War – readers will quickly discovered it is one of those widely regarded classics that may actually have limited appeal. Not being American and having only marginal interest in the American Civil War, I quickly realised the novel was not really one for me. Hence I optimistically pushed through three-quarters of it feeling a little bereft of, you know, actual science fiction, looking for hooks to pull me forward while I followed Hodge Backmaker’s slow self-improvement and discovery of a commune of self-educated recluses, all culminating in his chance to be an actual witness to the historical subject he has for years devoted himself to. Ward Moore’s characterisation stands out as exceedingly rich against (it has to be said) a stultifyingly prosaic background, but his characters, all of them, do feel embedded in both their time and their nation’s diminished history. If it’s the subject matter you’re after, perhaps the shorter novella, written a year earlier, is sufficient to deliver what you need; if a fully fleshed out story with meandering development towards a properly science fictional resolution is what you are looking for, the novel will probably impress you enough to go and read the novella too (as I did), if only to compare their differences. For my money, the novel comes out on top. [2014]

Cover illustration by Chris Moore

June 2001: SF Masterworks series #42 SF Masterworks second series 128 ANDREW SPONG Better as a short story? As soon as Hodge Backmaker – the auto-didact peasant turned pedagogue with a penchant for the history of the American Civil War – encounters Barbara Haggerswell – an iconoclastic physicist and time-machine inventor – sheltering at the academicist commune of Haggershaven, it is self-evident how the pay-off of to this alternate history novel is going to be delivered. Despite the fact that this entry in the series is less than two hundred pages in length, getting to the stunning final quarter of the book proves something of a slog. The first quarter of the book is a compressed bildungsroman, detailing Hodge’s progress from aspirational hick to man of letters. The middle contains a good deal of redundant exposition regarding Hodge’s relationship with Barbara Haggerswell and his salvation of and subsequent marriage to Carrolita, rescued as an adolescent from the scene of a roadside robbery of a member of the Spanish aristocracy and his wife. The final four chapters, in which Hodge ventures back into the past to ratify his theories about the with monumental consequences are quite magnificent, and I’d recommend Bring the Jubilee on this basis alone. In addition, many appealing aspects of alternate history run through this entry in the SF Masterworks series: I enjoyed Moore’s depiction of the impoverished and struggling twenty-six states which form the United States in this novel on the basis of the Confederacy having won the American Civil War and prospering at the expense of the north. You too may enjoy the ur-steampunk minibles and air balloons of a familiar yet strange turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York. [2005]


BRUCE GILLESPIE What can I say about VALIS? That poor old Phil Dick has finally gone loony altogether? That Phil Dick has finally produced a piece of the autobiography begun in the pages of this [SF Commentary] and other fanzines nearly a decade ago? That Philip K. Dick has produced a synthesis of mystical literature that everybody of a mystical bent should read? That Phil Dick has written a spotty novel, seemingly autobiographical for half its length, wildly fictional for the other half of its length, and just a bit tedious all the way through (except when it is funny)? All these things could be said, and probably have been […] My own guess is that Dick set out to write a wholly autobiographical novel, which includes extracts from the many ancient writers he was studying during the early 1970s. Halfway through, his more reliable instincts took over, and VALIS takes on some of the pain and zaniness of Dick’s best fiction. VALIS does not work wholly as a novel, or as autobiography, but it’s very funny in places, and tells you more about life in California than you would really want to know. (I just hope Phil Dick’s friends don’t start a party trick of shining a pink light in his eyes.) [1981]

PATRICK CLARK 1981 comes along as does VALIS. I remember that experience vividly. I read the book in one sitting on a Greyhound Bus going from Lima, Ohio to Cincinnati. Three hours in the dead of night in the middle of winter. By the Cover illustration by Chris Moore time I got off that bus I was a pretty messed up. VALIS remains my favorite

July 2001: SF Masterworks series #43 SF Masterworks second series 130 PKD novel because it was such an experience of Phil as a person. It was a much more intense version of what I felt reading that Rolling Stone article. Here was a living, breathing human being; not an author but a person, a real person, and one who had suffered but had managed to live though it and emerge more or less sane at the end. It was, in a way, like having visited Phil in California after all – it had the gossip and the pot and the music on the stereo and the friends and the girlfriend and endless theories. But it also had something a real (there is that word again) – a real visit would never had provided: the sense of arriving at the end of a long, sad journey sane and whole again. I needed a sense of that back in 1981. [2011]

TIM POWERS As most PKD enthusiasts know, and any reader of VALIS can guess, Phil really did have a series of intense mystical experiences in that month, followed by similar encounters that continued to occur, though less frequently, until his death eight years later (because Phil didn’t choose to regard this as shameful and therefore to conceal it, several critics have jumped to the easy – and superficially colorful – conclusion that he had lost touch with reality, was living in a … had, in short, gone crazy; but people who knew him don’t agree, and I can’t see how anyone could read VALIS, with all its humor, rational doubt, self-mockery and sheer objectivity, and conclude that Phil was crazy).

‘I thought you favored the alternate universe theory,’ I said, surprised. ‘That was fifteen minutes ago,’ Phil said. ‘You know how I am with theories. Theories are like planes at L.A. International: a new one along every minute…’ — from VALISYSTEM A: discarded first version of VALIS

The character “David” in VALIS is based on me, and “Kevin” is K.W. Jeter – virtually everything that Kevin, David and Horselover Fat do and say, at least until they go to see the movie, Jeter, Phil and I really did do and say. (I’m tempted to say we flew up to Sonoma, too, and met the Savior, but I’ll stick to facts) and Jeter did have a cat that got run over, and I am a Roman Catholic, though I like to think I’m not quite as stupidly dogmatic as David – and we all did spend many long evenings drinking cognac or scotch and trying to frame theories that would account for Phil’s experiences. It’s easier to note the things in VALIS that are not autobiography than to cite all the things that are. Right offhand I can think of only three things that aren’t: “Sherry Solvig” did learn, on Phil’s birthday, that she’d lost her remission from

131 cancer, but in actual fact she went into remission again and, last I heard, is doing fine; Phil did fly up to Sonoma, but he went alone and the trip had nothing to do with the Savior; and of course Phil didn’t have a split personality. On page 151 of VALIS, Fat tells his friends that “the two-word cipher signal KING FELIX” was sent out in February of ’74, and that “the cryptographers studied it, but couldn’t discern who it was intended for or what it meant.” Fat’s friends ask him how he knows that, but he won’t say; nor does he explain in what form it appeared. Phil himself, though, was less reticent, and once pointed out that on page 218 of the first edition of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said the last paragraph break juxtaposes the work “king” directly over the name “Felix”. The novel was published in February of ’74, and Phil said Doubleday told him that the Army did buy – as I recall – more than four hundred copies of it. (Possibly Fat couldn’t say how he knew because it would have been too close to admitting that he was Phil.) An obvious question comes to mind: did Phil really believe this, or was he just admiring at as a useful plot device a fortuitious coincidence, a sort of stacked-deck trick that he could, deadpan, play on his friends to watch us react? In all honesty, I’d have to say… all of the above. [1984]

PAUL WILLIAMS I think the basic thing is this. VALIS is a very funny book. If you read it once and you don’t see anything funny in it, that’s all right. Go back and read it again. But if you do read it again and still don’t see anything funny in it… then I don’t know. Except to say that you should back away from VALIS. It doesn’t mean that you’re humorless, it just means that you’re not on that wavelength. But if you read VALIS twice and don’t see it as a very funny book, then you’re in serious danger of being one of those people who takes VALIS seriously in an inappropriate way. [1993]


BRUCE GILLESPIE This is still my favourite Le Guin novel (apart from the ‘’ books) because it wrestles clearly and elegantly with a fantasy premise, rather than with the more overtly sociopolitical premises of, say, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. Because it is less weighed down with a sense of its own importance than most of Le Guin’s other long works, it actually has more human meaning. A man’s dreams alter reality. Another man, a psychiatrist, who wishes to alter reality in order to improve it, finds out how to influence the other man’s dreams. As I say, an elegant premise, yet so supple that it allows the exploration of a wide variety of situations. Le Guin writes a series of dramatic tableaux showing the paradoxical results of each transformation of the world. Some changes are comical, others disturbing, and others intolerable. The moral point is obvious – that one must take responsibility for the evil effects of all one’s actions, even those that are meant well – but the novel is resolved dramatically, even melodramatically, in a fine burst of science-fictional fireworks. [2001]

JOHN DeNARDO Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven is perhaps a prime example of “what if?” that uses an intoxicating premise: what if you had the power to shape reality just by dreaming it? The protagonist is George Orr, a simple draftsman in a near-future . George can change reality by dreaming what he calls “effective” Cover illustration by Chris Moore dreams. But here’s the rub: like the rest of us, he is unable to control his

August 2001: SF Masterworks series #44 SF Masterworks second series 133 dreaming. George tries to suppress his dreaming through the illegal use of drugs – illegal because he uses more than his government-allotted dosage in this near-totalitarian state. Enter Dr. Haber, the dream specialist to whom George is assigned for treatment. Haber’s treatment involves his new invention, the Augmentor, which allows Haber to influence George’s dreams. It’s not long before Haber realizes George’s incredible power and recognizes his unique position to play God. This is powerful subject matter indeed and Le Guin is the perfect writer to handle it. Her eloquent prose is simultaneously insightful and thought-provoking. Who doesn’t dream of being able to change the world with a mere thought? Would you use the power with good intentions? Would you use the ability to make the world a better place? Where would you stop? It’s through her characterizations that she explores these weighty topics. George is a sympathetic character who is tortured by his gift and his inability to prevent its devastating effects. His introverted personality makes him the perfect puppet for Haber. But what could George do? Haber is the one pulling the strings here. George does manage to enlist the help of lawyer Heather Laleche to help prove his unsolvable dilemma. He is hoping that a loophole in his power – that people who are near him when he dreams have vague memories of the previous reality – will be his salvation. Dr. Haber is an interesting character because, for all of his bad influence, he’s not really evil. The worst you could say about this charismatic character (in the first half of the story, at least) is that he is manipulative. His desire is not omnipotence; he just wants to make the world a better place. Haber realizes that with George’s power at his beck and call, “this world will be like heaven and men will be like Gods!” OK, so he becomes power-drunk, but he initially sets out to systematically abolish overpopulation, poverty, racism, sickness, and war using George’s dreams. Unfortunately his control over George is not total; George often misinterprets Haber’s wishes and thus we get interesting plot turns like alien invasions and all the people of Earth having the same pale gray skin tone. And so, there is a lesson to be learned here. Not to go all Spider-Man, but with great power comes great responsibility. The Lathe of Heaven is ultimately a cautionary tale about wielding power, a point succinctly captured by this passage:

…it’s not right to play God with masses of people. To be God you have to know what you’re doing. And to do any good at all just believing you’re right and your motives are good isn’t enough.

Le Guin has created a marvelous story with The Lathe of Heaven, one that I whole-heartedly recommend. [2008]


ANDREW SPONG Of all kinds of satire, there is none so entertaining and universally improving, as that which is introduced, as it were, occasionally in the course of an interesting story, which brings every incident home to life; and, by representing familiar scenes in an uncommon and amusing point of view, invests them with all the graces of novelty, while nature is appealed to in every particular.

So begins the Preface to Tobias Smollett’s debut novel, Roderick Random (1748). Titular similarities aside, John Sladek’s Roderick, or the Education of a Young Machine (1980) and Roderick at Random, or Further Education of a Young Machine (1983), collected in this entry in the SF Masterworks series as The Complete Roderick, bear many similarities to the eighteenth century novel’s form. The structure of the work is episodic, with a panoply of robustly picaresque characters populating its 609 pages and driving the colourful life of its ‘Candide-like protagonist’* forward. There are no shortage of playful homages to the eighteenth century novel’s experimental forms, and some of the typographical jouissance the reader encounters in The Complete Roderick serves to confirm at least one oft-cited similarity between Sladek and Kurt Vonnegut. We get to read the University of Minnetonka Special Emergency Finance Committee Voting Record Part 189077 (p.73), see what the decision tree that Roderick

Cover illustration by Chris Moore * Clute and Nichols, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, p.1,114.

October 2001: SF Masterworks series #45 135 sketches in school looks like (p.161), can study the solution that the robot mails to to the publishers of the murder mystery paperback Die! Die! Your Lordship (p.339), review Roderick’s mapping of the story of Abraham and Isaac as a flowchart (pp. 248-250), puzzle over Ma’s (who turns out to be Pa, p.312) mirror writing (p.294), and consider the truth tables with which he simulates (with the help of a partner) the mental processes corresponding to sexual experience as the puzzling mind-body barrier that the sexual act in part is (p.378). The fact that the titles in their current form were intended to be concluded by a third volume that never appeared gives some intimation that the works as presented may have been considered to be less than wholly successful by their author. Sladek seems to take as much delight in satirizing the dull, drugged, repetitious nature of the exhaustive comparisons of the effects of prescription drugs and tendency to list things endlessly that characters indulge in as he does in the endeavours of his protagonist to find his way through his world, which perhaps goes some way towards explaining why the final entry to the trilogy was never forthcoming. Sladek may simply have lost interest in his robotic creation, and those readers that manage to finish the work in this two-volume form might be able to see why. The reader comes to feel that the work is less about the coming-to-consciousness of a robot than it is about the reader’s coming-to-consciousness of the dehumanizing, robotic nature of contemporary life. The novels are set in a present that seems adjacent to our own, but slightly more desensitized: a little more hopped up, even more suffused with corrosive advertising, and prone to iterating litany-like lists as passive viewers rather than active interpreters: “we’ve traded away our reality. We have no past, no future, no minds, no ” (p.445). Even the under-achieving, unambitious, unquestioning nature of the sphere of human activity that Roderick is exposed to seems disappointing to him compared to the tawdry banalities of the television programmes that have served to shape his perceptions as an under-stimulated and largely ignored machine consciousness. Stolen by a family of hucksters, partially disabled and sold into service as Rodini Robot (‘palmist, tarot reader, seer, scryer, mystic, clairvoyant’, p.138), Roderick finds that:

Television had never prepared him for [his customers’] stories of loneliness, horror, guilt, confusion, sickness, dread. Almost none of his visitors came close to televised truth: here were no pop stars, kindly country doctors, top fashion designers, executives with drink problems, zany flight attendants, sneering crooks, tough but fair cops, devoted night-nurses,

136 cynical reporters, hell-for-leather marines, dedicated scientists, big-hearted B-girls, ageing actors, cute orphans, smart lawyers – none of the ordinary decent network folks he’d come to know and almost like. (p.140)

The novels have a propensity towards self-referentiality that find their fullest expression in the relationship that Roderick develops with Father Warren of the church school that he attends who, like most of the other characters in the work, seems incapable (in keeping with the novel’s thematic interest in comprehension per se) of recognizing the robot for what he is, or for getting his name right: “I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. Tried that yet? Here, take it along” (p.224). The naive but logical and incisive questions that Roderick asks of Father Warren unbalance the latter’s sanity to the point where he begins to pick stigmata in his hands, and Sladek introduces some interesting perspectives on programming, religiosity, and autonomy. Religion is given a thorough working over by Sladek through the Roderick titles, perhaps to most amusing effect in the description of the costume that Ma, the robot’s surrogate mother, creates for his nativity play to the horror of the audience (p.243). Whilst it is never spelled out quite so synoptically, the books have a proclivity for obsessing over what we might call the ‘autonomy of automata’, most notably in a sequence on pp.327-328 that iterates historical studies of the ‘revenge of the common man upon the common object’ when automatons have suffered at the hands of their creators or been otherwise abused. Sladek’s parallel representation of the impulse-oriented nature of the behaviour of the characters he has created invites the reader to extrapolate from these passages in order to consider the lack of will that the human-as-consumer manifests in failing to resist the tyranny of the object over the subject – the possession’s possession of the possessor: “we must smash the machines inside us, smash the idea of the machine” (p.489). “If you think machines are trouble, just look at the dumb bastards running them” (p.491). “Everyone’s[...] so obsessed with our machine world they think we have to be machines to fit into it” (p.555). A cleverly allusive work that makes playful reference to everything from the Andrex puppy adverts (p.393) to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (p.571), The Complete Roderick is a likeable but neither especially engaging nor particularly profound entry to the SF Masterworks series which may be recommended if not for its plot, style or ideas then for its not taking itself too seriously: ‘the world was beginning to resemble something in a satirical science-fiction novel of no great quality’ (p.401); ‘Left, Right and Centre, it’s all A GREAT BIG NOTHING!!!’ (p.399). [2010]


MIKE PHILBIN On 4th June 1989, the Chinese government brutally quashed a march for reform, by upwards of 100,000 protestors, in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. Students, workers and intellectuals alike were mown down in cold blood by the Chinese army, killing anywhere between 700 and 7,000 citizens depending on which news media you subscribed to. The day after the massacre, one lone protestor halted the procession of a line of tanks through Tiananmen Square. He became known as ‘Tank Man’. There have been many attempts to identify Tank Man but to date, nearly twenty years on; we’re still no closer to really knowing who that man was. This is Jason Taverner – not the activist who stopped the tanks in a far-away world but the un-person Tank Man became. The citizen who no longer is… the de-identified. The ID-stripped. That’s Jason Taverner. He wakes up one day and he no longer exists. He has nothing. He never was. Flow My Tears… future is a crazy (and once may have seemed plausible) world where students are shunned into underground encampments, never to be allowed out in public, and there are forced labour camps where ‘dissidents’ can be interred for simple ‘crimes’ like taking pity on the students, sneaking food to them, among other petty crimes. Is this the contemporary society (Tank Man? The Net?) seen through the eye of a future needle of ? A PKD vision of societal holocaust where we are nothing but numbers in the great number-crunching machine? “I can’t live two hours without my ID” pre-empts the ID-card age and Cover illustration by Chris Moore the need to be totally identifiable (by the authorities) at all times. How

November 2001: SF Masterworks series #46 SF Masterworks second series 138 could Philip K. Dick have possibly understood the future of government control? Well, he didn’t. He extrapolated, as he always did in all his novels. Many of his linear extrapolations were nothing more than out- moded fantasy and had no basis in logic or science. They were just the now of Nixon and Cold War paranoia projected forward into some arbitrary (drug fuelled) vision of the future. “The mescaline had furiously begun to affect him; the room grew lit up with colours, and the perspective factor altered so that the ceiling seemed a million miles high.” – Testimony only a true drug pro could relate. “The phone grid…” here we see PKD pulling a Nostradamus on the Internet and the unilateral use of said nuke-proof network for just one thing – porn. “Quibbles zooming and bleating in the skies outside the dirty glass of his window” reminds one of that dirty apartment where Tom Cruise wakes up in Spielberg’s film Minority Report. The imbecilic title of the song that made Jason Taverner (the singer) famous – nowhere nuthin’ fuck up – has that PKD-patented irony and pathos all through it like ‘Blackpool’ through a stick of rock. Adopting the mantle of the sort of theorist PKD most likely detested, I’d be tempted to suggest that Jason Taverner and his co-six Heather Hart are the same person. They are both Philip K. Dick the famous celebrity (in his case, writer) who both loves and hates his fans at the same time. Like Dick, Jason Taverner is obsessed with his (ageing) figure and his (withering) female conquests. His onset of total self-hatred is only months round the corner. When he allows Jason Taverner to philosophise on the subject of his singing career, “There are experts. You can listen to them, to their theories. They always have theories. They write long articles and discuss your stuff back to the first record you cut nineteen years ago. They compare recordings you don’t even remember having cut” Dick’s actually talking about book critics and story reviewers and biographers of his own work. The copyright of Flow My Tears… happens to be 1974,

139 nineteen years since the publication of his first book in 1955. Coincidence? Taverner is a six, a genetically defined mutation of the human genome, “they’re ordinaries, and they’re morons” this is the classic Nexus-6, more human than human, ethos. Or is it just Dick’s hatred of the people all around him – we know that Dick wasn’t one for conventions and pressing the flesh like so many mediocre writers do in lieu of any real talent. And in a similar vein: “a six… will always prevail… that’s how they genetically defined us” is Taverner’s conclusion. They – who are they? It’s the all-encompassing mistrust and paranoia and anonymity of a state that makes and regulates, an archaic realm of cold, hard policies and inhuman national security. It’s sorta like that 1995 Sandra Bullock film The Net where computer software engineer Angela Bennett has her driver’s licence, her credit cards, her bank accounts, her identity deleted (one wonders if the PKD estate got a point or two on the gross of that movie) but, as usual, Flow My Tears… is about something a lot more personal than the standard Hollywood three-act narrative; it’s about the simple consequence of too many conquests. Actually, now that it’s been said, maybe it should be reiterated, this is one of PKD’s most relationship-troubled books. He’s literally got dancing skeletons coming out of every closet. There’s co-six Heather Hart, the talentless Marilyn Mason, there’s the forger, there are old flames Ruth Rae and Monica Buff, there’s the police chief’s sister Alys Buckman, there’s potter Mary-Ann Dominic. Philip K. Dick didn’t write sci-fi, he wrote books about the human condition. In Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said he illustrates that with the total loss of self, the complications of sleeping around and the effects of mind-bending drug KR-3, a drug so powerful it can spatially incarcerate friends and loved ones in your trip, good or bad. [2006]


AMY H. STURGIS A compelling morality tale as well as a fascinating science fiction yarn, The Invisible Man is a direct response to the ‘Ring of Gyges’ story in Plato’s Republic. The ‘Ring of Gyges’ questions whether an intelligent man, if he feared neither being caught nor being punished (for example, if he were invisible), would act in a moral fashion. Wells’s brilliant physicist Griffin clearly is intelligent. He is not a sympathetic character at the best of times, quite possibly a psychopath from the beginning, but when he experiments on himself and renders himself invisible, he acts utterly without conscience – but not without consequences. Wells gives great attention to both the hypothetical science and practical details behind Griffin’s experience – undigested food would be visible, even if the person weren’t, for example – and this makes it easy for the reader to suspend disbelief and become caught up in the challenges of Griffin’s day-to-day survival. The most memorable parts of the novel to me, however, have a more Gothic flavor: the bizarre plight of the invisible cat, which the neighbors could hear crying but could not see; the horror of Griffin’s one-time classmate Kemp, as Griffin relates all he has done to advance his experiments and protect his secrets; Griffin’s chilling declaration of a ‘Reign of Terror’ on Port Burdock and the nation as a whole. The final scene of the mob killing of Griffin is both brutal and wrenching. While this doesn’t compete with The Time Machine for me as Wells’s best work, it’s still a powerful story that has much to say to a modern-day Cover illustration by Chris Moore reader. [2012]

December 2001: SF Masterworks series #47 SF Masterworks second series (hardcover) 141 CHRIS HILL I first read The Invisible Man in my early teens and had not reread it until doing so for this review. In between I had seen the classic 1933 James Whale film version with Claude Raines and parts of the 1984 television production, but the layering of the different versions had distorted my memory of the actual text. One thing I had ended up falsely remembering was that Griffin, the Invisible Man, was a researcher whose invisibility turned him into a monster; that the very fact of his invisibility encouraged him to behaviour he would not have previously countenanced. I was planning to draw a parallel between this and how some commenters on the web use their anonymity to bully and demean other people in a way that most would not if they were physically in the room with their target. So I was surprised to discover that – on rereading the book itself – it is not becoming invisible that makes Griffin a monster, but that he was an awful human being before then. He is obsessed with his own researches and when he runs out of money he steals what he needs from his father. His father subsequently commits suicide – the money Griffin stole was not his father’s own – and although he attends his father’s funeral, Griffin feels no remorse for his part in the death. The version of the story in my memory has Griffin as a character for whom one has some pity – he is not inherently wicked, but he is broken by the process of his experiments. But the ‘true’ version views him as entirely unsympathetic and whose fate is rather more deserved I also made another discovery: the working class characters that appeared to have been added for comic effect to the 1933 film – and as someone from a working class background myself I found this rather annoying – were in fact not an addition but were in the original text. I had completely excised that part of the story, probably because when I was in my teens, I found all that stuff boring when I could be reading about the scientific adventure! Reading these sections now, I am not happy with the representation of the working class characters; all are portrayed as being venal or stupid (not an attitude that has completely gone away in more modern novels either). In conclusion, these discoveries remind me that no reading of a novel is definitive. Few of us have perfect recall of past readings and we bring different things to a reading as we grow older. Social injustices that we may not notice when we are younger now leap out to the eye, ideas that stun us with their originality we have seen done better in subsequent books, writing that seems sharp and incisive can seem obvious and hackneyed. Maybe the reading of a book is never really finished. [2014]


MANNY RAYNER There’s a characteristically witty essay* by Borges about a man who rewrites Don Quixote, many centuries after Cervantes. He publishes a novel with the same title, containing the same words in the same order. But, as Borges shows you, the different cultural context means it’s a completely new book! What was once trite and commonplace is now daring and new, and vice versa. It just happens to look like Cervantes’s masterpiece. Similarly, imagine the man who was brave or stupid enough to rewrite Dune in the early 21st century. Like many people who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, I read the book in my early teens. What an amazing story! Those kick-ass Fremen! All those cool, weird-sounding names and expressions they use! (They even have a useful glossary in the back). The disgusting, corrupt, slimy Harkonnens – don’t you just love to hate them! When former- aristo-turned-desert-guerilla-fighter Paul Muad’Dib rides in on a sandworm at the end to fight the evil Baron and his vicious, cruel nephew, of course you’re cheering for him. Who the hell wouldn’t be? So that was the Dune we know and love, but the man who rewrote it now would get a rather different reception. Oh my God! These Fremen, who obviously speak Arabic, live on a desert planet which supplies the Universe with melange, a commodity essential to the Galactic economy, and in particular to transport. Not a very subtle way to say “oil”! They are tough, uncompromising fighters, who are quite happy to use suicide bombing as a

Cover illustration by Henrik Sahlström * “Pierre Menard, Author of the ‘Quixote’”, if you’re curious. – PY

December 2001: SF Masterworks hardcover series #I SF Masterwork series #71 (hardcover) SF Masterworks second series (hardcover) 143 tactic. They’re led by a charismatic former rich kid (OK, we get who you mean), who inspires them to rise up against the corrupt, degenerate… um, does he mean Westerners? Or only the US? And who is Baron Harkonnen intended to be? I’m racking my brains… Dubya doesn’t quite seem to fit, but surely he means someone? Unless, of course, he’s just a generic stereotype who stands for the immoral, sexually-obsessed West. This is frightening. What did we do to make Frank al- Herbert hate us so much? You’d have people, not even necessarily right-wingers, appearing on TV to say that the book was dangerous, and should be banned: at the very least, it incites racial hatred, and openly encourages terrorism. But translations would sell brilliantly in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and a bad movie version would soon be made in Turkey. I honestly don’t think Herbert meant any of that; but today, it’s almost impossible not to wonder. If anyone reading this review is planning to rewrite The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, you’d better make sure you get your timing right. Who knows how it will be interpreted five years from now. [2009]

ANDREW SPONG I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Dune is more mythos than novel and has spawned innumerable spin-off books, films and mini-series. As such, it is something of a challenge to review the original works, Dune World (1963-4) and The Prophet of Dune (1965), most commonly referred to as the amalgamated novel Dune, first published in this format in 1965 and winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel in the same year. At over 550 pages in this edition, Dune is often lazily referred to as “science fiction’s Lord of the Rings”. There is little

144 real merit to this analogy: yes, it is a study of good versus evil; yes, there are a number of rich and overlapping cultures portrayed in the book (the empire with its Houses and Guilds, the warped Buddhism of the Bene Gesserit ‘witches’, the near- eastern influences suffusing the culture of the Fremen desert tribes, the sandworms of Arrakis and the consciousness-altering spice melange drug that they make) but other than the fact that both works are engaging tales, expertly told, there is little more to say. Dune is on one level a personal, political, emotional and spiritual bildungsroman, tracing the passage of Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto Atreides and the Lady Jessica, Bene Gesserit and concubine to the Duke, from usurped ducal heir to the Lisan al-Gaib, a prophet who will lead the native Fremen people of Dune on a program of land reclamation, turning the desert to verdure. However, to describe the novel only in these terms does a disservice to its dense and complex structure, and each reader will find a different path through it. I was particularly struck by the contemporary (i.e. mid-’60s) significance of Herbert’s insistence that women (the Bene Gesserit) are covertly running the political world through their machinations, interventions, and breeding programs. To me, this seemed less to signify a progressive social emancipatory urge on the author’s part than to disclose (perhaps unconsciously) a certain Cold War paranoia, with women taking the place of the Russian agents and the KGB. [2008]

CHRISTOPHER J GARCIA When I was a kid, ten years old to be exact, I fell in love with a movie. It was David Lynch’s Dune. It was perfect, beautiful and sensual and exotic and amazing. I know, I know, you hate that movie, and you loved the book. I first tried to read it when I checked it out of the Buchser Junior High School library. I failed. I tried again while I was at Santa Clara High, when all my other friends were going through the entire series as it existed up until then, which was thankfully before the hacks who took it over got their hands on it. I failed. Three or four more attempts while I was in college, and several after. No dice, none of ’em took. It wasn’t until I had to, for an issue of Journey Planet, that I actually managed to make it through the tromp across the desert.

145 And I wasn’t impressed. OK, that’s not at all true. It was an amazing world, deeply detailed, richly decorated, intricately carved into an image of something truly fantastic. Frank Herbert’s world-building – a term he may have created – is as richly layered as a Photoshop image. He gives us characters that dare to be memorable, while not being realistic, and he allows them to inhabit the kind of setting that a mad man would envision in a post-9/11 paranoid fever fantasy. A world where Islam has penetrated so thoroughly into the world that it has become the dominant form, and not only that, where Imperialism has returned. A world where atomics are tools used to solve simple problems, like a nuclear-powered flyswatter, as it were. And there are Royals who live the lives I want to lead, and Royals who live the lives I may well end up living if I ever led the life I want to lead. It’s a story as rich as the spice-spiked coffee Jessica serves on Caladan. That is the Dune that people remember. The finest world that never lived. No one remembers Paul and Jessica wandering the desert. The extended camping trip where the pair move towards Paul’s destiny, with him whining all the time. I could only imagine this as the most difficult drive to Joshua Tree ever attempted, but also as the greatest lesson – we’ve gotta get there before the adventure can begin. Herbert’s bog that creeps up waterlessly in the middle of the novel feels thicker than my reheated morning oatmeal. And yet, it was endearing. And maybe that is the greatest thing that Dune has taught me, or at least the reading of Dune. You can find a flawed jewel, but it’s still a jewel. There’s still beauty, even if the cut is uneven. Dune is a book that doesn’t reward continued reading. It almost lashes you for your initial interest with a central portion as dry and desolate as… well, you get the idea. It’s not pleasant in that middle section. The main character is a whining prat, his mother adapts to being a gypsy nomad right quick. It’s all very messy, but at the same time you don’t remember the sour notes. You remember the sand worms and the Emperor and Paul calling down the pain. You remember the Baron and the atomics and the planets and everything. It’s not a story that you love every minute of, it’s a book that makes you love it as it is. Warts and all. [2014]


JONATHAN THORNTON In The Left Hand Of Darkness Ursula Le Guin uses SF to examine gender stereotypes and prejudices, and to explore the idea of non-binary gender. It is a powerful and moving piece of writing, exploring how both social constructs such as gender and arbitrary political boundaries divide people, yet shared experiences and higher goals can bring them together. It takes place on a starkly beautiful and dangerous snow-covered planet. It really is a book with everything, and if you wanted to convince a cynic of the sheer breadth of scope, imaginative power, intellectual heft and emotional honesty that it’s possible to convey within the field of science fiction, you could do worse than point them in the direction of this book. The Left Hand Of Darkness tells the story of Genly Ai, who is sent to the planet of Gethen to prepare them for acceptance into the Ekumen, an interstellar group set up to allow cultural exchange and trade between peoples on different planets. Unlike all the other humanoids in the Ekumen, the Gethenians are non-binary gendered. They appear androgynous for most of the month until they enter ‘kemmer’, when they may differentiate either into male or female. The book begins with Genly discovering that Estraven, the prime minister of Karhide, the country Genly has decided to negotiate with, is withdrawing his promise to support Genly’s application to speak to the King of Karhide. Genly sees this as a betrayal on Estraven’s part, exacerbated when Estraven is declared a traitor and the King refuses Genly’s proposal. Disillusioned, Genly attempts to negotiate with Karhide’s Cover illustration by Tim White rival, Orgoreyn. Things go south pretty quickly and Genly is placed in an

December 2001: SF Masterworks hardcover series #II 147 internment camp, and it is up to Estraven to rescue him, leading the two to take an epic trek across Gethen’s unforgiving glaciers to bring Genly safely back to Karhide. The idea of Gethenian gender allows Le Guin to deconstruct binary gender norms. Genly has difficulty interacting with Gethenians, and especially with Estraven, because years of interacting within a binary gender framework have conditioned him to see people as either male or female. Le Guin demonstrates the extent to which the ingrained binary cis-heterosexual viewpoint can colour the way one perceives the world, to the extent that Genly is unable to correctly perceive the attitude of his friend who shares his enthusiasm for his mission. But really the influence on our perception extends deeper than that, to the division into perceived strong and weak halves, the tendancy towards dualism. The title of the book comes from a Gethen poem, the full line being “Light is the left hand of darkness / And darkness the right hand of light”, deeply evocative of a more ambiguous, nuanced way of perceiving the world around us as opposed to the strict divisions we sometimes force upon reality. The grand tragedy of the book, as shown above, is that because Genly is initially unable to accept Estraven on his own terms, he constantly mistrusts the one person who has his best interests at heart. Le Guin skilfully portrays this by initially showing us Estraven just through Genly’s point of view, when he least trusts him, and then showing us Estraven’s viewpoint. Thus the reader is allowed to see how far off Genly’s initial judgement is before Genly himself is. The fact that Genly’s and Estraven’s friendship is so hard-earned is part of what ultimately makes it so powerful. The switch and bait is echoed in Genly’s original impressions of Karhide and Orgoreyn. Genly perceives Karhide as backwards and undeveloped compared to the luxuries and complicated politics on show in Orgoreyn, but Orgoreyn’s modern façade hides the fact that it is basically a police state, whereas the people of Karhide have a down-to-earth honesty and dignity that Genly comes to appreciate. The book has come in for some flack because of its use of the male pronoun to describe its Gethenian characters. In effect it reiterates Genly’s own problem, portraying the non-binary Gethenians as standardly male when that is not what they are. Le Guin has later admitted her regret at this, writing a short story (‘Coming of Age in Karhide’) set on Gethen using only the female pronoun for the Gethenians. And whatever its faults, there’s no denying that The Left Hand Of Darkness is a powerful deconstruction of standard perceptions of gender and a richly evocative and moving tale to boot. [2014]

148 MEGAN MEDINA Reviewing Le Guin’s engaging and brilliant 1969 novel is an impossible and intimidating task. Only a dissertation could do this novel justice, and I doubt I have anything of value to add to the mountain of praise that already exalts this book. It's a masterpiece. You need to read it. You really need to read it. In the distant future, Genly Ai, a Terran human representing the Ekumen collective of worlds, is assigned as the first- contact diplomat to the planet Gethen, a frozen planet of ambi-gendered individuals. He begins his work in the nation of Karhide, but fails to capture the king’s interest to participate in galactic relations. Genly takes his case to Karhide’s rival nation of Orgoreyn, where the contrasting democratic political situation seems more amenable to his cause, but a warning from Karhide’s exiled Prime Minister Estreven foreshadows danger in a world where war does not exist, but scheming and cruelty do. A lot of comparisons have been drawn between Lord of the Rings and The Left Hand of Darkness, but I don't really see it. Besides the impact both tales may have on our hearts – and a quest through snow – Le Guin's novel stands on its own, and it serves a different purpose. LHOD is more than a world-building tale about friendship and strength of character. It generalizes, without simplifying, the human condition. It contributes to society, not just as a tale, but as an honest tableau of what we are, and what we fear to be. Maybe it’s the world-building that leads to these comparisons. Yes, the world of Gethen is fully-realized, but it’s not conveyed in a descriptive manner. Sure, there are gorgeous moments of wooded hikes, ice-tunnel villages, and volcanic glaciers, but most of the world-building takes place as a reflection of its inhabitants. Le Guin employs my favorite storytelling device, the collage, in which each chapter is a different narrative style. Some chapters are from Genly’s journal, others are from Estreven’s journal, yet still others (and some of the best!) are the folkloric tales of the Gethenian people. This is where the true world-building occurs, as those little stories provide windows to this unbearably cold planet and its taciturn people. It’s not “world-building”, it’s world-revealing, which is how it should be. And sometimes what Le Guin doesn’t tell us is just as important as what she does. Each time I thought I caught her in a plot hole, a detail would emerge to explain. I wondered why this ancient society has stagnated in the middle of an early industrial age. “Why no planes?” I ask in my notes. But later we learn that the freezing climate of Gethen has inhibited evolution as we know it. No flying animals exist. There are no birds to mimic. And, as I realize after a few days of mulling, a

149 world with no war has less motivation for hi-tech innovation. Without a couple of world wars, where would our technology be? With LHOD (and the rest of the Hainish cycle novels), Le Guin’s ideas seem to spring from an urge for political and social experimentation. Her stories are a laboratory in which she tests and measures government systems and social roles. Le Guin pulls no punches, softens no stats. The data is the story, and you may not like the results. Maybe democracy breeds treachery. Maybe world peace isn’t peaceful. Maybe gender is a perverted social construct. But this is no contrived science fair project. The results are the story, and the story is organic. That warm, lingering uncertainty will follow you long after you turn the final page. LHOD is whatever you want it to be. You can tug at any edge and unravel entire strands of elucidation. Any strand can be deconstructed into still smaller strands, and the sensuous experience of that tug is oh, so gratifying. But for readers who just want a good story, LHOD is still entirely satisfying. [2014]

TANYA BROWN The Left Hand of Darkness reveals something new on each reread. The first time I read it, I was fascinated by Gethenian androgyny: the second time, the narrative of the journey across the glacier drew me in. (Years later, I’d wonder why I felt such a sense of familiarity on first reading Shackletons South and Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World, both accounts of Antarctic expeditions.) On subsequent readings, I became engrossed in the politics of Karhide, and the concept of shifgrethor (face, pride, prestige); in the parallels between Orgoreyn and the USSR; on religion and the nature of Foretelling, the ‘tamed hunch’ which produces accurate prophecy; on Genly Ai, the primary narrator, and his innate prejudices. But again and again I return to Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, whose fall from King’s Ear to political exile forms one arc of the novel. Genly Ai’s mission, to persuade Gethen to join the interplanetary coalition of the Ekumen, succeeds because of Estraven: I think it’s significant that the novel begins not with the beginning of Ai’s mission, but with the initial rumours of Estraven’s fall from grace. Estraven’s background is lightly sketched. His brother Arek, whom he loved dearly, has been dead for fourteen years; Estraven left home because of him. He has three sons: two by Ashe Foreth, and one, Sorve, who still lives in Estraven’s

150 ancestral home with Estraven’s parent, Esvans. To complicate matters, there's a ‘hearth tale’ which recounts the story of another Arek and another Therem, mortal foes who vowed kemmering (as close as Gethenians get to marriage). The first Therem bore a child; the first Arek was slain by Therem’s kinsfolk. Unsettlingly, the name of the first Therem’s father was Sorve. One can’t help but wonder what Esvans was thinking when he named them. That story is hardly auspicious. The concept of ‘parent-in-the-flesh’ is a necessary consequence of Gethenian physiology. All Gethenians are androgyne, neuter, except for the few days per month when they’re in kemmer. Hormonal secretions determine whether an individual adopts the male or female role during kemmer. (“No physiological habit is established, and the mother of several children may be the father of several more”.) If conception occurs, the person in the female role will bear the child, and will be the ‘parent-in-the-flesh’. The two children Estraven and Ashe had together were “born of [Ashe’s] flesh”: I don’t believe they’re ever named, and Estraven’s contact with them is minimal. In contrast, he writes long letters to his other son Sorve (whose name, of course, reflects the parent in the old hearth-tale). Why the inconsistency? We learn in the final pages of the novel that Sorve is the child conceived by Estraven and his brother Arek. Incest isn’t prohibited, but full siblings can’t vow kemmer: which is probably the cause of Estraven’s first exile, from his homeland. Is Estraven’s attachment to Sorve simply an attachment to the child of his dead brother, or is there something more? If Estraven is Sorve’s ‘parent-in-the-flesh’, perhaps Le Guin is using their relationship to demonstrate the aspect of Estraven that Genly Ai struggles to see: his femininity. “Impossible to think of him as a woman,” muses Genly in the first chapter of the novel, yet Estraven – like all Gethenians – is both man and woman. Only when Genly accepts his friend’s nature does he realise how little he understands women, half of humanity. (One hopes that the views he expresses in his journal are more indicative of the novel’s publication date than the future in which it’s set.) It’s Estraven’s profound humanism that drives him to support Genly Ai’s attempt to integrate Gethen with the rest of the human species: and it’s a tragedy on the grandest scale that Estraven doesn’t live to see his hopes fulfilled, to learn about “the other worlds out among the stars, the other kinds of men, the other lives”. [2014]


CHARLES DEE MITCHELL I’ve never been big on Alternative History novels. Never been tempted by those Harry Turtledove books that show spacecraft flying Confederate flags or Doughboys crouching behind armor-plated dinosaurs. But this is Dickian alternative history, and the novel that won him the Hugo Award. He claims in a letter from the mid-’60s that he was not that crazy about this book. Maybe like Henry James he craved success but then tended to look down on works that brought him the most attention. In James’s case it was Washington Square, Daisy Miller, and The Turn of the Screw. And that is the only comparison I would ever think to make between Philip K. Dick and Henry James. The Allies have War II. The United States is now officially only those states on the Eastern seaboard, and they are under Reich Rule. No one has shown much interest in the Midwest, and, although still part of a conquered empire, it exists as a marginally freer buffer zone. The Japanese control the Pacific States of America, and the bulk of the novel takes place in San Francisco. In the PSA, most Americans have made their peace with the Japanese occupation. No Patrick Swayze has risen to the fore and led a group of teenagers, strangely proficient in advanced military weaponry, to stage a Red Dawn style insurgency. Most San Franciscans are working profitably with or for the Japanese, but in alliances that are marked with crippling levels of anxiety. This is, after all, a Philip K. Dick novel. Dick establishes a dozen or so characters, several of whom are even Cover illustration by Chris Moore who they claim to be, and sets things rolling so that paths seemed destined

December 2001: SF Masterworks hardcover series #III SF Masterwork series #73 (hardcover) SF Masterworks second series (hardcover) 152 to cross in disastrous ways. But in fact things run rather smoothly with the exception of a couple of spectacular outbreaks of violence. This is a novel of anxiety, not action. It’s a story where anxiety can arise from the excruciating decision of what will be the proper gift to ‘graft’ in a given situation, or by the discovery that the Nazis are planning a massive nuclear holocaust. Linked characters are scattered across the continent, and I was worried that somehow everything was going to tie together neatly as in one of the machines-for-winning-Academy-Awards like Crash. But the stories run parallel more often than they cross. One character does save another’s life, but he never meets the man and acts because he is pissed off and wants to exert some authority. And then there is the man in the high castle, the reclusive author Hawthorn Abendsen – how does Dick think up these names? Abendsen is the author of the controversial and absurdly titled novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. This is an alternative history in which the allies win the war, and although banned by the Nazis, Japanese and American readers are snatching it up. The final question in Dick’s novel centers on the possibility that Abendsen’s novel is not fiction. The Allies did win the war. History is not a progression of events but an infinite play of possibilities. But still a play where some people get killed, some go insane, and some plan to blow the whole thing up. [2011]

JONATHAN TERRINGTON This was typical Phillip K. Dick fare, clever philosophical science fiction contemplating ideas about religion, society and in many ways what it is to be human. It was a well plotted and thought-out book with a complicated plot focusing on multiple points of view as they struggle within a harsh society. The basic premise of this book is that of alternate history. Japan and Nazi Germany won World War II and so in 1962 slavery is again legal and the USA has become broken into Japanese- and Nazi-controlled areas. In the midst of this Philip K. Dick explores several people as they attempt to live in such a harsh environment. The plot also centers around one unique book which questions: what if the Allies had won the war instead? In essence this book half-shows the true path history did take. The plot was brilliantly constructed and well thought out. However I found it hard to truly engage with the characters in the text and so struggled to actually enjoy them as people. It didn’t help that one of the few likeable characters, Juliana, at one stage has a psychotic fit… At which point the writing became hectic and insanely twisted (almost as if the author were

153 writing while psychotic himself). This of course made it difficult to truly like any character. However the plot did serve to show humanity struggling through daily life and I felt that it provided clever parallels with the daily grind of today’s modern world. I do have one more axe to grind though. Philip K. Dick had the Nazi state possessing highly advanced technology (rockets to travel across borders at super-fast speeds and into space, incredible plastics to provide strength for those rockets and so forth) in his text. Personally I believe Japan would have been more likely to possess the technology and the Nazis to be the less-developed nation. After all, fascism is extreme conservatism meaning an obsession with retaining the glories of the past and not pressing on to develop new methods of living. And again, the main reason the Nazis did not win the war is that they did not develop enough advanced technology (and they got rid of their most brilliant Jewish scientists). But still that’s a minor issue when all is considered. [2011]


ELI JOHNSON Though told through the lens of the Catholic Church as it survives centuries after nuclear holocaust, A Canticle for Leibowitz is less about faith and more about human reason as it clashes with the forces of xenophobia, greed and ignorance. We see a picture of the church as a giant institution, slow to change and long to deliberate, and an order of scholarly monks who sometimes bump against this inertia. Within the order are disparate personalities kept together by the code they’ve adhered to and the rule of the abbot. And outside the abbey’s walls, humanity makes its slow trek from chaos to tribalism, feudalism and industrial advancement. Rarely does a sci-fi book avoid hovering over the artifice of technology, or invest more in characters than in setting, but A Canticle does both masterfully. Miller’s writing concerns itself more with the close personal revelations, fears, choices and conflicts of his characters than of inventing gizmos or distractions. Along the way we get periodic and sometimes brutal glimpses of the world outside the abbey, in stunning prose. Add to all this a touch of irony and comic pathos, and you have a profound depiction of humanity’s best and worst impulses. [2008]

MARK MONDAY Bleak themes with a light touch. Although not an easy book to get into, once I realized the effort was a worthy one, it became an increasingly absorbing Cover illustration by Dominic Harman read. The structure in particular was interesting, challenging – and

December 2001: SF Masterworks hardcover series #V SF Masterworks second series (hardcover) 155 distancing. Novels with religion at their core are often absorbing to me personally, and this novel is all about the impact of religion on the building and rebuilding of society. I appreciated the humanist values and found myself agreeing with the at times progressive, other times cynical and determinist stances. All that plus some super post-apocalyptic world-building as well. A true classic and therefore probably off-putting for many. [2011]

PETER YOUNG This was Miller’s only published novel (if one discounts his incomplete Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, which he agonised over for thirty-odd years), and is the cornerstone of his reputation for looking at Christian themes while placing them in a science fictional context. Leibowitz was an ordinary electrician in the military prior to the world’s first nuclear war, after which, repentant, he went on to found a minor religious order. Then came the ‘Simplification’ of humanity, and six hundred years hence an indecipherable artifact is found which was undoubtedly his, and over the following thousand years man learns once again to develop nuclear weapons. The generally bad temper to Miller’s Catholic humour is what gives A Canticle for Leibowitz its kick: he is at turns comic, often sad but always prodigiously grim and rich. Some superbly cantankerous abbots and monks (most of whom are killed off without a shred of dignity) seem to prove their human fallability on a daily basis while at the same time debate higher morality on a grand scale with perhaps too much eloquence. The final moral dilemma for Abbot Zerchi is direct, painful and graphically drawn, making Miller’s exploration – or was it a defence? – of a self-perpetuating Christianity all the more ambivalent. Part of Miller’s whole point seems to be that humanity’s beliefs – whether one considers them rational or irrational – will over centuries become exaggerated to the point of having a hold over us that’s often far out of proportion to their elementary simplicity; on the one hand he seems to poke fun at this state of affairs in the wider world though on the other hand he appears to stand by some of the more ornately embellished beliefs of the Catholic Church. And where this discord applies to the story’s last third it becomes an uncomfortably big question mark that hangs over everything – just how useful, or useless, is Christianity? – a question mark with a hook that one detects Miller can’t seem to wriggle off all that easily (at least on the page, and he sits the reader squarely on that fence too, allowing you to jump either way). An angry and ironic book, and there are even iconoclastic aspects that make it as relevant today as ever. [2008]


IAN McDONALD When I was a kid, we used to go shopping to the local county shopping mall in Bangor in County Down, and the Northern Publishing Office Bookshop had a small but well-stocked and quickly rotated sf section. I found the likes of ’s early stuff there, all in Pan for two shillings and sixpence, and I found Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. The edition with the great green cover – like Independence Day, with the Overlord spaceship coming over. So I paid my 2/6, said thank you very much, and took it home. I’d read quite a lot of science fiction by then, so even as I read the start of it I knew it was a little bit out of date and a little bit hokey, but at the same time it had that sense of Clarkean grandeur about it, which is what I think I look for in his work particularly. Stuff like A Fall of Moondust, – that’s nice, but it’s a wee bit homey, maybe a wee bit Heinlein. It’s the big stuff that I liked, that only the Brits seem to do particularly well, that Stapledonian sense that the cosmos is very large and we are very small. And I got that first from the cover of the book, and then as I read it I thought, this is exactly what I’m looking for. In some senses it felt like the first posthuman novel, in that it started as a fairly obvious, clichéd thing – aliens come to Earth, yeah they look like demons – but then it gets more interesting. By the end of it, where the human overmind rises and consumes the Earth and heads off into the universe, I thought, yes, this is it. And as I say for me that’s always been Clarke’s thing – at one level he seems cosy and British and in another way he’s not at all, he’s big and he’s chilling. His Cover illustration by Dominic Harman best visions of the universe are big, chilly and unknowable because what he

December 2001: SF Masterworks hardcover series #VI SF Masterworks second series (hardcover) 157 seems to be saying is that the universe is not humanity’s playground, it’s post-humanity’s playground. It’s for the thing that comes after us. Childhood’s End still remains my favourite Clarke book, and possibly the one that’s influenced me the most. [2008]

MARK MONDAY You think you’re so fucken smart, don’t you Mark? Ha, think again. All your little plans and goals, your little community of friends and family and colleagues, your whole little life… what does it matter in the long run? not a whole fucken lot. Grow up. Take this book for example. A classic of the genre, written by a classic author. You thought you knew what you were getting into; you’ve read countless examples of the type. You sure are a well-read little scifi nerd, aren't you? For the first half, maybe longer, you were right. A well-crafted central character, flavorful supporting characters, intriguing aliens, a spicy mystery to solve. It was all laid out as expected and the pleasures were of a familiar sort. When the mystery of the aliens’ appearance was solved, you were a wee bit surprised. But it was a comfortable sort of surprise. It’s not like it blew your mind. It was clever. But everything up until then was as you expected. Well fucking Congratulations, chump, your predictions came half-true. You want a medal? You don’t get one. There aren’t any half-medals. You weren’t expecting what came after. Those revelations came out of the blue for you, didn’t they? You didn’t expect to be made to feel so small, to get a little depressed, to have your expectations pounded all to pieces. It was kinda beautiful in a way, kinda mind-blowing. But mainly it was fucken sad. Oh you poor baby. You have your own private little dreams of widespread empathy and the future of children and the future of humanity and our future place in the world and – at the most secret, sentimental heart of you – some corny spiritual post-life higher consciousness transcending type shit. You didn’t expect that to be a part of the novel, did you? You didn’t expect it to all come out, be laid out on the page like a body in a morgue, your body, and then just get eviscerated. Your dreams of some sort of future beyond this present, where you are still you, a wistful dream that you like to think is both delicate and profound like one of those origami things you like to do. What’s your favorite one? A pinwheel. Well you get to watch that pinwheel of a dream get smashed and turned inside out and torn up into bits. Revealed as a typically naive and childish fantasy. Ha! So much for that. Grow the fuck up, chump. [2012]


JESSE HUDSON The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is the story of Mannie, a computer technician living in the lunar colony. The year is 2075, and the colony is only marginally free after operating for years as a penal institution for Earth’s criminals. Their underground farms providing food for the teeming billions on Earth, to say the Authority takes advantage of the moon’s population for cheap labor is an understatement. Taxed to death while their depleting resources are literally catapulted Earthside, the future looks grim for citizens of Luna. With the computer system which governs and manages the infra- structure, economy, and production – ie. everything – on Luna coming to life one day, Mannie is in the right place at the right time for the awakening. Making friends with the child-like AI (who he names Mike), Mannie, along with a couple of friends, embark on a revolution to shake the Authority to its knees and gain Luna’s freedom in the process. Where Stranger in a Strange Land was loose and dynamic, at times straying from the ideas at hand, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a more focused effort. Heinlein routes his creative largesse into a cohesive story that does not digress into satirical tirades. Most often letting the characters and story speak for themselves, the book – and reader – wholly benefit. The wordsmithing is more often than not brilliant. Employing a Slavic version of English, the lack of articles, personal pronouns, and other signifiers takes a moment to get used to, but after a few pages fits the setting and characters. Not beautiful, it is rather the clever manner in which this language is toyed Cover illustration by Chris Moore with and meaning altered or subverted – a delicious sub-text (literally) to an

December 2001: SF Masterworks hardcover series #VII SF Masterwork series #72 (hardcover) SF Masterworks second series (hardcover) 159 already subversive storyline – that makes the text unique. And a mouth-watering social setup it is. Heinlein slowly revealing the lunar colony all the way through to the conclusion, readers get a feel for what life on the globe orbiting our own might be like. Created is a wholly imaginative yet mostly realistic society, from the afore-mentioned language (which is an agglomeration and evolution of the ethnicities and cultures who find themselves living together in the underground caverns and cells) to the sense of independence that each of the blue collar inhabitants possess, the line marriages which account for the 3:1 male to female ratio, to the anarchic values each person is willing to protect with their lives. Proudly calling themselves loonies, societal existence is more plausible (read: ragtag) than Clarke’s or Asimov’s visions of life in a lunar colony. Given that “rational anarchy”, libertarianism, and anti-capitalism are openly discussed, many believe The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has an agenda. I would disagree, despite such delicious quotes as “I like Greg. I love Greg. And admire him. But you could never feed theology of his church through computer and get anything but null.” There are too many events and indirect statements dulling the shine of anarcho-libertarianism for it to be a manifesto. That the story structure is identical to the American Revolution only supports this. More a thought experiment, the novel reads like a sci-fi realization of humanity’s innate desire to rebel against oppression, with politics and technology draped over the premise. Humanity as humanity is the only impetus the story needs to move forward from there. In the end, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a classic of huge proportions. It features a strong plot that, once it picks up steam, doesn’t slow down for anything; it has interesting, relevant, and at times laugh-out-loud inventive experimentation with language; it has characters that fit the story being told and, perhaps most importantly, a depth of perception into socio-political realities that few writers are able to express with such ease. Undoubtedly an influence on numerous later writers, the novel appears to be one of those must-reads in the genre. [2013]


ANTHONY G. WILLIAMS I can well recall being enthralled by Ringworld, and read it three times over a period of a few years (I have read very few books that often). Now I’ve just finished reading it for a fourth time, after a gap of decades, and I am pleased and relieved to say that I still find it as good as ever. For those unfamiliar with the plot, the story is set many centuries in the future and concerns an expedition to explore a strange artefact in the form of an enormous ring surrounding a distant sun; an artificial world made from incredibly strong material, with an inner surface area equivalent to three million Earths. Why do I like the story so much? For no one reason, but a combination of them. The writing style strikes the balance that I like: there’s enough description to draw a clear picture, but not an ounce of padding. There’s no purple prose, but enough mystery, adventure, tension, surprise and wonder – plus more than a dash of humour – to keep the pages turning effortlessly. There are three clearly defined and very well-drawn characters: a human girl bred for good luck; a huge, ferocious, intelligent, cat-like Kzin (formerly humanity’s deadly enemy); and a Puppeteer – perhaps the most memorable and enjoyable of alien creations. Plus, in the central role, Louis Wu, the 200 year-old human who provides the point of view; the archetypal ‘rational man’ with whom I find it natural to identify and empathise. And above all, a plethora of wonderful, mind-boggling, science-fictional ideas, which any present-day writer would spread over a fat trilogy (not that many Cover illustration by Steven Vincent Johnson writers could come up with any ideas half so good). There is only one slight

December 2001: SF Masterworks hardcover series #VIII SF Masterworks series #60 SF Masterworks second series 161 reservation I have; the credibility of the “luck” factor, which is fundamental to the story but never explained. An important part of the attraction of Ringworld is, I think, nostalgia. Not just because I first read the book as a young man, but because of the whole tone of the book. It has an underlying light-hearted optimism which seems to be generally absent from today’s fiction of the future. This is a universe in which humanity has survived to become a space-faring race dealing (mostly) peaceably with alien races as a matter of course, one in which disease and death have been almost conquered. Life is good, and there appear to be no serious worries (other than escaping from the explosion of the Galactic Core, which wouldn’t affect Earth for another 20,000 years…). The kind of future which most of us would grab with both hands, given half a chance. [2007]

ANDREW SPONG Larry Niven’s Ringworld has a mundane plot. A party of adventurers crash on an alien artefact and attempt to escape from it. The plot, however, is to all intents and purposes irrelevant. I am gripped by the conviction that Niven envisaged the artefact in question and simply wanted to come up with a vehicle to describe it over the course of 280 pages or so. The construction in question is a solid band circling a planet, a million miles in radius which has been terraformed by architects whose presence is still felt despite their absence, and which has now fallen into decay. Niven muses over the intricacies of its form and function, from the foundation material to the cloud squares which separate night from day, and constructs a wholly convincing environment in so doing. A few paragraphs of scant description will not do his successes in this regard justice, and I would recommend reading it for these of a vast alien environment alone. Ringworld’s habitats remind us of our own, yet are described as being of such a scale as to make the reader feel insignificant even within the pages of the book. On closing it, our own world seems rarer and less familiar, increasing in magnitude as we ourselves diminish, overturning the familiar trope of ‘the shrinking world’ and letting us once again revel in the scale of nature. Iain M. Banks’s Consider Phlebas reworks the idea of the ringworld to great effect, but Larry Niven got there first. Winner of the 1971 Hugo Award, Ringworld is also noteworthy for some (but not all) of its characters. The four adventurers are (ostensibly) led – or, more accurately, hired by – Nessus of the Puppeteers, who resembles a large semi- plucked turkey with two necks, a brace of python heads and bipolar disorder. Speaker To Animals is an oversized brawny ginger tom cat of the warlike Kzin race, which has battled mankind for centuries and been overthrown as a consequence of

162 the Puppeteers technological intervention on behalf of humanity. As it turns out, the Puppeteers have been manipulating both races for their own ends, a fact which Niven (hilariously) tries to deploy as a plot twist; but the clue is in the name, isn’t it? The two humanoids, Louis Wu (chosen for his experience) and Teela Brown (chosen for her supposed luck) are, frankly, tedious, and the exposition regarding their relationship slows the book to down to a crawl in places. In summary, whilst I could hardly recommend Ringworld for the telling of its story alone, Niven’s peerless description of an alien artefact of almost incomprehensible enormousness is what makes this book so satisfying. Take his conjuration of some of that wonder from it and see your own world through it. The SF Masterworks edition’s cover is absolutely stunning, too. [2005]

PETER YOUNG I believe I first read this in 1976 when Ringworld may have achieved that accolade of “most passed-around paperback among British schoolkids of a science fictional leaning”, likely with the necessary urging “You gotta read this!”. Space opera has matured so much over the last fifty years that I expect these days that accolade may go to Al Reynolds’s Revelation Space, but as a pivotal novel for those interested in the development of space opera Ringworld still serves as a must-read book (which, in its first edition form, would probably now set you back a few thousand dollars). Ringworld has thankfully lost none of its energy, particularly the opening few chapters which positively sparkle with crackling dialogue and quickly- sketched scenes that still manage to come vividly alive. The argumentative quartet of humans and aliens setting out to explore the mysterious Ringworld artefact were memorable enough for me to want to revisit this universe when the first sequel appeared in 1979, yet that’s something I never got around to, so Ringworld was a rather necessary re-read before picking up The Ringworld Engineers. Yes, it felt great to read this again, but I do wonder how Larry Niven feels today about people still reckoning his crowning moment was something he wrote nearly forty-five years ago… [2014]


TONY KEEN “When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.”

So begins John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, in the narration of hero Bill Masen; one of the most famous opening lines in British science fiction. Graham Sleight rightly identifies this as the point where Wyndham finds his voice. Wyndham had been writing sf and detective fiction before the Second World War, but he only found success when he started writing novels that owed as much to Graham Greene as to John W. Campbell. That line also encapsulates one of the factors that makes Day of the Triffids work so well. This is a novel that gains its effect not from introducing the readers to the unfamiliar, as much of Golden Age science fiction does. Instead, The Day of the Triffids relies upon making the familiar unfamiliar – the novel begins in a London that is utterly silenced. Even readers who might not be familiar with London itself would be likely to know cities, and how a city is hardly ever silent. By making London silent, Wyndham unsettles his readers. This is not an original effect to Wyndham – H.G. Wells uses it in The War of the Worlds. But Wyndham is a master of it. He underlines it by making the society depicted, though in the 1970s in terms of the novel’s internal narrative, plainly that of the early 1950s when Wyndham was writing. Wyndham’s novel reasserts the Wellsian tradition of the alien Cover illustration by Fred Gambino invasion of England novel, bolstered by the experience of the Second World

December 2001: SF Masterworks hardcover series #X 164 War, and from Wyndham come further treatments of the same theme, in Quatermass and Doctor Who. Wyndham’s take on this was characterised as the “cosy catastrophe” by Brian Aldiss, and it is true that The Day of the Triffids, and Wyndham’s next novel, The Wakes, assume a high level of basic decency amongst their middle class protagonists, an assumption perhaps not extended quite so broadly to Wyndham’s working-class characters. Not everyone bought this assumption; John Christopher’s The Death of Grass (1956) argues strongly that the middle classes were just as likely to shed “decency” in the face of catastrophe as anyone else. But this was the myth of the British in the Second World War, which remained strong in the years immediately afterwards, and the enshrinement of that myth in Triffids is another part of why the novel is so successful. A further reason is the titular triffids themselves. Sufficiently iconic that the novel has given a word to the English language, the eponymous plants are actually in the novel surprisingly little. But they provide a necessary extra hazard, a threat to humanity that is always there, always impeding the resumption of civilization. Without them, Wyndham could not convey his message, that human existence is a lot more vulnerable than we like to pretend it is, and our survival fundamentally marginal. The 1962 movie version ends optimistically, with the discovery of the triffids’ vulnerability to seawater. The novel has less closure – Bill Masen reaches a survivors’ colony on the Isle of Wight. But the triffids still dominate on the mainland. Masen is sure that eventually humanity will fight back. But plenty of other people have voiced similar certainties throughout the work, and most of them have been proved wrong. The Day of the Triffids is very much a novel of its time, and some aspects are no longer palatable – e.g. the heroine Jo Playton’s rapid abandonment of self-determination for motherhood and domesticity. But it retains a narrative power, and will rightly continue to be read. [2014]

PENNY HILL Hiding in plain sight on my parents’ bookshelves were some orange and white Penguins containing science fiction – , The Day of the Triffids, The Trouble with Lichen and The Midwich Cuckoos. Between the ages of ten and sixteen, I read all of them several times and absorbed from them a particular world view. The Day of the Triffids taught me that men are competent but most women are lazy, that self-sufficiency is harder than

165 you think, that humans will be to blame for their own destruction, that not all stories have a happy ending, and that it is possible for a society to lose knowledge and capability. I had a dim understanding that it explored different political models with the driving fear that the sighted would be enslaved by the blind. Revisiting it years later I am appalled by Coker’s apparently authorially endorsed sexism in assuming that women are leeching off men because they are lazy. Our heroines Josella and Susan are displayed as rare contrasts to the other stereotypical female characters. I was surprised to discover that Bill is not a noble hero. His first actions are to save himself in hospital, abandoning all the others. Rescuing Josella is out of character for him – and it provides the justification for their now unconvincing love story. I can see clearly that this text is one of Wyndham’s responses to Hiroshima and the Cold War – the date of the first atomic bomb is referenced as the beginning of the end of civilisation. Our protagonists later deduce that the “comets” and mysterious plague are forms of biological warfare. Timescales are so much more extended than I remembered and also than recent TV versions have shown. Because I had taken my knowledge of the last section backwards through the text, eliding the timescales, I had “remembered” the “Day” of the title to refer to the triffids as an initial hazard to the newly blind. Now I see it as announcing that their day has come. The triffids are ideally placed to colonise the world in the new circumstances. However it takes them over six years to overwhelm the UK mainland. The main comparison between the different types of society is revealed as a man argument. We see the chain gang approach purely as a short-term response and Florence Durrant’s religious group are wiped out by plague before their refusal to engage with the new reality can cause their failure. Torrence’s far-fetched militaristic ambitions are ridiculed by the narrator and the polyamorous aspect of Michael Beadley’s group is not revisited when they re-appear. The balance between meeting immediate needs and the long terms goals of preserving a technological civilisation appears to be met in Beadley’s Isle of Wight community. This is depicted as large enough to sustain the necessary educational level to keep civilisation going. The key point seems to be a cold equation style pragmatism – there is a maximum number of people you can save. I was disturbed by the treatment of people with disabilities – we have several jumping suicides before people even realise this has affected society as a whole. Existing blind people are shown to have a certain degree of competence but

166 crucially this is not seen as enough for independence. The wishy-washy vicar depressingly suggests the traditional pursuit of basket-weaving to the horror of the recently-blinded working class. There is no clear path to unsighted independence. Dennis Brent is the only blind character with agency. We are told retrospectively of him learning to cope with his ball of string and home-made mask. On balance, while many social aspects of the novel have dated badly, the key questions of how we would respond to such a catastrophe remain valid and the conclusions chilling. [2014]

ANDY WIXON Often, when you sit down and read some celebrated literary classic – especially in SF, a genre which surfs the zeitgeist more than most – you have to recalibrate your personal expectations just to see what the fuss is about. In particular, most decent SF is about reflecting now rather than predicting the future, which means it is prone to date. Something groundbreaking and innovative from sixty years ago may just seem quaint now – and all its best ideas may have been recycled to death if it’s a very influential work. If you listen to one school of thought, then Triffids is a victim of the dated-and-chintzy syndrome. Not only is it a polite piece of ’50s SF trying to be a mainstream novel, goes this line – observe the way Wyndham eschews spaceships, aliens, and all the usual genre tropes – but it’s fatally lacking in teeth. This is the essence of the ‘cosy catastrophe’ label applied to it by Brian Aldiss. The world may end but the hero and his girlfriend get to swan off to the Isle of Wight with a minimum of personal discomfort. However, it seems strange to me to even consider describing The Day of the Triffids as dated – while the book contains numerous references to the Cold War, including real-world agronomist Lysenko, I clearly recall re-reading it around the millennium and being startled. In the news at the time were concerns about the possible dangers of genetically-modified plants, while the Bush regime seemed intent on weaponising satellites, and general concern about another looming pandemic was resurgent. For a book which, for me, is trying to make more general social points, Triffids’ strike rate in anticipating 21st century bugbears is impressively high. And this was before the release of 28 Days Later, a film which incorporates many of the book’s themes (and directly lifts a couple of sequences). Given the zombie-apocalypse boom which that film initiated is still rolling over a decade later, The Day of the Triffids is arguably as influential now as it has ever

167 been. And I have to say that it also strikes me as odd to describe this as a ‘cosy’ book. It is, for one thing, generously littered with suicides (most of them, admittedly, of minor characters) and there are strong currents of despair, loneliness, and isolation running through the story – one of the themes of the book is that of characters realising their own interdependency in the wake of civilisation’s collapse. The triffids are the most striking and outlandish element of the book – the most obviously science-fictional part – but it is at least as much about the impact of the onset of mass blindness and the mysterious plague which quickly follows it (one of the many reasons why the most recent TV version of the story was such a failure was its attempt to focus much more on the triffids than the story’s other components). What it all adds up to is an attempt by Wyndham to explore some of the assumptions underpinning our society, which we generally take for granted, but which are sharply thrown into question when that society is removed or drastically altered. This is typical John Wyndham, and whether his books succeed or fail usually depends on his ability to bolt a satisfying narrative onto his philosophical concerns. You could certainly argue that as a conventional narrative The Day of the Triffids is weirdly flawed: there is a faintly baffled, Everymannish hero, whose main role for the bulk of the story is to wander around trying to locate the girlfriend he’s been unwillingly separated from, doing not much more than observe and reflect on the post-apocalyptic landscape. Erudite sage-figures regularly pop-up to challenge the conventional wisdom (but the plot conveniently allows the protagonists to duck out of any really tough moral choices). The climax of the book feels faintly contrived, and there’s no real sense of a plot being resolved. And yet none of this matters: this is still one of the keystone texts of modern SF, certainly in the apocalypse-and-after mode. This is the book that practically founded the genre for modern audiences; it has donated a word to the dictionary. People endlessly steal from The Day of the Triffids without even being aware they’re doing it. And, above all, the writing is hauntingly, compellingly good. This is a book about ordinary people trying to come to terms with what could have come across as an improbable confluence of disasters: but the studied down-to-Earthness of John Wyndham’s writing sells it to the reader effortlessly. A lot of great SF lives on the faultline between the mundane and the outlandish. Wyndham understood this, and The Day of the Triffids is one of the best novels in this territory. [2014]


CHERYL MORGAN I must have first read Grass around 1990, shortly after it was nominated for a Hugo Award (it lost to ). I loved it, and on the strength of that became something of a Sheri Tepper fangirl. That infatuation lasted for many books, but eventually waned as I realized that, while Tepper and I might agree about much of what is wrong in the world, our prospective solutions are very different. Indeed, if the Tepper Revolution were ever to happen, I suspect it would make Robespierre’s seem peaceful and reasoned by comparison. Re-reading the book, I found that Grass shows hints of what was to come, but it is still a very fine book. Don’t take my word for it, though. Adam Roberts posted a lengthy review on Infinity Plus when the SF Masterworks edition was published. In it he describes Grass as a Great American Novel, in the tradition of works such as Melville’s Moby-Dick and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. That’s high praise indeed, and not just hyperbole. Roberts makes his case convincingly. Almost as much time has now passed since Roberts wrote that review as passed between the original publication of Grass and the SF Masterworks re-issue. A perennial question with science fiction is whether it stands the test of time. Late last year I was asked to recommend some titles for the science fiction book club run by the Bath bookstore, Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. The club members picked Grass from my selections, and I’m delighted to report that they really enjoyed it. The book does start somewhat slowly, and a few of the more complex Cover illustration by Chris Moore philosophical points were missed by a couple of readers. However,

February 2002: SF Masterworks series #48 SF Masterworks second series 169 discussion of the book was enthusiastic, and those who had rushed through key passages to get to the end now wanted to go back re-read it. Like any good science fiction, the book provides a fascinating world to explore and asks important questions. Like any good fiction it contains vivid characters. I was particularly struck by the portrayal of the duty-bound marriage between Rigo Yrarier and Marjorie Westriding. Importantly, the issues addressed by the book are just as valid today as they were when it was written. Religious fundamentalists still seek to dominate our lives. Overpopulation and resource shortages loom large. Those with inherited wealth are still stupid, venal and totally oblivious when it comes to the extent of their privilege. We under-estimate foreign cultures at our peril; and we struggle to understand how to deal with enemies who appear to hate us. There are, of course, echoes of what is to come. The crude caricature of Mormonism, the hapless pacifism of the long- extinct Arbai, the middle-class guilt of the Foxen, all point to a future in which Correct Thought will oust namby-pamby liberalism and Evil will be sought out and Destroyed. Religion has its claws in Tepper as deeply as it does in Marjorie. Grass, however, can be read largely free of these concerns. Indeed, Time Out’s reviewer praised the original release as liberal, pacifist and free of polemic, three statements one would never make of later Tepper works. And, as Roberts makes clear, Tepper can write. Indeed, she was a finalist for the Clarke as recently as 2012. Maybe I should show some compassion and try to renew our acquaintance. I’m sure that Brother Mainoa would have said that even the Hippae are not beyond the possibility of redemption. [2014]

ANDREW SPONG The complex ecology and well-conceptualised social arrangements of Sheri S. Tepper’s Grass invite comparison to Frank Herbert’s Dune, with Savannah replacing silica. However, whilst the hostile habitat of Herbert’s work provides a secondary focus to the politico-economic machinations at its heart, Tepper’s novel has more of a symbiotic feel to it. The religious totalitarianism of Sanctity and the social order of Bons and Commons may ostensibly serve to provide a hierarchical infrastructure upon Grass and in the celestial interrelations it exists within, but as the novel unfolds it becomes clear that it is the planet’s complex ecology that is its primary interest, and the reason for its titular association. The issue with any world-building novel is once you’ve started building, a certain sleight-of-hand is required in order

170 to divert the reader from speculating as to what else may lie beyond the authorial gaze. Luckily, the peepers, Hippae, foxen and absent (corporeally, at least) Arbai are diverting enough for us not to be overly troubled by the fact that the planetary ecology we are introduced to is somewhat limited. The sinister Hippae perplex:

“But the Hippae are herbivores,” Tony protested still, thinking of his father. “Behemoths. Why would they—” “Who knows what the Hippae do, or are?” offered Brother Mainoa. “They stay far from us, except to watch us. And when they watch us —” “We see contempt,” breathed Marjorie so quietly that Tony was not sure he had heard her correctly. “We see malice.” “Malice,” agreed Brother Mainoa. “Oh, at the very least, malice.”

The esoteric foxen fascinate:

The foxen let it happen. They allowed themselves a comfortable retirement. They let happen what would. Then, when it all went wrong, they chose to discuss it philosophically. When men came here, they learned new ideas of guilt and redemption and talked about that. They engaged in great theological arguments. They sent Brother Mainoa to find out if they could be forgiven. They talked of original sin, collective guilt. They're still doing it. They haven’t learned that being penitent sometimes does no good at all.

Overall, like Father James, the reader is content enough to relax into this substantial and rewarding SF Masterwork and allow the planet at the centre of the tale to envelop them:

Now the Brother reclined against the breast of a foxen, like a child in a shadowy chair, while Father James tried to convince himself yet again that the foxen were real – not dreams, not amorphous visions, not abstractions or delusions. Conviction was difficult when he couldn’t really see them. He caught a glimpse of paw, or hand, a glimpse of eye, a shadowed fragment of leg or back. Trying to see the being entire was giving him eye strain and a headache. He turned aside, resolving not to bother. Soon everything would resolve itself, one way or another. [2014]


KATE ATHERTON Written before the Moon landings but set at a time when tourists explore the surface in space boats, this utterly gripping disaster story has travelled the years very well indeed. Has a sea ever been better named than the Sea of Thirst? When its lethal dust shifts in an earthquake (moonquake?), it swallows the vessel Selene whole. At a depth of 15 metres, the crew and passengers can do nothing but wait for discovery, hoping that their air can last long enough, that they won’t be cooked alive, that they won’t die of thirst. As the clock ticks relentlessly, we follow the efforts of engineers and scientists to discover and rescue the craft as well as the struggle of those within the ship to survive, with their bodies and sanity intact. Although written over half a century ago, the 21st century vision that Clarke presents in A Fall of Moondust is beguiling and believable. The solar system is being explored while the wealthy can now visit and explore the surface of the Moon. A new generation, including the Selene’s pilot Pat Harris has never even set foot on Earth. Instead, they know the home planet only as a jagged crescent in the Moon sky. The passengers are an interesting bunch. They include Commodore Hansteen (travelling incognito until the situation demands he reveal his identity), an astronaut celebrity who led the first expedition to Pluto. There is also a lawyer, a professor of zoology, a journalist, a doctor, as well as others who might not necessarily be quite what they seem. In a confined stage such as this, there is great potential for drama, secrets and revelations, even romance, and as the passengers and Cover illustration by Fred Gambino crew seek to entertain each other, they can’t help but entertain us at the

March 2002: SF Masterworks series #49 SF Masterworks second series 172 same time. Despite the potential for great tragedy, intensified by the drama unfolding on the surface as the rescuers race to save those buried in full view of Earth’s television audiences, there is a humour to the story’s telling that contributed enormously to my enjoyment. While some of the passengers take refuge in a game of poker, others seek amusement in the two novels brought aboard – the Western Shane and a book called The Orange and the Apple, a historical romantic romp which pairs Nell Gwynne with Isaac Newton. The tact, chivalry and humour with which Commodore Hansteen in particular maintains calm made me chuckle a fair bit. The most telling sign of the passing of the years since 1961 is in Clarke’s female characters and in the way they are handled by both Clarke and their fellow passengers. Both Earth and the Moon are Men’s Worlds. There are numerous references to ‘men’ – the passengers are “like some ancient tribe gathered round the camp fire, in a wilderness that held no other men” – and the professions aboard (with the exception of the journalist whom they all treat as a troublemaker) are held by men. There are certainly no women among the rescuing engineers and politicians. Poor Mrs Schuster has a dreadful time – her weight and age regularly under review, her previous dancing job a source of mirth. Women are asked (by the men) to help the space hostess Sue Wilkins because it would be unfair for one woman alone to have to wait on everyone during the confinement. This did irritate me but it made me laugh just as much – times have changed in more ways than some science fiction writers of the past could predict. [2013]

LEE A. BUTLER A Fall of Moondust is basically an episode of Thunderbirds set on the moon. And also set in a universe where International Rescue doesn’t exist, otherwise Thunderbird 3 would’ve sorted everything out in a few pages. But I’m getting ahead of myself. A tour bus/boat travelling across a sea of quicksand-like dust on the moon’s surface falls victim to a sudden seismic shift, and is pulled a short distance beneath the surface. Like Clarke’s other works, all this happens very early on in the novel. He doesn’t waste time with a bunch of mindless character development or tedious backstory – all that is dealt with while the real plot unfolds. This real plot is two-fold – the efforts of the engineers on the surface to find and then save the sunken craft, and the efforts of the twenty-two people stuck underground to maintain their calm. There’s enough levity and drama in both storylines to maintain the novel for its fairly brief length. Particularly quaint

173 in the underground side of things was Clarke’s gentle fun with literature. The assembled tourists only have two books amongst them to allay boredom: a copy of that literary classic Shane, and a historical erotic-romance written by a teenager on Mars featuring the couplings of Isaac Newton and Eleanor Gwyn. The brief snippet we hear from this latter work sounds like a pitch-perfect parody of today’s book market, flooded with [insert genre here]-erotica riding on the Fifty Shades bandwagon. And then you remember that Clarke published this in 1961 and you have to wonder if this new trend is so new after all. The drama stakes are kept high through the fairly formulaic approach of letting the characters sort out a problem, having them relax, tossing in some foreshadowing, and then letting some fresh complication throw matters into disarray. Every long running science fiction show has episodes like this (oh no, the crew is trapped, we only have an arbitrary time period to save them!) and they all follow the same script (oh no, now we have even less time to save them!). Clarke even has one of the characters allude to this after one particular disaster, aghast that he “should ever get involved in the Number One cliché of the TV Space Operas.” Again, this was written in 1961 so either science fiction on TV was clichéd even then or this is Clarke’s trademark prescience at work. Either way, little flourishes like this help counterbalance the story’s occasional aged nature. The story is far from perfect, and it's never entirely clear if it’s setting up clichés for everyone else to follow, or satirising those that already existed. Either way, it’s a ripping yarn and might well fulfil John Wyndham’s promise even now of being “The best book Arthur C. Clarke has written.” [2013]

174 GREG BEAR EON 1985

CHARLES DEE MITCHELL This is hard SF on a grand scale. Bear published it in 1984, so he was probably writing it in 1982. Therefore, as often happens, its future 2005 is already our past and so of course we know better about a lot of things. Like the breakup of the Soviet Union. China’s ascendence on the world stage. The Cold War did not result in a nuclear holocaust that wipes out most life on earth. The appearance of a large in near earth orbit prompts the crisis in Eon. The USA and NATO get there first, leaving the Soviets fuming and suspicious. What ‘our’ troops and scientists discover is that the asteroid is from earth’s future, or possibly from an alternate timeline. It’s hollowed out core shows successive levels of habitation, all now deserted since the inhabitants evacuated down a singularity they opened in the asteroid’s northern cap. Deserted libraries contain detailed information of the Big Death, a nuclear war that is scheduled to engulf the earth in a matter of weeks. Spaceships filled with Soviet military are on their way, beings from deep in the singularity are back in the city to monitor the situation, and US and NATO scientists much smarter than myself are busy working out the mysteries of what they call The Stone. I have a confession to make. When I read hard SF, I make the same sort of compromise with the science involved that I make with character names in Russian novels. I let the impenetrable science, like the unpronounceable names, slide by, assuming I am picking up the gist of the Cover illustration by Jim Burns thing and trying not to impede the narrative flow. So I really have no idea

April 2002: SF Masterworks series #50 SF Masterworks second series 175 how much Bear extrapolates from the most advanced thinking of his day and what is more fanciful speculation on his part. There are probably too many ideas in this book just as there are too many characters, although I would never wish it to be longer. Bear turns in restrained descriptions of the visual marvels and handles the action sequences well. The political maneuvering is believable if at times dated, and it is not limited to the 21st century humans. Our descendants, 1,300 years in the future, still have their factions and their enemies at the gate. This is a book about possibilities and the human blunders that can shut those possibilities down, for instance by burying them in a nuclear winter. Bear doesn’t lay on the grandeur too thick, but through the central character of Patricia Luisa Vasquez, he conveys the sense of awe and terrible responsibility that those who can not only visualize but actually realize those possibilities must feel:

And suddenly, without any reason, without any certainty of her success, she felt wonderful. Patricia Luisa Vasquez existed in a bubble of joy, independent of all that had gone before, not caring what would come after… It had neither confidence nor euphoria in its character; it was simply a fulfillment of all that she had experienced, and would experience… The universe had twisted in some incomprehensible way and delivered to her an experience drawn from the visions in her head… [2013]

MARK CHITTY When the Stone arrives in a elongated orbit around Earth the first thought is of alien visitors. However, when NATO is the group to arrive and enter the asteroid they discover something even stranger – it was built by Humanity over 1,000 years in the future. After exploration it is revealed that there are seven chambers within the Stone, some containing cities, some machinery, but the seventh chamber – the Corridor – is the strangest of all as it is much larger than it should be – the end is yet to be found. With growing hostilities on Earth between the west and Russia, the signs towards a nuclear holocaust are becoming more and more apparent. With this echoed on board the Stone with the Russian scientists kept in the dark about the more unique features found within it, a showdown is inevitable. Not only this, but the recorded history in the libraries of Thistledown City put the first strike at mere weeks. While all this is going on a descendant of humanity, Olmy, has returned to Thistledown from Axis City, a million

176 kilometers down the corridor, to observe the new arrivals. What he sees is Patricia Vasquez getting surprisingly closer to unraveling the secrets of both the sixth chamber with its machines and the apparently infinite corridor of the seventh chamber. Due to her intellect Olmy intervenes and takes her to Axis City where the rest of humanity now resides in its many forms. With ever impending crises facing both current and future generations, fate will lead each to their destiny, wherever it may be. While I usually read much more recent releases, this is the second ‘classic’ SF book I’ve picked up this year. I’ve wanted to get a good look at what the pre-’90s have to offer for a while now and I’m picking and choosing what I’ve heard good things about. Asimov’s Foundation was the first and it hit the spot, but unfortunately Eon only skimmed it. Why? Well the main reason is how dated the story feels – when written in the early ’80s the year 2005 must have seemed a long way off, but being read from 2009 it just falls down at many hurdles. Regardless of that there are many good points to Eon, most of which are exactly why I read and enjoy science fiction. The initial scenes where we start to see what is within the Stone are some of the best in the book. Exploring something that comes from the future of humanity is always good, but the way in which things are guarded and the details come through slowly help to build up the scene and the sense of awe. I loved these sections, the politics between the Americans, Russians and Chinese that go towards building some tense moments and exciting possibilities. The characters, for me at least, were rather forgettable. Vasquez, the brilliant scientist, and Mirsky, the Russian commander, were the two that I consider the best success. Being able to look through the eyes of a soldier-turned- commander while his way of life is taken from him is a fascinating way to explore both character and situation. My only issue was that we didn’t follow him enough, instead concentrating more on the issues of humanities descendants rather than the aftermath of nuclear war and being cut off from Earth. Speaking of focusing on humanities descendants – Vasquez is the one that helps add a human touch to this part of the story. Leaving loved ones on Earth to go to the Stone gives her motivation to find a way back by using the technology of the future. All in all Eon is a fairly enjoyable novel. If I had read it at the time of release it would have been more enjoyable, although I know I should just take it at face value and enjoy the story it tells. This is one of the few books I’ve read that has given me this feeling and I just wish it hadn’t – all the ingredients are there to make an excellent sci-fi novel. [2009]


CHARLES DEE MITCHELL The last time I watched Jack Arnold’s 1957 film version of this novel, which was four or five years ago, I realized that I remembered every moment of it from the handful of viewings I had given it since it first made it to television in the 1960s. I think it is the definitive science fiction film of the 1950s, and I know that opinion is open to challenges, but Arnold’s film has been selected for the National Registry by the National Film Preservation Board. I had never felt the need to read Matheson’s short novel, and on some level assumed that it would be a pulpy rendition of the more thoughtful film, but a recent interest in Matheson as a writer finally got me to pick up the book. Matheson tells the story of Scott Carey, the 6’3” family man who undergoes the inexplicable shrinking process, by starting with the spider. (I assume that it is unlikely that anyone reading this has not seen the film, so I’m not concerned about spoilers, and of course every edition of the book for the past sixty years has had a little man and big spider on the cover.*) Arnold’s film follows a strict narrative line and tells the story in an efficient eighty-one minutes. In the novel, Carey, shrinking at the rate of 1/7th of an inch a day, knows he has only five days before he disappears. The chain of accidents that had trapped him in his cellar, as well as the entire agonizing story of his deteriorating physical condition and his relationship to the full- sized world, is told in flashbacks. Carey is not always particularly sympathetic, although you have to

Cover illustration by Eamon O’Donoghue * Almost true: check out all the covers at ISFDB’s bibliography page. – PY

January 2003: SF Masterworks series #51 SF Masterworks second series 178 admit he is facing extraordinary challenges. But when he is difficult to his wife, family, media, and the doctors eager to study his condition, he is fighting for his dignity as a human being – and more specifically as an American male of the 1950s. That last angle must stand out more strongly now that when the book was written, but the scenes where he confronts a drunken paedophile who mistakes him for a young teen, or mindlessly vicious, 1950s-style juvenile delinquents are painful reading. Even more excruciating is Matheson’s chronicle of Carey’s deteriorating relationship with his wife. The final pages of the book, as Carey loses all physical presence but realizes that he is still part of the infinite universe, is one of the greatest moments in mid 20th century science fiction. You can watch that moment on YouTube. Just know that in Matheson’s version, God does not figure into the equation. [2012]

J.P. LANTERN This is a book about a man, Scott Carey, who starts shrinking by a seventh of an inch every day. He has a wife and a child who slowly start to respect him and think less of him (partly a byproduct of their coping mechanisms of losing him) as the book progresses. That’s it, really. That’s pretty much the whole book. There’s nothing that can be done about the shrinking, and any attempts to cure it fail miserably. And it is all terrific. Richard Matheson is probably one of the most masculine authors you’re likely to read. And I don’t mean that in the deranged fever-vision of masculinity that America has produced in which men must be constantly breaking things, drinking too much, and talking like Ron Swanson with nuclear-powered chainsaw arms. (Ron Swanson is an excellent character, but he is a parody that has essentially come around the other side due to good writing and the acting ability of Nick Offerman). There is also the counter-culture to this hyper-aggressive stoicness which is largely portrayed by shuffling renditions of Seth Rogan, James Franco, Paul Rudd, and the rest of all those talented guys in movies like I Love You, Man or The Pineapple Express where it is explained how, “No, really, guys have feelings too and they’re all complex and men like to hug and just feel it out, bro!” Anyway, it’s all weird. The idea of masculinity being reduced to severe violence or severe unlocking of repressed feelings is not something I am altogether comfortable with as a man who is not very violent or constantly repressing emotions.

179 So, you might be asking, what instead does Matheson do? Excellent question. As a counterpoint to someone teetering toward one extreme and softened only slightly with emotion or violence (i.e. an action hero with a wife or a child trophy, or a comedic hero punching out an antagonist) Matheson paints a picture of masculinity as someone entirely too aware of his feelings and desires. Constantly, the thoughts of death, loneliness, and purpose are on Scott’s mind. Most of the book ends up as a meditation on what being a man is actually for if he is not able to be with a woman, or able to exercise his size and ability, or work. The basic essence of a man–according to Matheson–seems to be his hyper-awareness of his own mortality and the futility of trying to accomplish anything when he is unable to actually bring forth a life into the world himself. So, a lot of masculinity winds up being this sort of implacable jealousy of a woman’s potential for providing purpose to others via birth. This is a novel about slow, painful emasculation. More and more, Carey’s ability to operate as a “man” does is taken away from him. First, he can’t work. Then, he can’t sleep with his wife anymore. Finally, in an especially sad scene–he realizes that even his daughter doesn’t recognize him as a father. He realizes, in fact, that much of the authority of a father comes from size–size that he is losing more and more of as time goes by. Process is used to great advantage here, because mostly the various processes through which a man lives at such a small size are inherently fascinating. Grabbing a drink of water is a struggle. Taking a bite from a piece of bread on top of a refrigerator is horribly arduous. Staircases turn into mountainous peaks, and pins become unwieldy spears. The whole book, really, is about the process of shrinking, and so Matheson highlights this by continually showing us new processes by which the shrinking man has to live. There’s not a lot of hope in the book – Scott Carey is by nature something of a pessimist, and we spend a lot of time in his head. Many times as I read it, I found myself having meta-worry about the nature of the narrative – I was scared that all this hopelessness and despair would not have any sort of catharsis at all (perhaps due to recently finishing another highly effective piece on emasculation in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, which got slaughtered at the box office but is pretty damn good). Luckily, there is a payoff – and it happens naturally. [2013]


ALMA ALEXANDER If the world of written science fiction were ever to be translated into the language of visual art, Philip K. Dick would probably be Salvador Dali. His vision does not depend on Picassoesque transformations of the familiar into the grotesque so much as a jumbling of the familiar into sometimes deeply disturbing new combinations, whose disturbing aspect is not attenuated but rather accentuated by their very familiarity. This is the kind of landscape where heads sprout like mushrooms from blank desert sands or weird alien faces stare at each other nose-to-nose with an ethereal ballet dancer formed by the gaps between them. Nothing is what it seems. Nothing is real. Everything is real. It’s a little like being force-fed some of the hallucinatory drugs of Palmer Eldritch yourself, before you launch into the novel. You'll probably know it, or of it – The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is a classic, after all. It starts out on the straight and narrow, and then all of a sudden the path does a Dali and you’re doing a balancing act on a unicycle on a rope suspended between worlds, trying to juggle knife- sharp objects like Addiction and Responsibility and Immortality and God. Sometimes it all overwhelms me and I’m left sitting there gasping for air trying to figure out where I am – and if the person sitting across from me on the couch in my living room is suddenly going to stare at me through stigmata eyes. Sometimes I figure it out. Sometimes, like Dick’s character Anne Hawthorne, I simply wind up “…terribly, terribly confused… and Cover illustration by Chris Moore everything upsets me.”

March 2003: SF Masterworks series #52 SF Masterworks second series 181 But then, that’s Dick. And somehow I always wind up struggling through the morass, emerging from it on the other side with some key insight held in my mouth like the salmon of wisdom, wondering how that one mind held it all in. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch isn’t an easy read. But then, Philip K. Dick never is. Whether any given reader finds in this book the salvation that Dick was talking about or merely comes out of it with glazed eyes and his or her head doing sixty-four revolutions a second is entirely up to the reader. [2003]

CHARLES DEE MITCHELL The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is PKD’s first overtly religious novel. It is one of seven novels written during the amphetamine-fueled years of 1963-64. There is some question as to when PKD first took LSD, but it is difficult not to imagine Can-D and Chew-Z as versions of marijuana and acid. Can-D is a party drug. Chew-Z promises to reveal new levels of reality. It is part of a spiritual quest, but it could also be a trap. There comes a Voltairian moment when Barney decides to chuck everything and just tend his own scraggly Martian garden. That doesn’t last for long. Barney’s quest will bring him into contact with the world of Chew-Z, Palmer Eldritch himself, and whatever exists beyond Palmer Eldritch. This is the book that thirty years ago sold me on Philip K. Dick. I had seen Blade Runner and read, since it was supposed to be PKD’s best novel, The Man in the High Castle. I liked it OK, but then I happened to pick up Palmer Eldritch. The screwball pacing, deadpan humor, and imaginative monsters were the perfect cover for the serious thought that lurked in the background. Even though I was hooked – an appropriate term when discussing PKD – I read him only sporadically until this past year. Now reading all his SF in more or less chronological order is at times a pleasure, a chore, and even saddening. It’s my own Chew-Z trip. And I am just now getting to the good stuff. [2011]


CHARLES DEE MITCHELL An Alien Heat Millions of years in the future, Earth seems to have become the equivalent of a small enclave for the super-rich, only in this case funds are superfluous. Everything in unlimited – lifetimes, the ability to alter reality, to create new settings for your life, sexual partners. This is a playground in which one of the chief players, Jherek Carnelian, is a young man who considers himself an authority on the 19th century. First he decided to explore “virtue” as a role, but soon he decides to fall in love. Enter Mrs. Amelia Underwood, an unwilling time traveller who has been kidnapped from her comfortable life in Bromley, 1896. And there is a newly arrived alien who announces that the universe is contracting and all will be destroyed. At times laugh-out-loud funny and endlessly inventive, this first volume of Dancers at the End of Time seems to be making me into a Moorcock fan. When Jherek follows Mrs. Underwood back to 19th century London, he cannot imagine that everything is anything more than a play set and he is delighted by all his new experiences, right up to the point that he is to be hanged for thievery. But this is a trilogy, so the story is just beginning.

The Hollow Lands After a brief stint trapped in an underground day school run by a robotic Nurse, Jherek Carnelian makes it back to 19th century London in search of Cover illustration by Steve Stone his true love, Mrs. Amelia Underwood. This second entry in the Dancers at

May 2003: SF Masterworks series #53 SF Masterworks second series 183 the End of Time trilogy is zanier that the first. Moorcock does not have to spend time setting up the details of the far future in which Jherek lives, and he can focus more on screwball comedy. H.G. Wells, Frank Harris, and other historic figures put in appearances, along with a crew of bellicose aliens whose single eye has three pupils and its at the end of a stalk. A London policeman is convinced they are Latvian anarchists.

The End of All Songs After the first two knockabout volumes of this trilogy, Moorcock has to settle down and tie things together. It makes the book another hundred or so pages longer than the previous outings, and there is not the comedy or the slapstick. But he winds things up well. Secrets are revealed, relationships flourish, etc. Most importantly the true bleakness of this far-distant future is exposed. Earth is a burnt-out wasteland sustained as a playground for its few inhabitants by the powers of ancient cities. The End of Time crowd are true aesthetes. They reminded me of art school students, constantly admiring or deriding one another’s “work”. in this case the fantastic environments they conjure up for parties, and given to casual sexual liaisons. They will survive the collapse of the universe by living out eternity in a weeklong loop in which they will still have the abilities that allow them to shape their environment anyway they wish. I am worried, however, that Jherek and Amelia are sent back to the Paleozoic age to jump start a new human race. The End of Timers don’t seem to know much about gene pools and diversity. [2011]


ERIC BROWN In 1951, working as a literary agent and with little time to spare for his own fiction, Pohl wrote the first twenty thousand words of what was to become The Space Merchants. Horace Gold, infamous editor of Galaxy, wanted a novel to serialise – if Pohl could finish the book, Gold would publish it. However, with pressing work commitments, Pohl could not guarantee to finish the book on time – so enter C.M. Kornbluth. He’d worked with Pohl on stories before, and agreed to see what he could add to the first 20k. He rewrote the beginning of the book, added a middle section of his own, and the pair finished the novel in turns. The book was serialised by Gold under the title of Gravy Planet (with chapters set on Venus added). Then the hard work of selling the novel to a book publisher began. Every major house in New York turned it down flat – one editor going so far as to say that it wasn’t very good and that it needed a pro-writer to pull it into shape. Then Ian Ballantine started a new SF paperback line, published The Space Merchants in 1952, and the rest is history. The book became a classic, cited by Kingsley Amis in New Maps of Hell as having, “…many claims to being the best science fiction novel so far.” The book was translated into twenty-five languages and has sold an estimated ten million copies worldwide. And here it is yet again, presented in the excellent SF Masterworks series, with a Blade Runner-inspired cover by Steve Stone (which works). But is it a classic, and does it deserve Masterwork status? Cover illustration by Steve Stone Reading this novel more than fifty years after its first publication, I

July 2003: SF Masterworks series #54 SF Masterworks second series 185 was struck by two things. The first and most important is Pohl and Kornbluth’s prescient extrapolation of globalisation and the power of advertisement. The second is the characterisation of Mitchell Courtenay. The world is one vast global economy run from America, and specifically by two advertising agencies – Schocken- Fowler for whom Courtenay works, and the Taunton agency. These super-powers rule supreme. Cultural status is defined by one’s ability to afford consumer goods. It’s a divided world of haves and have-nots, with everyone fighting to have. What is incredible about this vision, written half a century ago, is its far-sighted grasp of the evils of a consumer-driven society (There is even a terrorist opposition known as the Consies – Conservationists). The characterisation of Courtenay is interesting, too. For much of the book he is an anti-hero, a top-level advertising copywriter content with his privileged status and ignorant of the suffering in society. Courtenay is not an appealing character, and for Pohl and Kornbluth to portray an unsympathetic central character in the early ’50s was a brave risk – but one which worked within the context of the story. As for the story… it’s a pretty conventional thriller run-around. Courtenay gets the job of selling the idea that the colonisation of Venus, an almost uninhabitable hell-hole, is desirable; the Taunton agency and the Consies oppose the idea; Courtenay finds himself officially ‘dead’ and working at a menial job in – his first taste of life as a have-not. It’s a fast-paced, complex, twisting read with plenty of thrills and spills and turn-arounds. Courtenay’s conversion towards the end of the novel, when he comes to appreciate the ideals of the Consies, is a trifle glib and unconvincing, and the ending is a little skimpy – but what makes The Space Merchants a classic is the fact that Pohl and Kornbluth, knocking out this short novel in New York in ’51, proved to be eerily accurate foretellers of a future very much like the one we are now inhabiting. [2003]

ANTHONY G. WILLIAMS The title is rather misleading because space travel doesn’t feature at all until right at the end of the book. The story is set a century in the future, at a time when humanity, still confined to the Earth, has expanded to many times its present population. The teeming billions are crowded into cramped apartments, fed on artificially-created food and sold addictive coffee to drink, use pedal-powered machines rather than cars, wash in salt water because fresh water is too precious, and are ruthlessly manipulated by all-powerful marketing organisations, with the lowest levels of society trapped in commercial

186 slavery. Governments have become almost powerless in the face of the might of the big marketing corporations, whose only goal is to increase sales, and the US President is a figurehead. Living in this dystopia is a successful marketing executive, Mitchell Courtney, who is given the task of securing control for his organisation of the forthcoming colonisation and terraforming of Venus (little was known about conditions on Venus when the book was written and they are portrayed as being less hostile than they are now known to be, but still with an unbreathable atmosphere, high temperatures and no water). Events begin to slide out of control for Courtney as he becomes embroiled in the savage in-fighting of office politics and the open warfare of inter-corporate battles, is kidnapped, dumped at the lowest level of society and approached by the Consies; an underground conservationist organisation arguing against the ruthless exploitation of Earth’s resources. His experiences shape his actions as he tries to battle his way back to his star- grade executive position. At one level The Space Merchants is an amusing satire on increasing commercialisation, but there are clear echoes of the political times in which it was written. Pohl had been a member of the Young Communist League until he resigned as a result of the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939, and much of his idealism showed through in this and other works. The period when this book was written coincided with Senator McCarthy’s notorious anti-communist witch-hunt, and there is an obvious parallel between the contemporary public attitude to the “Commies” and the hated and despised Consies in the story. I have to admit that I generally dislike dystopian SF but this is an easy read, especially since it is only 170 pages long. This is a landmark novel in raising issues about the uncontrolled population expansion and the associated exhaustion of resources, coupled with the ever-increasing power of commercial organisations in general and marketing in particular. Many novels on similar themes subsequently emerged, but this is one of the key works which every SF fan should read. [2008]


GUY SALVIDGE Time Out of Joint, first published in 1959, was the first of PKD’s novels to successfully pose the ‘What is Reality?’ question in a form that was both complex and entertaining. It also represents an attempt on the author’s behalf to fuse his mainstream and speculative outputs together, and in this case that fusion is only partially successful. But more on that later. PKD had tried to pose the question of what constituted reality in several of his previous novels, most notably Eye in the Sky, but here he hit upon a method that made for a more or less successful novel, even it wasn’t a publishing success at the time. Time Out of Joint is a classic tale of paranoia, set in suburban 1950s America. The book features a strong (and small) cast of main characters. Vic Nielson works in a grocery store, while his wife Margo stays at home and looks after their son Sammy. Disrupting this nuclear family is Margo’s brother Ragle Gumm, a strange older man with a bizarre occupation. Living next door is Bill and Junie Black, the former of whom might be more than a city worker, the latter a potential adulterer. There are other characters, but these are the most important ones. Here is a strength of Time Out of Joint: in focusing on these two households, PKD not only sketches a picture of ‘50s America that has stood the test of time, but also exposes the dark side of suburbia decades before such a line of thinking became a cliche in its own right. Ragle Gumm is our protagonist, and its hard not to read him as a Cover illustration by Chris Moore cipher for the author himself. Forty-six years old (fifteen years older than the

September 2003: SF Masterworks series #55 SF Masterworks second series 188 PKD who wrote him into existence), Ragle’s occupation is a bizarre one. He earns his pay by completing a ‘Where Will the Little Green Aliens Be Next?’ quiz in the daily paper, a task which occupies most of his waking hours. We learn that Ragle is under increasing strain to keep up his unbeaten run in the competition, and that he considers this line of work to be juvenile, even somehow shameful. Ragle’s quiz and PKD’s own occupation – writing science fiction stories and novels – share a lot of similarities. If Ragle is PKD’s self portrait, then it is a self-portrait of a (then) future PKD, and a curiously prescient one, as Lou Stathis points out in his (otherwise inflammatory) afterword to this SF Masterworks edition. Ragle is a man on the cusp of a nervous breakdown, not only due to the strain of his job, but also because of the puzzling phenomena he keeps encountering. Early in the story, when attempting to seduce Junie Black at the local swimming pool, Ragle witnesses a soft-drink stand fading out of existence to be replaced by a piece of paper with the words ‘Soft-Drink Stand’ on it. Turns out that this has happened before; Ragle has a collection of similar slips of paper. Here PKD is thinking of the troubling relationship between words and objects. To make matters worse, it seems that young Sammy has found a few of his own at an empty lot (the Ruins) where he plays with his little friends. Ragle soons pays a visit to the Ruins himself, where he finds part of a phone book and a few old magazines. But none of the numbers in the phone book seem to be connected and the magazines feature a young starlet (Marilyn Monroe) who no one, except for Bill Black, has heard of. Here Time Out of Joint comes to resemble the film that is loosely based on it, The Truman Show, and if this starts to read like a familiar story, we need to remember (as Terry Gilliam says in a quote on the cover of several SF Masterworks editions) that PKD got there first. After the phone book incident, we learn from the point of view of Bill Black that in fact there is something going on, and that Bill himself is an agent of those who would keep Ragle and his family in the dark. Sammy builds his own crystal radio, which he uses to tune into the frequencies nearby. There’s a classic scene where the whole family is in Sammy’s treehouse huddled around the radio. Bill and Junie Black start snooping around down below, and Vic pretends to shoot Bill with a toy gun. Terrified, Bill raises his hands only to discover that the gun is not real. Here PKD frames his ‘What is Reality?’ question perfectly, in a form that is embedded in narrative (unlike, for example, the way it is posed in VALIS), and in a way that makes the paranoia and hostility inherent in suburban life palpable. If Time Out of Joint begins to lose its momentum henceforth, as it unquestionably does, it is because PKD has to try to find an answer for the almost cosmic paranoia he has brought to life here. The further it goes, and the more the plot is

189 revealed, the less convincing the book gets. This is a shame, as the first half and perhaps two-thirds is first rate. When Ragle and Vic escape their ersatz existence aboard a goods truck, they discover that the US of 1997 (the real year) is in the midst of a war against the Lunatics, or human moon-dwellers. Turns out that Ragle’s daily predictions are in fact tied to the daily Lunatic bombings, and that the whole ’50s suburban setup has been constructed for his benefit, due to a mental breakdown. Ragle and Vic fall in with a group of teenagers with strange hair and (a laughably poor attempt at) a strange way of speaking. Finally a minor character, Mrs Keitelbein, makes a re-appearance, and it is said that Ragle had intended to side with the Lunatics before he had his nervous breakdown. As the novel draws to a close, he begins to remember his true intentions. Not only is this entire setup completely and utterly unconvincing and unbelievable (we are being asked to believe that 1,600 people have voluntarily been brainwashed to form part of Ragle Gumm’s private world, for example), but the ending descends into a talkfest. Worse, there’s absolutely no attempt at explaining how and why a soft-drink stand dissolved and was replaced by a piece of paper. None. Modern readers would assume that Ragle was in a computer simulation, but here we are being asked to believe that in some crucial manner the soft-drink stand actually disappeared. PKD drops the ball big-time here, and it costs him the first real success of his career. One of the mind-bending aspects of reading Time Out of Joint in 2010 is that we are placed in an even more complex time-bind than PKD intended. We are reading a novel written in 1958, set for the most part in 1958, only to discover that the real year in the novel is 1998. We are separated in time from PKD’s ’50s America, but at least we can perceive it to be ‘real’. PKD’s 1998 is just ridiculous, however, and wafer thin. And thus, in the end, we are left with two-thirds of a truly outstanding ‘novel of menace’ (as the original Lipincott hardcover said on the cover), and one-third pulpy sci-fi. PKD couldn’t quite reconcile the contradictions between the two genres he was trying to straddle in Time Out of Joint, much to the novel’s detriment. It would be another four years, with the publication of The Man in the High Castle, before PKD could achieve this fusion. [2010]

As far as I know, this is the first time a cover artist (in this case Chris Moore) has managed to put a self-portrait on the cover of someone else’s book. Anyone know different? Answers in a Letter of Comment, please (or a postcard of a soft-drink stand). – PY


MARK MONDAY Gentle elephant things in the jungle; furry man-shaped things in the mist. Our hero, former colonial station chief, returns to this strange planet much changed. The planet itself has changed: its residents no longer considered mere “animals”, beasts of burden to be used as humans see fit… they are “people”. A surprisingly liberal future-Earth now recognizes these beings as sentient, as does our hero. He returns to this place, full of regret for past actions, craving understanding and redemption, yearning for the intangible. He will seek to provide recompense and he will know change, a great and terrible change. This marvelous little classic gets everything right: a beautifully detailed yet still mysterious world… a flawed protagonist striving to acc- omplish ambiguous yet still understandable goals… intriguing mysteries and a strange quest... aliens that feel genuinely alien… and a powerful theme running through it all: to truly understand others is to truly understand yourself; one cannot be accomplished without the other. There are shades of Heart of Darkness here (including a character named Kurtz), except turned inside-out: the darkness within man made almost inconsequential; darkness made light. I was also reminded of tales of colonial India (including an alien character named Srin’gahar), the misdeeds and the culture clash and the ugliness and the beauty. Looking forward, I was also reminded of Tepper’s Grass, a book published many years after this one that takes one of this novel’s central ideas and runs with Cover illustration by Jim Burns it, in a much more horrific direction.

February 2004: SF Masterworks series #56 191 Silverberg usually writes about the need to understand ourselves and the yearning to transcend who we are or who we are supposed to be. Physical travel that parallels inner change. And such is Downward to the Earth. [2013]

A.C. FELLOWS Downward to the Earth gets its title from Ecclesiastes 3:21, but I have always associated it with my mis-remembering of Psalm 118:25 – ‘Adhaesit pavimento anima mea’ of the Vulgate – as ‘my soul cleaves downward to the Earth’. Silverberg drags me downward to the earth. I find nothing seductive in the godless worlds of Asimov, or Egan, or Heinlein. They are not places I want to live. The actions of the characters are not actions I want to emulate. For the worlds of Foster – long ago – and still, sometimes, in the worlds of Herbert, I feel a stir of longing, but they are safe worlds, and the characters who live in them do not imperil my soul. Silverberg’s godless worlds seethe with all the things I find attractive in godless reality. Who wouldn’t be Gunderson? Wandering across a planet that he helped wrest from the alien wilderness as the alien wilderness inexorably takes it back. Both phases are terribly attractive to me: the carving of a raw new place, and the decay of an old place. The bits in between, where it is clean and orderly and functional, are booooring. I love the way Belzagor pullulates. It is a riot of living things, things that accurately reflect the intoxicating reality of real living things in the way so many of them are inimical to man. Here there are not just space monsters, but gooshy parasites with all the gooshiness of real earthly parasites. Most sci-fi writers shy away from the raw gooshiness of living things as we know them. Not Silverberg. The Face of the Waters does this even more. Actually, hmm, it does it so much it is kind of unreadable. And what are Gunderson’s wanderings about? Sex, drugs, and the pursuit of mysterious knowledge. Things that drag the soul downward. Lots of writers can write about these things without making them seem attractive. But not Silverberg. Ah, forget about Gunderson! Who wouldn’t be Kurtz, leading the Nildoror astray with a perversion of their most sacred rite? Actually, I know he is totally reprehensible and stupid. Nobody with any sense or any shred of decency would behave like him. But there is a creepy attractiveness to him, part of the whole adhaesit pavimento anima mea thing… There are other things to like in Downward to the Earth. For instance, there is the sense that the whole rest of the universe really exists, even though you never hear very much about the rest of Earth’s colonial empire. I would love to read a whole slew of novels set in that milieu. Hmm, maybe this is a good time to join the no-doubt-thriving Belzagor fanfic community. BRB, gone googling... [2013]


CHARLES DEE MITCHELL The Simulacra is PKD’s grand, panoramic novel. He sweeps the reader from the highest corridors of power in Washington, DC, to the lush rain forests of the Pacific North West and the colony of mutants who inhabit them. We meet Nicole Thibodeaux, the First Lady of the United States and the most powerful woman in the world; Richard Kongrosian, a psycho-kinetic musician who performs without touching the keyboard; and Looney Luke, semi-legal dealer in jalopies, outdated spacecraft good enough for a one-way trip to Mars. There is intrigue, betrayal, deception, and the threat of war. But wait a minute. PKD didn’t write grand, panoramic novels. Not that all the above isn’t true. In fact it suggests no more than a fraction of the goings-on in The Simulacra. But it all goes on in the usual two hundred or so pages common to PKD’s novels. This is his most chaotic book. Every chapter for the first third of the novel introduces two or more new characters. What connections there will ever be among them is difficult to imagine. But much of what happens focuses on pleasing Nicole, who spends much of her time auditioning new acts to perform at her functions, or planning yet another televised tour of the White House. (Only readers of a certain age will get this joke.) PKD tossed a lot of stray ideas into this one. Most of the ideas are good, the situations very funny, but he does not manage to do much more than let them fizzle out towards the end. Readers may be either irritated or exhausted, but the wiser choice is to just go along for the ride. Cover illustration by Chris Moore As in most of the novels from this period, there is a moment when a

September 2004: SF Masterworks series #57 SF Masterworks second series 193 female character lets loose with either a kind of praise or criticism that PKD must have wished for or dreaded hearing from whoever was his wife at the time. Here is Nicole talking about Richard Kongrosian:

“Oh the hell with it,” Nicole said. “I’m tired of his ailments. I’m tired of having him pamper himself with his hypochondriacal obsessions. I’m going to toss the entire power and majesty and authority of the state at him, tell him point blank that he has got to give up his imaginary diseases.

Ouch. But even though Kongrosian is a hypochondriac he still has the power to psycho-kinetically transport one of Nicole’s gun-wielding agents to the White House laundry room when necessary. The author remains in control. [2013]

L.J. HURST Who are The Simulacra? Well, most probably the series of robots who take the role of President of the United States of Europe and America, though they always take the form of benevolent, elderly German gentlemen. Meanwhile, Nicole Thibodeaux in the White House justifies the ways of government to man, and Nicole is human even if she is eighty years old yet has never aged. Stressed junior executives worry about their homes in apartment blocks – committees vet potential residents and then subject them to continuous vetting for suitability, but then those executives go off to jobs in multinational companies, whose names suggest they have foreign origins – A. G. Chemie, for instance, or E.M.E (a musical company echoing E.M.I. – Dick worked as a classical DJ, remember). On the way to work (will your company or another get the next Presidential building contract?) you might well find an advertising bug jingling into your vehicle. No wonder you might want to escape to Mars. Or is the prospect of escape to another planet just another false illusion, another simulacra? Dick presented all these. Then he slipped in a time machine that has grabbed Hermann Goering. The airman is being asked to go back and change history – if he can depose Hitler he might not die on a cell floor in Nuremburg. The Nicole who intercedes with Goering is an actress – Nicole has been played by a sequence of actresses those stressed executives discover, though they never find whether their time stream or another is the real one. So all of Dick’s themes are here – reality, time, paranoia, work. Perhaps there are just too many of them for comfort, though. [2004]


CHARLES DEE MITCHELL I never care for books that claim to be as pertinent today as the day they were written, or to contain a story that could be ripped from today’s headlines. Copies of The Penultimate Truth do not make those claims, but as we watch the various “Occupy” movements take place, I couldn’t help but think that PKD’s novel described a society badly in need of an Occupy Earth movement. As is so often the case with PKD novels, there has been an atomic war. I think he places this one in the 1980s, and he still imagines such a conflict would involve Western democracies and Soviet controlled countries. As bombs drop, much of the fighting is carried on by ‘leadies’, robots manufactured to be soldiers. With spreading radiation, millions of earthlings are moved underground into what are unflatteringly known as Ant Tanks. Now safe from the radiation and destruction, the tankers' sole function is to manufacture an unending supply of leadies for the war effort. But the strains are beginning to show. Radiation has sterilized most of the human race, and the advertising men, government officials, and police agencies that rule the globe are paranoid, bored, and slipping into senility. Down below, tankers realize that certain things just don’t add up. When the chief engineer of the Tom Mix Tank dies of pancreatic cancer, his tank colony is terrified that they will not be able to meet their leadie production quotas. The engineer is flash frozen and the president of the group is sent tunneling to the surface, despite all the dangers, in search of an artiforg Cover illustration by Chris Moore pancreas that will save the day.

February 2005: SF Masterworks series #58 SF Masterworks second series 195 The Penultimate Truth is one of PKD’s more tightly constructed and coherent narratives. There are plots and counterplots and mysteries; and the characters have coherent motivations. Perhaps readers will miss the wild ride of something like The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, but coming after the grab bag of The Simulacra and the perverse incoherence of Lies, Inc. I found it a satisfying read. There is a lot of talk as characters explain the situation to one another, and tortuous internal monologues are not uncommon. But this keeps the novel to the 200-page sweet spot, and what action set pieces take place are well told. An assassination scene is one of PKD’s most creepily effective episodes. You may want to toss any old portable TV sets you still have lying around after you read it. One highlight of twisted thinking among the elite topsiders is that if the hoi polloi come streaming back to the surface, another war will be inevitable. Since when did commoners start wars? I think they are mistaking war for some serious ass- kicking. If I remember my history correctly, wars are started by those very people who are currently running PKD’s future earth like a well-oiled but fatally flawed machine. [2013]

JOE PFEIFFER Nobody does dystopia like PKD. We start the book in underground warrens where the population has been living since the start of the war, which still rages up on the surface after fifteen years. We know exactly what to expect from about page two; we’re going to get a book full of underground crises with a huge plot twist at the end when it turns out the war’s been over for years. Except this is PKD, so we find out the war’s been over in Chapter Two; up above (where the rest of the book takes place) there are only a handful of people living in unimaginable wealth, off the labors of the teeming masses underground. But… with their million square mile demesnes, they still fight border skirmishes (with “leadies” for troops) and live a day-to- day existence coming up with propaganda for below while jockeying for position that’s just as horrible as your worst imaginings of making up soap slogans on Madison Avenue. This is a much, much more conventional plot than a lot of PKD – you don’t end up with the sort of unclearness about who and what has really happened that you get with ‘The Minority Report’, or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, or certainly A Scanner Darkly. But, like pretty much everything he ever wrote, it’s outstanding. [2012]

196 SIMON McLEISH There are several Philip K. Dick novels which revolve around conspiracies, about a small minority deceiving the vast majority for some sinister purpose. Of these novels, The Penultimate Truth is the darkest, because of the nature of the deception: the majority live hard lives in underground caverns or “tanks”, enduring their situation for the sake of the war that’s been raging on Earth’s surface for years. Except that it hasn’t: the few who remain on the surface live in luxury, spending their time creating fictional evidence of the conflict to keep those below in subjugation. The idea of a fake war and control of people through control of the media was not of course entirely new even in the mid sixties – the manufactured belligerence between the nations of the world is a major theme of Nineteen Eighty-Four. But there, it is news reports of distant conflict that are fakes. Here, it is those who think they are almost in the thick of the fighting who are being conned. Of course, such a huge lie cannot continue to be elaborated indefinitely, and the novel takes the natural subject of how the truth begins to come out. One of the main points Dick wants to make is that deception is a part of any political system (with the arguable exception of anarchy). One of his characters, Lantano (who heads the opposition to the corrupt world leader Brose), says: “As a component in his make up every world leader has had some fictional aspect.” And this is backed up not only by the Roman examples quoted by Lantano but by the way that the reader becomes aware that Lantano himself is not entirely what he seems. This point about the facades inherent in politics is even more relevant now, in these times when spin and image seem more important than content. As another character says, “The biggest lie is yet to come.” Although Dick was obviously not the first to suspect the honesty of politicians (there are plenty of literary examples as far back as Aristophanes’ satirical pillorying of Athenian leader Cleon), The Penultimate Truth was written at a time when people tended to accept what they were told by authority figures more willingly than we do today. After all, the worst of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal were still in the future in 1964. More importantly, the scale of the lie in this novel was unprecedented, and so soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis, its suggestion that the picture that was painted by the West’s leaders of the Cold War contained lies must have been an inflammatory one. Of course, it didn’t make a massive impact, probably because of Dick’s position as a science fiction author, the genre being far more of a ghetto than it is today. (It would be quite reasonable to claim that Dick was, and to an extent remains, the most underrated author of the twentieth century.) The Penultimate Truth is not his best or subtlest novel, but it is his most directly and obviously satirical. [2005]


CÉCILE CRISTOFARI Be warned: this book is not SF at all. Or is it? Well, it was written by a major SF author, and published under the label ‘SF’. And it is true it deals with telepathy. But do not expect any aliens, time travel or even any reference to the future. Instead, the story is about a perfectly ordinary guy, who is cursed with the ability of reading people’s mind. Instead of propping him up to the highest spheres of society, it ruins his life. What is worse, when he reaches the age when most people start to experience deficiencies in eyesight or hearing, he feels his ability gradually fading. So this is an uncommon experiment in the SF field: using a classical SF topic to write a psychological study, of an individual having to cope with his difference, and then with the loss of what makes him different. Yes, this is speculative fiction, in a way. It could also be taken as a realistic novel on very realistic themes, like difference and personal failure. Whatever you take the novel to be, its style is wonderful, and the construction, alternating between external and internal points of view, is extremely well suited to the story. This is an author who obviously know what he is doing. Do not read this novel if you want action and suspense; but if it is insight and style you are after, this is guaranteed to be a great experience. [2009]

PETER YOUNG The fear and self-loathing of middle-aged David Selig, a New York telepath, Cover illustration by Dominic Harman as he reviews his life while both his powers and self-respect wane. Set in the

April 2005: SF Masterworks series #59 SF Masterworks second series 198 1970s, Dying Inside depicts one possible antithesis to the over-achieving superhuman in the form of an all-too-fallible man uncomfortable with his genetic advantage. As the novel progresses, Silverberg’s detailed character study wins over the reader and Selig somehow becomes likeable in spite (or perhaps because) of all his failures, endlessly erudite self-analysis and self- criticism. Selig’s perspective on himself – in either first- or third-person narrative – comes alive in a way that his descriptions of other people in his life can’t, at least on the page, although they are no less well-drawn: the love/hate relationship with his adopted sister, the discovery of another telepath in the same apartment block, the erratic line of failed love affairs and sexual conquests. The temptation throughout is to draw an uncomfortable yet half-expected analogy with male impotence or at least the gradual loss of vitality to age – although the similarities still seem a little too obvious for my liking, the parallels inevitably remain in the background somewhere. And the structure of the book, too, seems right: plotless, spiralling down, perhaps even without direction other than that provided by an inevitable entropy. Dying Inside is indeed an enjoyable book, although the melancholy residue it leaves in your head may ultimately push you towards reading something more optimistic next. [2014]

TONY ATKINS Dying Inside sits somewhere between Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis (in which a man awakes to find himself transformed into a bug) and Nicholson Baker’s The Fermata (in which a man has the ability to stop time at will). David Selig, the main character of Dying Inside is a mind-reader. Unlike the main character of The Fermata, he cannot bring himself to take advantage of his gift to gain an advantage (by reading stock tips, for example). Instead, in spite of his gift, David Selig struggles through life, vainly searching for some real connection and identification with the rest of humanity. We meet him as his powers are waning: the ability that defines him slips away and leaves him floundering. Even at the height of his power he hasn’t found a connection to the people he can mind-read, or to another telepath he encounters, or to the rare girl he finds whose mind he cannot read. He becomes more hopeless until at last something has to give. There’s something to the phrase “mind reading”. The beauty of this book is that as readers to Selig’s narrator, we are privileged to explore his mind, to have his secrets opened to us and try to understand him. The novel makes us perfect receivers, just as Selig is, but we are powerless to transmit back, just as he is. Without his power, he struggles just as we all must to make a connection with others, and his drama is our drama. This is a great book, highly recommended. [2010]


RANDY McDONALD It is the year 2075. In the early 21st century, American biotechnologists manage to cure cancer with a simple infectious virus. Only after this virus is released in the Earth’s atmosphere is it found that cancer in fact plays a vital role in extending life: cancer cells, being immortal, secrete proteins that prevent cell death, allowing people to get old. Without cancer, people die at the age of thirty-five. The halving of human life expectancy – to say nothing of the mass death suffered by everyone unfortunate enough to be more than thirty- five years old – is enough to precipitate the Second Revolution. The global epidemic of premature mortality forces human civilization to adapt as best as it can. Viruses are used extensively, not only for health reasons, but to provide a ready store of knowledge and memory through the transmission of viruses’ genetic information. At birth, children are inocculated with viruses in order to bypass lengthy formal education, to try to make the most of humanity’s brief tenure on Earth. Humanity’s genetic makeup is also tinkered with by the new, wiser profession of biotechnology, as human subspecies capable of enduring difficult environments like the Arctic are produced, while even normal humans are genetically engineered to be able to photosynthesize sugars (via rhodopsin implanted in the human epidermis) in order to help make up for food shortages at the minor cost of an unnatural purple cast to their skins. The new world order, vaguely Maoist in tone, is Communist, thanks to China’s success in leading the Second Cover illustration by Dominic Harman Revolution. The world is actually overseen by the Consensus, a kind of

August 2005: SF Masterworks series #61 SF Masterworks second series 200 collective vegetable mind made up of democratic viral readings of peoples’ thoughts and minds. Somehow, even in the middle of a greenhouse effect that has made England a bamboo-growing subtropical area, humanity has survived. It hasn’t done very well, though. Although human civilization has survived, it has done so at the cost of being impoverished. For instance, the viruses begin to mutate and become contagious, making some people communicate in song while others are forced to become excessively empathetic by their genetic reprogramming. Worse for humanity’s prospects, it turns out that humans perfectly educated by viruses aren’t creative; the temptation to do things by rote is so much stronger when one has been doing just that since one was a toddler. With the accumulated intellects of hundreds or thousands of millions of people, the Consensus is well aware that human civilization is stagnant, but it is at a loss to know what to do.

“Sounds like the viruses,” said Milena. “Just like the viruses. Plato would have hated the [knowledge] viruses, too.” The School Nurse laughed. “Very good, Milena, yes, yes he would have hated the viruses. As we all know, he and Aristotle founded the Axis of Materialist and Idealistic thinking, both of which the Golden Stream swept away. Plato believed in dictators. He certainly would have hated the Consensus, our democracy… Are you an idealist, then Milena? Do you think you are just a shadow on the wall of a cave? Perhaps you disagree with Plato and are a materialist”

This is where Milena Shibush fits in. A Czechoslovak immigrant, Milena is allergic to the knowledge viruses. Treated by her peers as if she is mentally retarded, she must make her own way in the world. Nominally an actress, and frustrated by her difficult relationship with her love Rolfa, her true talents come out when she discovers that her lack of viral inoculations gives her an excellent reputation as a director of artistic holographic visions. As one person wrote five years ago, The Child Garden manages to be “lyrical, hopeful, and spiritually profound, even in the midst of a sometimes horrific culture,” To say nothing of being funny:

“Do you think,” Rolfa asked, “that you could possibly call me Pooh?” The word Pooh meant something very specific and unpleasant to Milena. It certainly did not mean teddy bear. “Why on earth would you want me to call you that?” Milena asked. “Pooh,” repeated Rolfa. “Pooh. You must have heard of Pooh. He’s a bear. He’s in a book?” A GE novel? Milena had sudden visions of an entire Polar literature. “Is it new?” she asked. “No, no,” said Rolfa and stood up. “Here.” She showed Milena a drawing of Pooh.

201 “He’s not part of the culture,” said Milena, meaning there was no virus of him. She reads, thought Milena in admiration, unheard-of-books. “You could call me Pooh. And I could call you Christopher Robin.” “Why?” said Milena warily.

It’s difficult for me to communicate my experience of The Child Garden, since so much of its effect is cumulative. One thing that I particularly liked in Ryman’s writing was its contextualization, the rooting of his protagonist’s experience in a vast universe, and the implications that Ryman draws from this character from the rooting. For instance, The Child Garden’s subtitle is “A Low Comedy”. Milena gains the full support of the Consensus for her plan to stage the Divine Comedy of Dante from Earth orbit for the entire world to see. This incidentally sets the stage for new adventures, as the Consensus desperately seeks out other intelligences/civilizations like itself and Milena puts herself in the right position to truly revivify her society. Even at its grandest and most space-operatic, though, Ryman never loses touch with Milena. He pays attention to the little things about her, carefully and honestly.

Milena picked up the next book in the stack. It was huge, bound in dirty grey cloth, anonymous and slumped sideways on its over-used binding. The first page was an engraving of Dante. Divina Commedia said words printed in red. Underneath, in pencil, Rolfa had written, ‘FOR AN AUDIENCE OF VIRUSES’. All three books of the comedy – Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso – had been bound together in one volume. Underneath all the words, all the way through, there were musical notes […] Then Dante meets the best. The words were set to the music that Rolfa had sung in the dark the first night Milena had heard her, hidden in the graveyard. Milena read The Divine Comedy buoyed up by music.

The Child Garden was the first proper science fiction book that I’d read, at the age of ten. Perhaps even now, I can’t get enough critical distance from Ryman’s book to properly analyze it. In the end, all that I can say is that Ryman’s sensitive writing style, his meticulously detailed and plausible universes, and his profound moral sense – all helped make The Child Garden a fantastic reading experience. [2012]


A.C. FELLOWS If you are about my age, you probably first met this book through the picture of the Mesklinite in Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials. They are our high-density low-temperature hydrogen-breathing pals who are fun to be with. What struck me re-reading it this time is how Mission of Gravity is a paean to science. First of all, it is proper science fiction. Not ‘indistinguishable from magic’ science fiction. Not some rubbish latte-land love triangle with spaceships and aliens. Not flip-through-this-week’s-New-Scientist-and-grab- a-few-dodgy-interpretation-of-Quantum-Mechanics-articles science fiction. Just Newtonian Physics pushed to the edge. Second, the motivation of the (largely offstage) human characters is all science all the time. They want to know stuff. They are part of a project spending a fortune to find stuff out. Completely fundamental blue-sky no- applications-need-apply stuff. It’s all they care about. They never talk about anything else. Which is how it ought to be, because next to a world like Mesklin everything else is pretty boring. Third, the narrative arc of the novel is the conversion of the Mesklinite characters to the scientific worldview. Barlennan, the main character, is the Han Solo or Vasco de Gama of his world. As the story begins he is all about the phat lewtz. But as it goes on – like Han Solo – he becomes aware of a higher purpose. A higher purpose that might enable him Cover illustration by John Picacio primarily to get more phat lewtz, true, but a higher purpose. Again and

October 2005: SF Masterworks series #62 203 again, the scientific skills of the humans are shown to be of practical use in solving problems. Barlennan realises that he wants what they’re having. At the climax of the novel he refuses to help the humans anymore unless they teach him science. This is the sort of standoff situation people like me dream of. And there is this beautiful interchange that encapsulates the wonder and the sheer utility of the scientific method in a way that I haven’t seen anywhere else. [2012]

SCOTT LYNCH Often cited as one of the bedrock works of “hard” science fiction, this extremely well-constructed little novel paints wonders of chemistry, biology, and physics, but crowns its triumph with a touching and developed portrait of an alien species with their own peculiar neuroses and ambitions. The gravity of the planet Mesklin is far beyond that of Earth. At Mesklin’s equator, humans in power-assisted suits can temporarily tolerate the three Gs found there, but at the planet’s poles centrifugal force ratchets this up to hundreds of Gs. When a human scientific probe goes down in a polar region, the only possible way to retrieve it is to enlist an expedition of the native Mesklinites. These enterprising little creatures, shaped something like centipedes, sail, fight, and explore their way across their harsh planet, all the while learning to overcome their ancestral fears and limitations (for example, Mesklinites are pathologically afraid of heights, and of even the concept of an object being held above them, due to the severity of any fall in such a high-gravity environment). What I find most laudable about Clement’s Mesklinites is that they’re not content to be used as brainless fetch-its by humans. When they become convinced that the humans are witholding information about the probe, they threaten to keep it for themselves. This allows them to re-negotiate the terms of their service and secure a fairer future for the partnership between the species. Hardly The Autobiography of Malcolm X, but nonetheless a very welcome portrait of extraterrestrial autonomy and dignity in an era when the right of fictional human beings to kick little green men around for their own purposes was not what you’d call “deeply examined.” [2012]

TONY ATKINS This book has a great central conceit. On Earth, gravity varies a small amount, but is roughly constant. On Mesklin, the planet featured in Mission of Gravity, gravity varies from around three times Earth gravity at its equator to hundreds of times

204 Earth gravity at the poles. We experience the world primarily through the eyes of the crab-like Mesklinites enlisted by their Earth allies to complete the titular mission. Through their experiences, Clement does a great job of fleshing out this world and the limits imposed. Plants, animals, and societies are adapted to the local conditions, and as the conditions vary, so do each of these. Although the Mesklinites are not as alien in temperament as we might expect, they are not portrayed as savages or cannon fodder (as, for example, the aliens in Frederik Pohl’s Jem). They are canny partners who are less technically advanced than Earth men, but who understand that their ability to operate unaided on the planet gives them leverage. The characters and narrative of Mission of Gravity are solid, but the greatness of this book rests on the strength of its central conceit and the detail with which it’s brought to life. Highly recommended. {2010]

MANNY RAYNER – Hello, this is Mesklin Advance calling Earth, do you read me? – Coming in loud and clear, MA! So what’s up? – Well, we’ve got a little problem here now we’ve reached the transition point to the polar zone. Our boats— – Ah, let me see, is their cross-section an arc of a circle subtending an angle of 3π/2? – That’s right, how did you guess? – And you’re floating on a sea of an ideal fluid with density ρ? – Correct! – And the velocity of the boat is v, where v is given by… – Oh, wait, I just found it in the instructions. It says the answer is given in Chapter 4, exercise 6. Sorry. – No problem. These things happen. Anything else? – Yeah… what sexual positions work best at two hundred times Earth gravity? – What was that? You’re breaking up. – Ah, nothing. Just my little joke about ’50s hard-science SF. Well, I’m sure I’ll be back soon with another physics problem… – Any time! – Thanks! Over and out. [2012]


MIKE PHILBIN Yeah, I know it’s an old book – from the 1970s, in fact. I’ve had this book for twenty years (a Pan paperback, 60 pence when new, I bought it second- hand, or did I discover it in a newly rented apartment?) and never read it. The basic bog-standard science fiction story is this: Seth Morley and his wife arrive at the small scientific colony on Delmak-O. Supposedly an orbiting satellite station will beam down the mission objectives to the group when the fourteenth member of the colony arrives. Suffice to say, when it comes time to broadcast the message, the satellite breaks and no message is delivered, stranding the colony is both space and function. Soon, people start to die, or are killed, in suspicious circumstances – what is this a barrel shoot? Questions need answers and Morley is our man. But I lied, or rather the publisher lied… it’s not science fiction, I don’t care what any editor adds to this comment. Saying Philip K. Dick writes science fiction is like saying George W. Bush’s primary goal is a below-par round of golf. No, wait a minute… I digress. Philip K. Dick writes the fiction of insanity; the fiction of reality denial; the fiction of (takes deep breath) the topographical lies of the psyche drug abuse can sponsor. But you don’t have that sorta category on the bookshelves, at least you didn’t last time I looked. Sci-fi conventions are merely tools Dick uses to externalise the trauma of his rancid thoughts to his readers; to allow them to pseudo- understand. Sci-fi merely lends the canvas to Dick’s artistic spattering. Cover illustration by Chris Moore This is the creativity of a ‘psyche’, a mind in book form. A snapshot of

December 2005: SF Masterworks series #63 SF Masterworks second series 206 Dick’s hidden life, his meandering, disbelieving, questioning, self-interrogation. His “Why am I here?” His “Why are we here?” … “What is here?” Dick isn’t anally exploring the world of his dreams either, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying; he is writing imaginary alternate worlds, theoretical worlds formulised in over-active thyroid panic; he is writing the nightmare landscapes of philosophically hyper-stimulated thesis angst. Is Dick the eternal college student forever searching for the truth of (his own) existence? Does Dick even believe he is alive, at the time of his writings? Dick writes, and writes so eloquently, the fiction of the ‘what is?’, the evil interrogator of the haunting mechanism behind theories, the seemingly random neuronic activity that underpins thought itself. Dick should be offered a posthumous Nobel prize in philosophy for his vivid (self) exploration of what it means to be a thinking, scared, paranoid, schizophrenic and ultimately lost human being adrift in a sea of socio-religious apathy. Hey, is this a PKD thesis? No, it’s a review of a book. But only after having read maybe a dozen PKD books are his true motivations (IMHO) seeping through the multi-dimensional chaos of the quaternion vector of his narratives. On a more comical note, I love the swearing bit, let me find it and quote from it. Remember, up until now, it’s been a fairly tame and conventional sci-fi book totally dumbed down for the mass market, but this searing and personal outburst totally breaks the novel open to its true motivation and humanistic exorcism (as earlier expunged) and I’m gonna quote it here in full as a final admonition of Dick’s literary greatness:

Seth Morley stared at him with violence flaring in his eyes, “You fool,” he said, “You stupid bastard fool.”

At the time of writing, I’m still forty pages from the end, but that’s not what’s important to me as a reviewer. Dick could do or say anything at the end of a book that is so well constructed, so brave, so ultimately non sci-fi. Simply another five out of five book from the master of head fuckery – this is the author you all forgot to hail as a star. [2005]


ANTHONY G. WILLIAMS The plot is simple: a colonisation ship with fifty people on board leaves Earth for another solar system where a probe had reported a habitable planet. En route, the ship runs into trouble and cannot decelerate. The only chance of survival is to keep accelerating closer and closer to light speed in order to maximise the time dilation effect and travel as far as possible; initially to find space empty enough to shut off the drive and protective screen in order to carry out repairs, and secondly to find a zone where the conditions are right for them to stop and find a place to live. There are two threads running through this story: the first is a very technical, hard-science description of the functioning of the Bussard ramjet, the implications of the ship’s velocity getting ever closer to the speed of light, and the structure and evolution of the universe. The second is the human story of the effect of their situation on the crew and scientists on board the ship, as time outside passes at an ever-increasing rate compared with time inside. Like nearly all SF of the period, this story is about ideas more than people. If the title had not already been pre-empted by the famous short story, the novel might accurately have been called The Cold Equations. Having said that, the main characters are drawn well enough to carry the plot, while time has not been kind to the science. The effectiveness of the Bussard ramjet concept (very popular in the 1960s and ’70s) has since been questioned and the future of the universe is now believed to be somewhat Cover illustration by Dominic Harman different from that shown in the book.

February 2006: SF Masterworks series #64 SF Masterworks second series 208 This story makes an interesting contrast with Niven’s A World Out of Time published a few years after Tau Zero. This also features a Bussard ramjet making an enormous journey to gain the benefit of time dilation, but Niven’s story concerns itself much more with the social, genetic and technical changes which take place on Earth over the aeons and, to me at least, is all the more interesting and enjoyable as a result. Tau Zero may not be the most enjoyable of tales, but it is deservedly a classic for its exploration of the science of relativity and its potential consequences. [2011]

KATE ATHERTON Tau Zero tells the story of a starship, the Leonora Christine, and the twenty-five couples aboard who set out in the 23rd century to colonise a planet thirty light years from earth. These men and women, with their different skills and personalities, are setting out to establish a new frontier, leaving everything behind and with little hope of returning to earth, at least during the lives of their loved ones. The clock of the cosmos means that journeys through space are also journeys through time. It is supposed to take the ship five years to reach the planet, thanks to the forces that reduce Tau to zero – matter is used to create and increase acceleration, sending the ship speeding through space and time while, inside the vessel, lives continue on a human clock. But when the Leonora Christine encounters a young nebula, the catastrophic collision destroys the decelerators and sets the ship off with infinte acceleration into the universe. With no way to stop, the ship, ever increasing in matter, passes through millennia and galaxies. There are two perspectives to the story. One is outside the ship, giving us the background to the science, charting for us the path of the vessel through the universe and counting down the vast ages of time. Within this universe, so economically and quite beautifully described, we have the story of the fifty men and women aboard who, already faced with the stress of leaving earth and their families, now have to deal with a lifetime in transit from one star system to another, knowing that so much time has passed that not only all their loved ones on earth have died but even that the earth and its solar system are now destroyed. Each of the crew must deal with their condition in his or her own way. The reality of spending a lifetime confined in a vessel with the same people, the relationships formed and broken, the desire to continue the human race while knowing that they are its end, the need to search for solutions and keep self-control, the attraction of an easy mass suicide – these

209 questions and dilemmas face everyone from the captain downwards. The brevity of the novel means that we don’t get to know many of the characters in much depth. Instead there is a focus on a handful of key personnel and friendships and animosities. Their problem-solving exists side by side with their desire to form lasting relationships as the physical and psychological distance from earth increases. There is a fair amount of science here and I’m not going to pretend that I understood all of it or even most of it – I still couldn’t tell you what Tau is. However, my lack of scientific background didn’t impede my enjoyment of this compelling book. It’s a work of art painted with exquisite sentences; the universe it presents is a thing of beauty and the resilience of humanity is inspirational. My only complaint would be the length – the end felt relatively contrived because there weren’t enough pages given to it. Nevertheless, Tau Zero is one of those books that will stay with you for its ideas and storytelling – how would I deal with such a situation? – and I have no doubt it’s one to which I’ll return. [2011]

TONY ATKINS Tau Zero is a novel about relativity, about a generation of astronauts who travel close to the speed of light, reaching other worlds in a few years subjective time (the rate at which people on the ship age), but several decades objective time (the rate at which the Earth they leave behind ages). In Tau Zero, the idea of traveling close to the speed of light is the main character and it is explored to the fullest, and with the highest respect for the hard science behind the concept. The technology behind their travel is roughly the same kind of ramjet that the main character in World Out of Time uses to circle the universe at relativistic speeds and thus outlive the society that imprisons him, but here it’s not just a means to roll the clocks forward on Earth and encounter a new world. The fifty astronauts (and potential colonists) in the ship which is the focus of the story must live together for years before reaching their goal and either founding a colony or deciding to brave the trip back home. Many of them have skills that are more useful when they arrive, and must find ways to occupy themselves. Even those of the crew who are busy with its day-to-day maintenance must find ways to keep their spirits up over the long haul even if the mission goes exactly as planned. Of course the mission does not go as planned, and Reynoud (arguably the main character) must play father to the crew and enforce the basic routines that help keep everyone’s sanity as things unravel further and further. I enjoyed the book as a whole. It’s hard sci-fi (with real science rather than science as magic) at its best, playing with

210 the best science available at the time to see how it might change the human condition. I also think the drama is handled well enough. The only small thing that bugs me about Tau Zero are the characters. As in Frederik Pohl’s ‘Heechee’ saga, Anderson can’t resist the urge to analyze the characters, and adding that to the somewhat stiff way the characters tend to express themselves, the novel on balance feels a bit more firmly an intellectual novel than an emotional one. The same could be said of many science fiction works, although this is definitely one of the better ones. Highly recommended. [2010]

CHRIS MANDER Tau Zero is a novel of mind-blowing scale. The Leonora Christine is setting off on a mission to colonise an earth like planet in a neighbouring star system. On board are a team of colonists, from a wide spectrum of scientific and social backgrounds. Pretty quickly the journey hits a major snag, and we watch as the crew try to come to terms with a pretty frightening reality. Poul Anderson obviously has a very large grasp of the science behind the ideas within the novel, and doesn’t shirk from conveying the information to the reader through his characters dialogue and episodes of problem solving. This depth of knowledge ensured I was hooked very early on, and, keen to read on and see how the plot was supported by the scientific theory. Like a lot of early sci-fi, it is very much a “big idea” novel; the interest for the reader relying mainly on its concept. Unfortunately this leaves his characters feeling under-developed and quite bland by modern standards. Personally there was just enough substance to them to carry the story and take me on an epic journey through space and time, all whilst teaching me a few things! [2014]


JESSE HUDSON Extension of scale being an advantage science fiction has over other forms of literature, it’s an idea Clarke puts to best use in Rendezvous with Rama. Rather than in a three dimensional sense wherein space extends infinitely, he instead uses scale to show how humanity and its accomplishments take on new meaning when viewed from the perspective of the cosmic unknown. Bearing strong resemblance to the writings of Stanislaw Lem, Rendezvous with Rama tells the story of earth’s brief encounter with an enormous object/spacecraft that one day in a not-so-distant future suddenly appears traversing our solar system. Obviously the work of an intelligent species, the object nonetheless appears lifeless. And when explored by a team of scientists and astronauts, more questions than answers seem to arise as Clarke’s simple yet effective prose progressively reveals the strange details of the object’s interior. What the team comes to understand about the object in the end remains a powerful statement regarding earth’s position in the overall scope of the universe. Not a novel in conventional terms – there being no true climax or resolve – the book is nonetheless a brilliantly imaginative exploration of both an alien space craft and the fragility of life. Clarke writes many beautiful scenes: the team’s hesitance entering the object, Johnny’s flight in the aero-glider through the static fields, and the discovery of the “museum” perhaps most prominent among them, leaving the reader humbled as to the possibilities of the infinite beyond. [2011] Cover illustration by Steve Stone

April 2006: SF Masterworks series #65 SF Masterworks second series 212 ANTHONY G. WILLIAMS This is a deliberately restrained story. Clarke’s writing style is spare and economical; no purple passages here, just matter-of- fact descriptions of the events. The human science described is basically that of the present day: there is not only no FTL travel, but nothing else that might cause physicists to raise their eyebrows. Rama is full of mysteries, but some of these are gradually revealed as the explorers observe the changes taking place and slowly try to piece together the purpose of the huge artefact. The science of whoever built Rama is far beyond humanity’s, but the structure is mostly (if only just) understandable. This may sound dull, but it isn’t; this is a great adventure story as well as being educational in using logical analysis to explain the mysteries. It is the kind of book which can be strongly recommended to anyone thinking of trying SF for the first time, so that they can get some understanding of the famous “sense of wonder” which has been at the core of SF’s appeal for generations. In fact, it could be a good basis for getting young people interested in science. By modern standards the structure of the novel can be criticised: the present fashion is to plunge straight into the action rather than provide explanatory prologues, to “show not tell” (ie. let information come out as a result of the actions and conversations of the characters), to concentrate on developing the characters, and (of course) to write any new book as the first of a series. Rendezvous with Rama fails quite comprehensively on all of these counts: while there is no formal prologue, the first few of the very short chapters are entirely devoted to setting the scene and explaining the background, with the first words of dialogue being spoken in Chapter 4. The narrator is present throughout, describing what is happening. The characterisation is slight; the Endeavour’s crew are all dedicated professionals, working together in harmony (how refreshing!). Sequels to the book were not initially planned and did not begin to appear until the co-authored Rama II, some seventeen years after Rendezvous was published in 1972. I haven’t read any of them, but by all accounts the sequels are entirely different in style from the original, focusing much more on characterisation; they have been nowhere near as successful. I strongly suspect that if Rendezvous were submitted by a new author for publication today an editor would call for drastic changes, if indeed the manuscript managed to get off the slush pile at all. Yet it is one of the most enduringly popular SF novels ever written, being frequently reprinted. Make of that what you will. [2008]

DAVE O’NEILL The dirty little secret about Rendezvous, as a novel, is that, in fact, nothing really happens. The titular spacecraft enters the

213 solar system, a mission is cobbled together quickly to investigate. The investigation investigates and reaches no conclusions about the purpose of the vehicle, who built it nor anything about the technology behind it. It is, for all intents and purposes a locked room mystery in space. The thing is, that’s one of the things I loved about it and why it’s been something I’ve re-read from time to time over the years since the early 1980s when I first checked it out of Hoddesdon Library. For a space and engineering obsessed teenager in an era before the internet, this was serious mind-crack. It’s hard to remember now, but information on things just wasn’t available back then. You’d have to go hunting for esoteric fan magazines like Omni or Space Voyager, or wait for mainstream news reports about the space program. The Shuttle was flying infrequently, the Russians had part time space stations but you couldn’t click a button and see real time footage of the planet from Space. The crushing disappointment of Challenger was still a few years in the future. The death of my aerospace engineering dreams through bad A-levels and a dreadful economy was yet to come. With Rendezvous, like with many other Clarke stories, there was a solar system in the early stages of human colonization, with humanity making the first tentative steps. It was full of hope at a time when it seemed more likely we’d have a nuclear war or some other calamity. Rama was my Youtube, my Space.com, my SpaceX all in one novel. An alien artifact with no origin story and no resolution. Solar system politics on a grand and very human scale. And a team of people seriously out of their comfort zone trying to figure out how to explore something that huge in a race against time before the spacecraft got too close to the sun. Part novel, part engineering text, all adventure. And again, all the better because very little happens in the end. It was purely about Rama, the enigmatic puzzle at the heart. The ship is automated, but is it intelligent? Are the bioforms in the ship based on the biological Ramans? Or are the Ramans now wholly artificial? It was a novel designed to make you think about the bigger mysteries and drive your own narrative and the fourteen year-old me loved that. We have very little SF like that these days, and in some respects I think we’ve lost something, but the gains we’ve made, in the web and other technologies have probably rendered something like Rendezvous a permanent artifact, historically speaking. But when you have time, take another spin in a future with no resolutions and enjoy the perfect ending. And, above all, just pretend that didn’t do those sequels? [2014]


ROSS E. LOCKHART While Lucius Shepard’s 1987 chronicle of near-future Central-American jungle warfare wears openly a uniform of post-Vietnam-era disappointment and is decorated with the emblems of Cold War paranoia, it hasn’t aged badly. Shepard’s prose is hallucinogenically vivid, his plotting Borgesian, his ideas, larger than life. Protagonist David Mingolla’s odyssey, from hesitant trooper to lethal psy-ops assassin, is darkly picaresque, if at times episodic. From time to time, Shepard’s asides (always-helmeted helicopter pilots, the Lost Patrol, a downed chopper that claims to be god) threaten to steal the show, and it is to his credit that he manages to reign in the story. Audacious, and occasionally even indulgent, Life During Wartime is an SF war story ranking with the best of Haldeman, Hasford, or O’Brien. [2009]

SIMON McLEISH The central character of Shepard’s second novel, David Minghella, is an American soldier in a pointless jungle war, this one in Guatemala rather than Vietnam. The mind powers of the Psicorps play an important part in the fighting, but Minghella won’t volunteer when he passes their tests. A meeting with a beautiful woman changes his mind, and after his training he discovers that the war isn’t what it seems; it is actually part of a centuries old feud between two families of . The novel is about American imperialism, about the sort of war that might have come out of the Contra rebellion in Nicaragua. Seen from Cover illustration by Dominic Harman Minghella’s viewpoint, what Life During Wartime has to say is definitely

June 2006: SF Masterworks series #66 215 from the American side, if one which is not jingoistic, and is more about his suffering and that of his comrades than the former inhabitants of the deserted villages. The psychological effect that the Vietnam War had on many of its American veterans is obviously the inspiration behind the chilling descriptions of the zombie-like armies of those who have had their minds destroyed by too much psychic manipulation. By using the genre to say something about the effects of war and the nature of American imperialism which could not be said in a traditional narrative, Shepard has created one of the more interesting and thoughtful science fiction novels of the ’80s. He didn’t go on to become the major ’90s author – at least, not that I noticed – that many fans expected at the time; a pity. [2001]

CÉCILE CRISTOFARI This is modern SF in all senses of the phrase: technology is not progress, decay, violence and sex abound, the use of drugs by characters can be felt even in the style (a strange craft in the jungle compared to an evil Easter egg forgotten there by a giant child…), the pace of the story is fast at its steadiest. It is also modern SF at its best: absolutely none of this is gratuitous, which I feel is very rare. For people who like this genre, it is going to be a great experience. For the rest, it might not be the easiest way to get used to SF, but it is worth familiarising yourself with the genre if only to read novels like this one. [2009]


AMY H. STURGIS It’s a testament to the strength of Kate Wilhelm’s grasp of ‘hard’ science and the subtlety of her grasp of human nature that this 1977 science fiction novel (winner of the Hugo Award) is as relevant today as when she wrote it. It easily could have been published yesterday. The novel follows an extended family as they retreat from society to survive a global meltdown (economic, environmental, topped off by a nuclear holocaust). Led by far-sighted leaders and gifted scientists, they seek to preserve their line through an extended experiment in cloning. The result is more Village of the Damned than Paradise, as a new “breed” of people – intelligent but unimaginative, forming brother and sister groups that share a common mind and experience – inherit (or take over?) the community. The story follows several generations, ending with the struggle of the lone individual against the dystopian community, with the stakes being both the survival and the very nature of the human species. The premise of this novel and its execution are fascinating, and I was most interested to see how the generational struggles would resolve themselves. For some reason I can’t quite pin down, I never felt fully emotionally engaged with most of the characters, and the one who evoked my empathy most had a truncated role in the novel. In other words, this novel always had my mind, but it never quite captured my heart completely, as well. Despite being held somewhat at arm’s length from the characters (which may indeed be intentional, given the nature of the characters Cover illustration by Vincent Chong themselves), I highly recommend it. [2012]

October 2006: SF Masterworks series #67 SF Masterworks second series 217 MEGAN MEDINA This 1977 Hugo winner about cloning is a powerful dystopic vision that addresses common social themes, such as the constriction of society, the strength of the individual, and the power of imagination. But there is nothing common about it. And it’s not even about birds. It’s no surprise that this novel is cherished by many SF fans. Wilhelm does it right: the story is engaging; the characters are relatable; and the science is provocative. I have no complaints. None. The novel is broken into three parts, each about a different generational character: • David is the progeny of a wealthy, educated family who erect a well-stocked hospital in time for the coming apocalypse. As humanity is wiped out and sexual reproduction fails, David and his uncle decide to clone the family, but the clones seem… different. This section of the book oscillates between romantic and creepy tones. • Molly is a clone with astounding artistic gifts. A life-changing cartography trip down the river results in her loss of interest in her clone sisters, which upsets the clone community. Some of the more nightmarish aspects of the community are revealed in this section. • Mark, the product of a sexual relationship, is the only of his kind among a society of clones. He is gifted, intelligent, and willful, which means he is a powerful threat to the clone community. But they also need him for the same traits they fear. We get to explore the strained, tenuous relationship between the individual and the community. In addition to social issues, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang evokes popular past and present SF concepts. The societal influence brings to mind Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, the Hugo winner from two years prior. For TV lovers, the clones and their numbered monikers behave much like the cylons from Battlestar Galactica, while the references to “tree voices” resemble the disembodied “whispers” of Lost. Genre-hoppers might appreciate the creepy foreboding that edges on the brink of horror, and the unique romances that bloom within the twisted society. Wilhelm also posits an interesting theory regarding the effect of individuality on our potential for telepathy. This story is close to perfect. If I had any criticisms, I would wish for more of each story, but I can see how that would negatively affect the overall tone and story. I also have a few questions about the transition of clone children from the nursery to care of the older clone siblings, and there are undefined chronological gaps between stories, which make it difficult to determine the duration of intervals between stories. (I kept wondering if and when the original family members had all died out). Regardless, this is all nit-picking, and the story proves its value as a must-read SF classic. [2013]


ANNALEE NEWITZ If you’re going to read just one Soviet-era Russian science fiction novel, it should be Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s dark, ambiguous Roadside Picnic. Originally written in the early 1970s, it’s back in print in English after thirty years, with a brand-new translation by Olena Bormashenko and a riveting afterword by Boris Strugatsky about how the book was butchered by Soviet censors. It’s a seriously intense tale of a man who risks his life and freedom to smuggle artifacts out of mysterious “Zones” where aliens landed. Red is a “stalker”, a man who is one of the most successful players in the black market for alien technologies. He trades in the inexplicable objects left behind by mysterious visitors in now-contaminated Zones all over the Earth, where even the laws of physics have been warped by whatever the aliens were doing. The life of a stalker is almost always deadly, because the Zones are full of toxic gunk, gravitational anomalies, and other dangers. Plus, exposure to the Zones causes the stalkers’ children to be born as inhuman mutants, and corpses buried in the Zones come back to life and shuffle aimlessly around their old homes. Still, Red thinks the whole deal is worth it – the artifacts fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars, mostly because they’ve allowed scientists to invent everything from infinite, self- replicating batteries to a perpetual motion machine. Nobody has any idea why the aliens came, nor why they left. At one point, a Nobel prize winning physicist who works on the Zone technologies admits that the items may have been left behind as garbage. The aliens Cover illustration by Dominic Harman might have been the equivalent of humans on a picnic leaving behind foil

February 2007: SF Masterworks series #68 SF Masterworks second series (new translation) 219 wrap, batteries, motor oil, and other bizarre bits of junk that confuse the local animals. The brilliance of this novel is that it doesn’t matter whether you believe the Zones are garbage we animals are picking over, or a message the aliens want us to decode. The point is that you are forced to guess at the aliens’ intentions, and deal with the discomfort of not ever getting a pat answer. It’s the same discomfort that is wrecking Red’s life, and warping everyone around him as they try to create value and meaning from what might, after all, be nothing but (literal) alien shit. Things only get worse when some of the stalkers decide to hunt down the “sphere”, an artifact that supposedly grants wishes. Fast-paced and exciting, Roadside Picnic is also a compelling character study of Red and his family as the stalker’s life changes them. It’s a novel of disturbing ideas about both extraterrestrial life and our own pathetically puny place in the universe. Gritty and realistic but also fantastical, this is a novel you won’t easily put down – or forget. It’s also one of the Strugatskys’ most popular books outside Russia, partly because it inspired Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker (as well as a series of videogames). But its publishing history, according to Boris, nearly drove the brothers insane. Apparently, it took eight years to get the book past the censors, and not for the reasons you’d think. Russian authorities had no problem with the ideology of the book, which can be interpreted as anti-capitalist and depicts Western life as a horror show. Instead, they were angered by the idea that kids might be harmed by reading a book that was so dark, full of violence, drinking, crime, and cursing. They gave the brothers a list of hundreds of scenes and phrases that had to be changed before the book would be published – including turning the zombies to (less disturbing) and making the novel’s ending decidedly unambiguous in a really cheesy way. In the afterword, Boris Strugatsky explains that there are worse things than ideological censors – there are the literary gatekeepers who want every work of fiction to be banal and reassuring, never forcing the reader to go outside his or her comfort zone. But Roadside Picnic, now restored to the authors’ original version, is all about going into the Zones that are far beyond the reaches of your safe little life. To venture into the Zone is to confront who we really are, and what our place is in the universe. And the answers will disturb the hell out of you. Which is as it should be. [2012]


ANDREW SPONG Best known for his Hugo Award-winning A Canticle For Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr. also authored dozens of stunning short stories in the 1950s, fourteen of which are gathered together in this highly attractive entry into the SF Masterworks series. The tales are not of uniform quality, but the work’s best pieces rank among the very finest examples of the short form in the canon of speculative fiction. Miller’s mastery of the post-apocalyptic sub-genre, his struggle to make sense of religious convictions, his attractive, sparse style and the manifestation within his work of the depression it is suggested that he lived with prior to his suicide in 1966 combine to produce a complex, satisfying corpus which merits frequent revisiting. A child’s frantic combing of the future for a cure which medical science has failed to provide for him in ‘The Will’ is compelling and mysterious, whilst ‘Anybody Else Like Me’ presents meditations on evolutionary telepathy presented in the disturbing contexts of rape. Construction worker Manue Nanti struggles to come to terms with the atrophying of his lungs in ‘Crucifixus Etiam’ on a Mars without faith:

Faith needed familiar surroundings, the props of culture. Here there were only swinging picks and rumbling machinery and sloshing concrete and the clatter of tools and the wheezing of troffies. Why? For five dollars an hour and keep? (p.57).

Cover illustration by Dominic Harman A ‘machine’ comes to a sacrificial self-awareness in ‘I, Dreamer’ as it learns

April 2007: SF Masterworks series #69 221 the truth about its origins, while ‘Dumb Waiter’ presents a brilliantly conceived parable about humanity’s limited capacity to perceive both its salvation and destruction in the self-regulating yet vulnerable technology it develops as an engineer struggles to save a civilization his peers are intent on destroying:

Humanity has waited a hundred thousand years before deciding to build technological civilization. If he wrecked this one completely, he might never decide to build another […] Some men thought that the a return to the soil was desirable. Some men tried to pin their guilt on the machines, to lay their own stupidity on the head of a mechanical scapegoat and absolve themselves with dynamite. But Mitch Laskell […] liked the purr of a pint-sized nuclear engine much better than the braying of a harnessed jackass (p.88).

‘Conditionally Human’ is one of the collection’s highlights. The protagonist sets about righting the wrongs the state’s strict control of the conditions of reproduction have wrought, ‘knowing that it would never be all right […] as long as the prohibiting, the creating, the killing, the mockery, the falsification of birth, death and life continued […] He hoped Man could fit into it somehow’ (pp.235, 265). ‘Dark Benediction’ provides the volume’s titular inspiration and forms its conceptual centre. The story offers a stirring, thematically multi-faceted study of our primitive responses to crises, fear of difference, and qualified contextualization of unexpected and societally transformative change. ‘Dark Benediction’ provides the reader with an opportunity to reflect upon the fact that destiny is not ours to control, and that unstoppable external forces could radically alter what it means to be human. Our curiosity, the story suggests, could be the death of us in the face of an implacable evolutionary process over which we have no influence; humanity, the story suggests, is not a Leibnizian monad, and we should perhaps be grateful for the universe’s attention, whatever the outcome. Regardless of other stories of lesser quality that it contains, Dark Benediction is an excellent entry into the SF Masterworks catalogue. Miller’s perspectives on his topics are usually engaging, often challenging, and occasionally macabre in the extreme; see ‘Vengeance For Nikolai’, with a plot as outlandish as anything Jacobean Tragedy has to offer. [2011]


SIMON McLEISH One of T.S. Eliot’s most famous lines, known to many who have no idea who wrote it, is “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper”. It is almost a one sentence summary of Mockingbird, and is quoted at one point towards the end of the novel. Perhaps “human civilization” would be more apt than “world”, but otherwise the mood and fit of the line is pretty much perfect. The setting of Mockingbird is at the end, then, of the human history. With all tasks handled by robots, humans have sunk into a listless, drugged apathy, almost entirely of their own (or their ancestors’) making. The main characters include one of the last, most advanced, robots to be made, named Spofforth, and one of the youngest remaining humans, named Bentley, who eventually realises the meaning of the demolition of his school once he and the rest of his year group leave: there are no more children. With the end of reading, of education, there is so much that people just don’t know any more. Like a prehistoric inland dweller who has never seen the ocean, Bentley comments: “I did not know sea water was undrinkable. No one had ever told me.” This, on top of the general apathy brought by the drugs, is really what is bringing the end; things break down, and no one knows how to fix them or how to get a robot to fix them, and no one cares to do either, anyway. Temporary measures, such as the one which added contraceptives to the drugs to curb population increase, are set in place, but then no one remembers to rescind them afterwards. Cover illustration by Dominic Harman The title of the novel comes from a caption in a silent film watched by

June 2007: SF Masterworks series #70 SF Masterworks second series 223 Bentley, who is put to recording the words of such films as no one can read the captions any more: “Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the forest”. Apparently, the Northern Mockingbird does indeed live and sing at the edge of forests during their breeding season, but Tevis’s intention is to say something about his theme, but I found it hard to choose between several different interpretations of the phrase. The lives which are led by Bentley, Spofforth, and Mary Lou could be said to be a mockery of those who are living normal lives in the forest, and the mockingbird a symbolic outsider; the odd relationship between Spofforth and Mary Lou, while she is pregnant, is a mockery of twentieth century city life (as well as referencing the breeding season of the bird); or it could refer to Tevis’s role as a commentator on the negative sides of the human drive to increase comfort and settle for the banal in experience as safer than living on the edge. This is the kind of novel I would point to as a counter to those who think nothing with a science fiction genre label on it can be literary, or discuss real issues. Dealing with apathy, depression, and suicide as it does, Mockingbird is hardly cheerful reading, but is definitely recommended. [2012]

LARS GUTHRIE My work involves learning to read, so I watch children as they learn to read, and myself read about learning to read. In a dense but delightful, and short but important book on child psychology called Children’s Minds, Margaret Donaldson writes, ‘So what makes us stop and think about our thinking – and thus makes us able to choose to direct our thinking in one way rather than another? We cannot expect to find any simple answer to such a momentous question – but… learning to read may have a highly significant contribution to make.’ The dystopian premise of Walter Tevis’s Mockingbird is that a world without reading is a world without thought and feeling. His imagined future seems more plausible than Nineteen Eighty- Four’s – after all, Communism didn’t work – and Brave New World’s – all those gadgets and geegaws are too much like the Monsanto House of the Future that never really happened. Mockingbird’s America is shoddy and decrepit. Robots do the thinking (and produce the goods), and the human population avoids feeling (and work) by smoking lots of dope and taking ‘sopors’. Forget ‘IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH’; the maxims here are ‘Don’t ask; relax’ and ‘When in doubt, forget it.’ Intimacy is frowned upon: ‘Quick sex is best.’ But no one’s happy (or sad) and as nearly everyone turns inward, there are no more children. Suicide becomes ‘the ultimate inwardness.’ Pretty scary. We want to think, even though it causes pain and requires effort. We need to read. [2009]

224 the contributors

London circle fans at the White Horse, 1950s Left to right: Brian Burgess, Ted Carnell, Ron and Daphne Buckmaster, Jim Rattigan, Dorothy Rattigan, Bert Campbell, Pete Taylor, Sandy Sanderson, Philip Duerr, Joy Goodwin, Vince Clarke From the collection of Vince Clarke RATEFUL THANKS go out to all contributors of commentary, essays, reviews and artwork to this fanzine, and it was gparticularly gratifying to see such widespread enthusiasm for this project. All articles are reproduced by permission and copyright belongs to their respective authors. Articles with previous appearances are also noted below.

Many thanks also to: Sue Jones (for admirably meeting an exacting brief), James Bacon, Keith Brooke, Rob Hansen, Tony Lee, Kev McVeigh, Jim Mowatt, Mark Plummer, Donna Scott; also Steve Jeffery and Marvin Vernon for offering unused reviews, plus Simon Hadleigh-Sparks and Mike Rammell for offering two great but unused cover images (Simon’s, Mike’s). And thanks of course to Benji and Miles Young for their patience when I couldn’t be pulled away to play Angry Birds.

225 Alma Alexander is a novelist and short story writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. Her website is at almaalexander.org. • PHILIP K. DICK, THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH – FIRST APPEARED AT SFSITE.COM, 2003

Bryan Alexander lives in the American state of Vermont, which just discovered Spring. He is an educator, futurist, speaker and writer. His reviews appear at Goodreads and his website is at bryanalexander.org. • M. JOHN HARRISON, THE CENTAURI DEVICE – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, DECEMBER 2013

Niall Alexander reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for websites and magazines like Strange Horizons, Tor.com and Foundation. Under cover of night, he also blogs at The Speculative Scotsman, and from time to time – as @niallalot – he tweets about books, too. • FREDERIK POHL, MAN PLUS – FIRST APPEARED AT THE SPECULATIVE SCOTSMAN, MAY 2011

Chris Amies is a writer living in London, England. He blogs at Live Journal, Typepad and Facebook. • GREGORY BENFORD, TIMESCAPE – FIRST APPEARED IN VECTOR #213, SEPTEMBER 2000

Neal Asher divides his time between England and Crete. He is the author of the ‘Polity’ and ‘Owner’ series of Hard SF novels. He blogs at The Skinner and Facebook, and his reviews appear at Goodreads. • GREG BEAR, BLOOD MUSIC – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, FEBRUARY 2012

Kate Atherton lives in , England, and blogs about books at her website For Winter Nights and Goodreads. • POUL ANDERSON, TAU ZERO – FIRST APPEARED AT FOR WINTER NIGHTS, NOVEMBER 2011 • ARTHUR C. CLARKE, A FALL OF MOONDUST – FIRST APPEARED AT FOR WINTER NIGHTS, APRIL 2013

Tony Atkins is an American expat and entrepreneur working and raising a family in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His goal in life is to build at least a small part of the future with the limited technology available today. • POUL ANDERSON, TAU ZERO – FIRST APPEARED AT SPECULATIVE LIVING, JUNE 2010 • HAL CLEMENT, MISSION OF GRAVITY – FIRST APPEARED AT SPECULATIVE LIVING, JANUARY 2010 • ROBERT SILVERBERG, DYING INSIDE – FIRST APPEARED AT SPECULATIVE LIVING, OCTOBER 2010


Ben Babcock is from Thunder Bay, ON, and is currently teaching in Bury St. Edmunds, England. He blogs about books at Tachyon Decay and Goodreads, and his reviews appear under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International Licence. • H.G. WELLS, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, SEPTEMBER 2009

Michael Battaglia is an apothecary from New Jersey who blogs about SF and literature at Goodreads in an effort to convince total strangers that thinking about books way too much is the best way to read them. In his spare time, he attempts to bring the word “apothecary” back into general usage, despite all reasonable advice to the contrary. • H.G. WELLS, THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, MARCH 2013

Chris Bekofske is from Detroit, MI, and blogs about books at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed and Creased. • RICHARD MATHESON, I AM LEGEND – FIRST APPEARED AT BATTERED, TATTERED YELLOWED AND CREASED, JULY 2013

Eric Brown lives a science fiction writer’s life in Lothian, Scotland. His website is at ericbrown.co.uk. • FREDERIK POHL & C.M. KORNBLUTH, THE SPACE MERCHANTS – FIRST APPEARED AT INFINITY PLUS, DECEMBER 2003

Tanya Brown is from London, England, and blogs at Live Journal. • URSULA LE GUIN, THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS

Karen Burnham works as an electrical engineer and physicist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. She has reviewed science fiction for Locus, Strange Horizons and SF Signal among others, and blogs about at Spiral Galaxy Reviews. • JOHN BRUNNER, STAND ON ZANZIBAR – FIRST APPEARED AT SPIRAL GALAXY REVIEWS, JUNE 2008

Lee A. Butler is a research fellow in mathematics at the University of Bristol, where he maintains his website. He also blogs about books at Goodreads. • ARTHUR C. CLARKE, A FALL OF MOONDUST – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, NOVEMBER 2013

227 Randy Byers lives is Seattle, WA, and is co-editor of the fanzine Chunga. He blogs at Live Journal and Facebook. • PHILIP K. DICK, UBIK

Mark Chitty lives in Wales and has been a sci-fi fan for longer than he can remember. Formerly behind Walker of Worlds, he now contributes reviews at SFFWorld.com. • GREG BEAR, EON – FIRST APPEARED AT WALKER OF WORLDS, MARCH 2009

Patrick Clark lives in Minnesota, and is the editor of the long-running Philip K. Dick fanzine PKD Otaku. • PHILIP K. DICK, VALIS – EXTRACTED FROM A SPEECH GIVEN AT THE FIRST PHILIP K. DICK FESTIVAL, COLORADO, 2010; FIRST APPEARED IN PKD OTAKU #21, FEBRUARY 2011

Brian Clegg lives in Rochdale, England, and is the author of several popular science books including A Brief History of Infinity and How to Build a Time Machine. His website is at brianclegg.net and his reviews appear at Goodreads. • JAMES BLISH, CITIES IN FLIGHT (A LIFE FOR THE STARS) – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, JULY 2013 • KEITH ROBERTS, PAVANE – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, FEBRUARY 2014

John Coxon lives in Leicester, England. His fanzine is Procrastinations, his website is at Chickens in Envelopes and his book reviews appear at Goodreads. • DANIEL KEYES, FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, NOVEMBER 2012

Cécile Cristofari is from Aix-en-Provence, France, and lives in Québec City, Canada. Her articles on speculative fiction have appeared at Strange Horizons, and she blogs at Live Journal and Goodreads. • LUCIUS SHEPARD, LIFE DURING WARTIME – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, SEPTEMBER 2009 • ROBERT SILVERBERG, DYING INSIDE – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, AUGUST 2009

John DeNardo is from Houston, TX, and is the editor of SF Signal, a two-time Hugo Award-winning group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. • URSULA LE GUIN, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN – FIRST APPEARED AT SF SIGNAL, APRIL 2008 • ROBERT SILVERBERG, THE BOOK OF SKULLS – FIRST APPEARED AT SF SIGNAL, MARCH 2006

228 A.C. Fellows met in Townsville, North Queensland, and now live in the New England region. They blog at Forgotten Planet. • HAL CLEMENT, MISSION OF GRAVITY – FIRST APPEARED AT DR. CLAM’S ACCIDENTAL BLOG, JANUARY 2012 • ROBERT SILVERBERG, DOWNWARD TO THE EARTH – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, DECEMBER 2013

Christopher J Garcia lives in Mountain View, CA, and is co-editor of the Hugo-nominated/winning fanzines Journey Planet and The Drink Tank. These days he can be found on Facebook and Twitter. • FRANK HERBERT, DUNE • KURT VONNEGUT, THE SIRENS OF TITAN

Bruce Gillespie is from Melbourne, Australia, and is editor of the fanzines SF Commentary, The Metaphysical Review and Steam Engine Time, among many others. • PHILIP K. DICK, VALIS – FIRST APPEARED IN SF COMMENTARY #62–66, JUNE 1981 • URSULA LE GUIN, THE DISPOSSESSED – FIRST APPEARED IN SF COMMENTARY #41/42, FEBRUARY 1975 • URSULA LE GUIN, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN – FIRST APPEARED IN SF COMMENTARY #77, NOVEMBER 2001

Lars Guthrie is from Burlingame, CA, and blogs at lars4learning. His reviews appear at Goodreads. • WALTER TEVIS, MOCKINGBIRD – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, FEBRUARY 2009

David A. Hardy is from Birmingham, England, and is an internationally-known astronomy/science fiction artist. His website is at AstroArt. • GREG BEAR, BLOOD MUSIC – FIRST APPEARED IN THE BIRMINGHAM SCIENCE FICTION GROUP NEWSLETTER, MAY 2001

Chris Hill lives in Whitchurch, England, and has been a reviewer for Vector and a juror for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. He blogs at Live Journal, Facebook and Books, Bytes & Other Bits. • H.G. WELLS, THE INVISIBLE MAN

229 Penny Hill lives in Whitchurch, England, and has been a reviewer for Vector and Chair of the jury for the 2010 James Tiptree, Jr. Award. She blogs at Live Journal and Facebook. • JOHN WYNDHAM, THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS

Rich Horton is from Naperville, IL, and lives in St. Louis, MO. He is editor of the Year’s Best anthologies from Prime Books, his reviews have appeared at SF Site and he blogs at Live Journal. • BRIAN ALDISS, NON-STOP – FIRST APPEARED AT SFSITE.COM, 2000 • ROGER ZELAZNY, LORD OF LIGHT – A SLIGHTLY LONGER VERSION FIRST APPEARED AT SFSITE.COM, 2000


Rhys Hughes is a writer of the absurd from Swansea, Wales. He blogs at The Spoons That Are My Ears and Facebook, and his reviews appear at Goodreads. • CORDWAINER SMITH, THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, MAY 2011

L.J. Hurst lives near Nottingham, England, His many essays and reviews of genre fiction can be found at his website. • PHILIP K. DICK, THE SIMULACRA – FIRST APPEARED IN VECTOR #238, NOVEMBER 2004

Eli Johnson is from the US and blogs about books at Goodreads. • WALTER M. MILLER, JR., A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, JANUARY 2008

230 Margaret Johnson lives in Seabeck, WA, in a house packed with books. She comes from a long line of book lovers and librarians and blogs about books at Goodreads. • KEITH ROBERTS, PAVANE – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, AUGUST 2010

Kedar is from India, and blogs at Moral Redundancy. His review appears under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.5 India licence. • KURT VONNEGUT, THE SIRENS OF TITAN – FIRST APPEARED AT MORAL REDUNDANCY, FEBRUARY 2012

Tony Keen teaches science fiction and for Middlesex University and the University of Notre Dame, and has written for Vector, Strange Horizons and Foundation. He lives in Tonbridge, England, and blogs at Memorabilia Antonina and Tumblr. • JOHN WYNDHAM, THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS

J.P. Lantern lives in the Midwestern US, he is a science fiction author whose work can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and Kobo. His new dystopian adventure novel Up the Tower will be out in the second half of 2014. You can find his blog at jplantern.com. • ARTHUR C. CLARKE, THE CITY AND THE STARS • RICHARD MATHESON, THE SHRINKING MAN – FIRST APPEARED AT JPLANTERN.COM, NOVEMBER 2013

David Langford is from Newport, Wales, and lives in Reading, England. He is a multiple Hugo Award-winning author, science fiction critic as well as editor of SFE and the long-running fanzine . His website is at ansible.co.uk. • ALFRED BESTER, THE STARS MY DESTINATION – FIRST APPEARED IN SFX #153, FEBRUARY 2007

Ross E. Lockhart lives in Petaluma, CA, is a veteran of small-press publishing, and edited the acclaimed The Book of Cthulhu and The Book of Cthulhu II. His website is at Hares Rock Lots. • LUCIUS SHEPARD, LIFE DURING WARTIME – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, JANUARY 2009

231 Gary Lovisi is a Mystery Writer’s of America Edgar-nominated author for his crime fiction. He is the founder of Gryphon Books, and the editor of Paperback Parade and Hardboiled magazines. To find out more about him and his work, visit his website at Gryphon Books. • GEORGE R. STEWART, EARTH ABIDES

Scott Lynch is from St. Paul, MN, and is the author of the ‘Gentleman Bastard’ series that began with The Lies of Locke Lamora. His website is at scottlynch.us. • HAL CLEMENT, MISSION OF GRAVITY – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, MARCH 2012

Chris Mander lives in Harrogate, England, and blogs about books at Masterwork Master and Goodreads. He is a keen gamer, and is a beta tester for the role-playing game developers at White Rose Games. • POUL ANDERSON, TAU ZERO – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, MAY 2014

Ian McDonald is from Manchester, England, and lives in Holywood, Northern Ireland. Most recently he is the author of the ‘Everness’ series that began with Planesrunner. He blogs at Live Journal. • ARTHUR C. CLARKE, CHILDHOOD’S END – COMMENTS MADE AT A PANEL ON ARTHUR C. CLARKE AT ORBITAL 2008, APPEARED IN VECTOR #256, SUMMER 2008



Farah Mendlesohn is a Hugo Award-winning writer and academic from London, England, and blogs at Twitter and Facebook. • JOE HALDEMAN, THE FOREVER WAR




Cheryl Morgan was born in the Kingdom Under The Waves (formerly known as Somerset) of Welsh parentage and lives near Bath, England. She has won four Hugo Awards, is the owner of Wizard’s Tower Press and blogs at Cheryl’s Mewsings. • SHERI S. TEPPER, GRASS

Glenn Myers is from Shipley, England, and has been a full-time writer since leaving college in 1983. His website is at glennmyers.info. • ARTHUR C. CLARKE, THE FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE – FIRST APPEARED AT GLENNMYERS.INFO, APRIL 2012

Annalee Newitz is Editor-in-Chief at io9.com. • ARKADY & BORIS STRUGATSKY, ROADSIDE PICNIC – FIRST APPEARED AT IO9.COM, MAY 2012

Dave O’Neill is from Bath, England, and lives in Seattle, WA. He blogs at Live Journal and Facebook. • ARTHUR C. CLARKE, RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA Jaime Oria lives in Santa Monica, CA, and blogs about books at Goodreads. • CORDWAINER SMITH, THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, MARCH 2012

234 Joe Pfeiffer lives in Las Cruces, NM, and blogs about books at Goodreads. • PHILIP K. DICK, THE PENULTIMATE TRUTH – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, AUGUST 2012

Mike Philbin lives in Oxford, England, and achieved notoriety under the name of Hertzan Chimera. Most recently he is the author of the ‘Free Planet’ series and the ‘War World’ series of sci-fi horror novels. He blogs at Blogspot, and his reviews appear at The Zone and Goodreads. • PHILIP K. DICK, FLOW MY TEARS, THE POLICEMAN SAID – FIRST APPEARED AT THE ZONE, JUNE 2006 • PHILIP K. DICK, A MAZE OF DEATH – FIRST APPEARED AT THE ZONE, APRIL 2005

Tim Powers live in Muscoy, CA, and is twice winner of the for his novels and . His latest book is Hide Me Among the Graves. • PHILIP K. DICK, VALIS – EXTRACTED FROM ‘SOME RANDOM NOTES ON VALIS AND PHILIP K. DICK’S MYSTICAL EXPERIENCES’, IN THE PKDS NEWSLETTER #4, SEPTEMBER 1984



Alfred Searls is from Manchester, England, and blogs at Northern Soul and Goodreads. • OLAF STAPLEDON, LAST AND FIRST MEN – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, JUNE 2012


David Soyka is a writer and broadcaster from Charlottesville, VA. His website and blog is at prose-net.com. • PHILIP K. DICK, DR. BLOODMONEY – FIRST APPEARED AT SFSITE.COM, 2000



Victoria Strauss is the author of nine novels for adults and young adults, including Passion Blue. Visit her website at victoriastrauss.com. • THEODORE STURGEON, MORE THAN HUMAN – FIRST APPEARED AT SFSITE.COM, 2000

Amy H. Sturgis lives in the foothills of North Carolina, is an author and regular contributor to the podcast website StarShipSofa. Her website is at The Worlds of Amy H. Sturgis and her reviews also appear at Goodreads. • H.G. WELLS, THE TIME MACHINE – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, JULY 2012 • H.G. WELLS, THE INVISIBLE MAN – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, JULY 2012 • KATE WILHELM, WHERE LATE THE SWEET BIRDS SANG – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, JUNE 2012

Jonathan Terrington lives in Melbourne, Victoria, and when he’s not blogging about books at Goodreads he actually tries reading. • PHILIP K. DICK, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, NOVEMBER 2011 • H.G. WELLS, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, MAY 2012

Jonathan Thornton is from Scotland but grew up in Kenya. He has a life-long love of science fiction and fantasy. Outside of books his interests are music and insects. He blogs about books at Golden Apples of the West and Worlds Without End. • SAMUEL R. DELANY, NOVA • URSULA LE GUIN, THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS

Christy Tidwell is from Rapid City, SD, is Assistant Professor of English at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, and is a science fiction scholar. She blogs about books at Goodreads. • JAMES BLISH, A CASE OF CONSCIENCE – FIRST APPEARED AT GOODREADS, JULY 2008

237 Thomas M. Wagner lives in Austin, TX, and is the owner of SF Reviews. • GREG BEAR, BLOOD MUSIC – FIRST APPEARED AT SF REVIEWS, 2001


Nicholas Whyte is from Belfast, Northern Ireland, lives in Brussels, Belgium, and blogs at Live Journal, Facebook and Goodreads. • JAMES BLISH, A CASE OF CONSCIENCE – FIRST APPEARED AT LIVE JOURNAL, JANUARY 2009 • OLAF STAPLEDON, LAST AND FIRST MEN – FIRST APPEARED AT LIVE JOURNAL, OCTOBER 2007 • H.G. WELLS, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS – FIRST APPEARED AT LIVE JOURNAL, APRIL 2009


Basil Williams (1867–1950) was an English academic and historian. • H.G. WELLS, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS – FIRST APPEARED IN ATHENAEUM, 5 FEBRUARY 1898

238 Paul Williams (1948–2013) was born in Boston, MA. He was a music journalist, writer and editor of Crawdaddy! and the PKDS Newsletter. His website is at paulwilliams.com. • PHILIP K. DICK, VALIS – EXTRACTED FROM AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN FAIRCHILD THAT FIRST APPEARED IN RADIO FREE PKD #1 AND #2, 1993, REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION FROM JOHN FAIRCHILD

Andy Wixon lives in Oxford, England, and blogs about genre books, film and TV at No Chic. Just Geek and Goodreads. • ALFRED BESTER, THE DEMOLISHED MAN – FIRST APPEARED AT NO CHIC. JUST GEEK, FEBRUARY 2013 • JOHN WYNDHAM, THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS

Peter Young is from Reading, England, and lives in Hua Hin, Thailand. He is the editor of Big Sky and frequent guest editor of the Hugo-nominated Journey Planet. His book reviews appear at Fictionstream and Goodreads, and he blogs (rarely) at Live Journal and Facebook. • J.G. BALLARD, THE DROWNED WORLD – FIRST APPEARED AT LIVE JOURNAL, JUNE 2008 • JAMES BLISH, CITIES IN FLIGHT (EARTHMAN, COME HOME) • DANIEL KEYES, FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON – FIRST APPEARED AT LIVE JOURNAL, OCTOBER 2006 • WALTER M. MILLER, JR., A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ – FIRST APPEARED AT LIVE JOURNAL, JUNE 2008 • MICHAEL MOORCOCK, BEHOLD THE MAN – FIRST APPEARED AT LIVE JOURNAL, DECEMBER 2011 • WARD MOORE, BRING THE JUBILEE • ROBERT SILVERBERG, DYING INSIDE

The contemporary reviews of H.G. Wells’s novels were collected in H.G. Wells: The Critical Heritage, edited by Patrick Parrinder (RKP, 1972). The second text annotation for Basil Williams’s review of The War of the Worlds has been borrowed from this volume; the other two annotations are based on those that accompany the review’s appearance in The War of the Worlds, edited by Martin A. Danahay (Broadview, 2003).


239 My name is Robinette Broadhead, in spite of which I am male. My analyst (whom I call Sigfrid von Shrink, although that isn’t his name; he hasn’t got a name, being a machine) has a lot of electronic fun with this fact: “Why do you care if some people think it’s a girl’s name, Bob?” “I don’t.” “Then why do you keep bringing it up?”

— Frederik Pohl Gateway 1977 big sky 3 august 2557 / 2o14

Alma Alexander Bryan Alexander Niall Alexander Neal Asher Kate Atherton Tony Atkins Ben Babcock Michael Battaglia Chris Bekofske Eric Brown Tanya Brown Karen Burnham Lee A. Butler Randy Byers Mark Chitty Patrick Clark Brian Clegg Joseph Conrad John Coxon Cécile Cristofari John DeNardo A.C. Fellows Christopher J Garcia Bruce Gillespie Lars Guthrie David A. Hardy Chris Hill Penny Hill Rich Horton Jesse Hudson Rhys Hughes L.J. Hurst Eli Johnson Margaret Johnson Kedar Tony Keen David Langford J.P. Lantern Ross E. Lockhart Gary Lovisi Scott Lynch Chris Mander Ian McDonald Randy McDonald Simon McLeish Megan Medina Farah Mendlesohn Charles Dee Mitchell Mark Monday Cheryl Morgan Glenn Myers Annalee Newitz M.J. Nicholls Dave O’Neill Jaime Oria Joe Pfeiffer Mike Philbin Tim Powers Manny Rayner Guy Salvidge Alfred Searls David Soyka Andrew Spong Victoria Strauss Amy H. Sturgis Jonathan Terrington Jonathan Thornton Christy Tidwell Thomas M. Wagner Rob Weber Nicholas Whyte Anthony G. Williams Basil Williams Paul Williams Andy Wixon Peter Young