Saturday, October 29, 2011

Magazine Review #3 - Asimov's, August 2008

August 2008

I've got to say that all in all this issue really did not deliver on the promise of Science Fiction.  The cover art is not tied to any of the stories within. 

I'm getting the feeling that Asimov's might not be the magazine for me since I like my Science Fiction with space ships.  I don't have to be in space but I like knowing that the ability to get out there is possible.  Only one of these stories satisfied that need but only in a very limited way.

Lagos by Matthew Johnson: This was an interesting story.  I liked it.  It took the whole third world call-center industry to a whole new level.  Plus there is the recurring theme of the man-machine interface that has been cropping up a lot in SF lately.  It was a satisfying read.  I really felt the desperation of the main characters.

Old Man Waiting by Robert Reed:   I'm confused.

I cannot figure out why this story is considered Science Fiction.The story goes like this: some dude spots an old man sitting on a park bench, he decides the old guy looks queer and DECIDES he's an alien.

And SPOILER ALERT - he's exactly what he seems to be - an old man with Alzheimer's. How does this qualify for publication in this magazine?

Pass on this one.

Lucy by J Chris Rock:

Set in the near future, two engineers, working from their Hell's Kitchen apartment, on a robotic probe on Titan find that neighbourhood has an influence on their mission.

Not a bad story but it's set so near in the future that there is very little sense of wonder in the story. The descriptions of the Titan environment were satisfying but I couldn't help thinking that this particular mission is only a matter of time and forgone.

I'd call it a piece of literary fiction with a splash of science thrown in before I'd call it SF.

Divining Light by Ted Kosmatka:This story started in a deep, dark noir aesthetic. But soon it turned into an egghead quantum physics story that completely lost me in the end. By the time the story ended I was completely baffled.

Perhaps that was the intention, after all, a couple of the supporting characters were as confused as I was.

It's a lot like the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment.

Yea, this one sailed completely over my head.

Wat You Are About to See by Jack Skillingstead:  This was a strange little story: part Area 51, part Guantanamo Bay and part Twilight Zone. It deals with an alien interrogation and the nature of choices and possibilities.

The story was very "televisual" which I could see if it was being filmed but in the case of the written word I'm not sure the visual of a 7-11 in the desert was necessary. It was still a moving tale which made me hope the best decision would be made.

Wilmer or Wesley by Carol Emshwiller:  Another head-scratch.  Think - monkey escapes from the zoo.  The story is from the point of view of the monkey.  Fair enough but the monkey is not a monkey; he seems to be human.  Okay.  Why is he in a zoo?  Don't know.  What is so different about him?  Never told.  Why is it the citizens don't recognize him as anything else but human?  Still not let in on that detail.

The main character does not know why he's in captivity and the author has deemed it unnecessary to explain it to the reader.  Fair enough if you are trying to convey what it must feel like to be a zoo animal.  But once again I really don't feel like I've been told an SF story.

Radio Station St. Jack by Neal Barrett, Jr.:  What a great title.  This was another disappointment for me.  Not because it was poorly written but mostly because it was not what I expected.  I think I can be forgiven for thinking that it would have something to do with the cover art but really it was a western.  Okay, sure it was set in a post-apocalypse world so it's closer to a Mad Max setting but it just read like a western with all the stilted dialog that comes with it.

Was it good?  Well, it was okay.  The end gave it some gravity for me; it was more about how a small town survives in a world without law and order.  We are shown that we are only one war away from the Wild West.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Magazine Review #2 - Analog - December 2011

December 2011

Still on a short story kick; I received the latest issue of Analog in the mail just when I finished reading Amazing Stories.  And look who has a story in this issue - that's right - Kristine Kathryn Rusch!

1- Ray of Light by Brad R. Torgersen:  This was a fantastic story!  Man is trying to survive at the bottom of the ocean after an alien attack triggers a new ice age!  This was a very believable story told without any literary fluff; just a straight-ahead, nuts-and-bolts, hopeful story.  I loved it.

2- Turning it Off by Susan Forest:  An interesting little tale about teen-age suburban life in a time when computer controlled safety devices are implanted in everything; including humans.  What a fun idea!  If Steve Jobs were still alive I'm sure he'd try to implant the iPod in people.  Wait maybe he already has that on a drawing board somewhere at Apple HQ.  Hmm.

3- Freudian Slipstream by Brad Aiken:  Interstellar travel is possible by using hibernation and an AI interface to keep a person's mind active during flight.  In this story a problem is solved en route to a new planet just about perfect for human habitation.  I loved the pacing of this story; very relaxed and confident.

4- Hidden by Kyle KirklandSet in a time after a drug was developed and used on children to give them heightened intelligence it's discovered that these same children become insane in adult life.  Now one of these people has taken over a secret weapons lab and is threatening to set off the prototype bomb.  We follow Robinson as he negotiates with him.  I'd call this story more of a thriller than a Science Fiction story, sure there's some super weapon and a"brain" drug but that's as far as the SF is pushed.  Was it a good story?  You bet.

5- Art for Splendor's Sake by Dave Creek:  I don't know.  I feel that I was missing something when I read this story.  Earth Unity Ambassador Chanda Kasmira is overseeing a complex evacuation of the planet Splendor an ironically named planet who's description brings to mind the Rocky Mountains in February.  The planet is under threat from a fast-approaching nebula when along comes an artist . . .

By the end the artist reveals his work and Kasmira's reaction left me feeling like I missed the point of the story.  After finding Mr. Creek's website I discovered that this is the seventh or eighth story in a series so now I understand my feeling of disconnection.

The story was crisp and well paced.  It felt like it could have fit well in the Star Wars universe: I got the feeling of a much larger world out there from the story that I read.  I'm looking forward to reading more from him.  I also have over three years worth of back issues to read and I know that he has many stories buried in there.

The Impossibles by Kristine Kathryn Rusch:  Here she is again!  My favorite modern SF author with another fresh take on life in the future.  In this story we follow Kerrie, a new lawyer, two years on the job, working for the Earth Alliance Inter Species Court for the First District.  She's a public defender working off her student loans when the case of a lifetime comes to her.

Set in Rusch's Retrieval Artist universe the story felt like it was part of a larger world to me but it was such a satisfying read on it's own that I didn't get the same feeling of having missed something like I did reading Art for Splendor's Sake earlier in this issue.

Not for Ourselves Alone by Charles E. Gannon:  What a fantastic story!  Part alien invasion, part military SF with a nod to The Cold Equations.  A seemingly unstoppable alien invasion force is on its way to Earth; after attacking a Jupiter orbital space station the survivors find a weakness but can they get the message back to Earth in time.  A fantastic Old-Time space opera tale.

Conclusion - this is issue is well worth a read.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Magazine Review #1 - Amazing Stories, May 1990

May 1990

In the field of Science Fiction Amazing Stories looms large.  It's been around since the 1920's.  Although it's no longer in publication today there are still loads of back issues floating around in used book stores and garage sales.  The copy I have is in near perfect condition.  The pages have yellowed but I don't think this copy has ever been read.

I decided to read this as a bit of a break from the last novel, which was ponderous to me.  So some short stories in the SF genre seemed the ticket to refresh my brain.

One of my favorite authors in the field is Kristine Kathryn Rusch and she has a story in this issue, which, I'm sure, is the reason I bought it.

Reading it also gives a glimpse as to where SF was 20 years ago, a bit of a time capsule really.

1- Giant, Giant Steps by Robert Frazier:  Not a bad story.  Set in Chicago during the Second Great Depression.  The story revolves around Marty and his friend Rita.  Marty works as a tele-soldier fighting a distant war via a computer connection to a "Stiff" a robot he controls.  To work the robot his consciousness is transferred directly to it therefore he still runs the risk of dying.

Music has all but vanished from society, when Marty leaves work he goes to his local bar where he and Rita spend time together. On the wall the bartender displays an old relic -  a Saxophone.

While on a mission Marty tries to save a platoon-mate.  A transfer of abilities occurs and Marty can now hear things like never before.  He can hear music in nearly every sound.

Back at the bar he picks up the Sax.

2- Computer Portrait by Jayge Carr:  Again: not a bad story.  This one also delves into differing realities.  An artist living in the loft of an abandoned building is tormented by his computer.  It watches him all the time and critiques his paintings while in progress; estimating and predicting the final product and just how much money he can expect to make from them.

His creativity is in jeopardy because of it.

He turns the computer off and starts to meet interesting and seemingly sinister people who move into the building.

We discover that his life is very much being controlled not by the computer but by the people behind it.

The computer is never really off.

3- The Animist by Bruce Boston:  I didn't read this story.  As soon as I was dealing with another "altered reality" story I gave up.  He lost me when the character was looking for his shoes and found one on top of his stereo.

Stories where reality is doubted I find tiring.

4- Pins by Joe Clifford Faust: This was a fun story!  Take a pinball machine and cross it with Fight Club and you'll have an idea of how this story feels.

Building on the human/machine interface that this issue seems to be about this story takes a fresh approach is very entertaining.  It has a noir, Blade Runner underground setting where a stranger is challenged to take on a pinball machine with an AI built into it.

Strange and fun.

5- Saint Willibald's Dragon by Esther M. Friesner:   I skipped this one too.  Science Fiction and Fantasy are often grouped together but, in my mind, they are very different genres.  My tastes don't run to fantasy and I'm always disappointed to find such a story in an SF magazine.

No offense to Ms. Friesner.

Fatal Disc Error by George Alec Effinger:  This was an interesting story.  What happens to an Artificial Intelligence when it dies?  Again this story goes in and out of all kinds of "realities" as the AI dies due to a fire where it's servers are kept.

A Time for Every Purpose by Kristine Kathryn Rusch:  The best story of this issue.  Rusch is one of my favorite authors.  She does loads of short fiction and she crosses from SF to Fantasy to Romance and Mystery.  I first read her SF short fiction but also found her mystery fiction to be first rate.  Her voice is fresh and her stories are always clear and believable.

This is a "time cop" story.  The main character is traveling through time trying to prevent a serial killer from committing his first murder.

The story weaves back and forth and plays with history as we know it.  It was a first rate read.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Report #32 - Beneath A Weeping Sky


Zafiro had me at page one, up until now.

It's not really his fault; the book is written very well and there is a greater ease to his writing.  You can see that he is growing as an author - he's telling a story much more than in previous books where it felt like he was explaining the story.  By the end of the book he's allowing his characters to make a joke without telling us that he's making a joke.

It took me weeks to read the novel.  I just kept putting it down and leaving it for days at a time because it suffered from two major flaws.

Flaw #1 - it was too damn long.  This thing weighs in at 460 pages!  I am of the mind that if you can't tell a story (especially a cop story) in 300 pages or less you're not trying, or your editor took the week off, or you're just trying to up your page count.  Either way I found myself wishing the author would just get to the point.  Even the denouement went on for over 30 pages!

I know that fiction readers like a longer books, it makes them feel like they are getting a better deal on the purchase price of the book.  But for me, the opposite is true; the thinner the book the more "potent" the story.  Why mess around and fill the book with fluff?  Tell me the story, don't tell me how the house was furnished - I don't care!

Flaw #2 - the story was about a serial rapist.  No different than a serial killer - the story is about a crazy guy.  I don't get crazy and I don't care about crazy.  Why?  Because they're C-R-A-Z-Y.  It's boring.  I'd much rather read about a sane person doing terrible things for a reason.  Nut-jobs with mommy issues are just not that interesting to me.  

To me.

Was it well written? Absolutely
Was it interesting?  Not to me but loads of people love this stuff.

What would have made it better?  250 pages less.

Had the book been shorter, much shorter, the story would not have dragged on and I would have been able to suspend my disinterest of crazy people.  I would have liked it a whole lot more.

Sorry Frank.

NOTE - Zafiro has three collections of short stories that I will purchase as ebooks.  I am by no means down on Zafiro just this novel.  It was a short story that drew me to his work in the first place.  I'm looking forward to reading more of his short work.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Deadly Storm

I'm a big fan of the ABC TV show, Castle.  I've bought the three novels published so far.  (I've read the first two)

Today I read the first graphic novel from the show.  This is written by Brian Michael Bendis and is an "adaptation" of Castle's first novel published before the events of the TV show.

I'm a huge fan of Nathan Fillion and I'm thrilled that his show is doing so well. 

Because I like the show I'm a sucker for all the spin-off merchandise.

I liked the graphic novel.  There was action, sexy women and humor, exactly what you'd expect from Richard Castle.

The producers of the show are doing a great job breaking down the fourth wall by giving us these books.

What fun.