Friday, September 28, 2012

Steadfast Castle by Michael Swanwick

What a fun little story!

This is a quick murder mystery set in the not too distant future. It's very easy to imagine a future where a cop is interrogating the AI of the house a suspects lives in.

Very well imagined and fun. Then it turns dark in a hurry.

Loved it.

The author's website is HERE.  But, be warned, it's out of date.

More current information can be found HERE and HERE.

The story was first published in the September-October issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Baker-124 by Frank Zafiro

Officer Zack is called to a run-down apartment building to assess the safety of a child.

It's a heart breaking situation for him. The story is well told and shows how frustrating it can be to be a cop.

This has the definite feeling of being a personal experience of Zafiro's.

Frank Zafiro

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Report #49 - Star Trek: Risistance by J.M. Dillard

This book filled the need I had of reading some science fiction where I didn't need to learn all about a new universe.

There is something comforting about being able to dip into a world and have it be familiar.

This book takes place just after the last of the Next Generation movies. Picard is trying to assemble a new crew and is assigned the task of negotiating peace between two races. One of which has joined the Federation. (How many times has that situation been used?)

The mission is interrupted when Picard hears the thoughts of the Borg for the first time in years. He tries to convince Starfleet to let him investigate this new threat. You know how it goes; Picard disobeys his orders to wait for an expert to join the Enterprise and heads off, on his own, to confront the Borg.

I found the book a bit dry and slow, to tell the truth. Although I was happy to read about the crew that remains; Picard, Dr. Crusher, LaForge and Worf; the story was bogged down by the author continually trying to tell three stories at once and by repeating scenes from the different points of view.

Even in the climactic battle Dillard kept taking us back in time to tell every angle of it. I found it distracting and frustrating. I don't want to find out what happens next by first having to hear about what happened to somebody in the next room, especially if it has no bearing on the main plot.

This type of story telling is used a lot in thrillers but, in most cases, the differing story lines merge for the "thrilling conclusion" so there is only one plot line to tell in the final chapters.

This book was only okay.

At least I got my Star Trek fix from it.

More on the author can be found HERE.  (Dillard is a pen name for Ms. Kalogridis)

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Roads Must Roll by Robert A. Heinlein

Have you ever imagined what our cities would look like if the automobile was no more?  Seems almost impossible given, just how important and integrated into our society they are.

In Heinlein's world fossil fuels became so rare and valuable (sound familiar) that the US government decided that the military should have priority access to it.  Fuel prices became so expensive that a new method of mass transportation was created, he re-imagined roadways to be a series of conveyor belts each one going a bit faster than its neighbor, up to speeds of 100 MPH.  These roadways were powered by solar panels; very well imagined considering this story was published in 1940.

At the time the leading thinker on photovoltaic energy was Albert Einstein, who won the Nobel Prize in 1921 for his work in the area.  Look HERE for more information on that.

It takes a lot of work to keep the roadways rolling, during this story a revolt unfolds from the trade unionists that maintain the infrastructure.

This has all the right ingredients to make a fine modern day science fiction, action movie.  While reading it I kept thinking this story had the same look and feel of the movie I Robot - a gleaming city on top and a gritty world underneath it all, keeping it all running.

Good story even if the end of it is a bit clunky.  I'm sure it could be improved in the movie. (Just kidding)

Information or Robert A Heinlein can be found HERE and HERE
Robert A Heinlein
The story was originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, June 1940

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Cleaner by Frank Zafiro

This is the story that gives this collection it's title.

There's been a murder in a suburban home.  Gary Oster, the victims' husband, hired the cleaner.  The cleaner is a specialist - he cleans murder scenes.  Somebody has to.

There's some nice dark humor in the opening paragraphs like when the cleaner describes his neighborhood and gives it a name; Felony Flats.

While doing his job the cleaner finds the murder weapon the cops missed.  But he does not turn the knife in.

I kept wondering what the hell he was up to.  The moment you hang on to something like that you can be charged for obstruction of justice.

This was a tidy little story with just enough at the end to make you wonder if the character wouldn't do something stupid.

I really liked this one.

Frank Zafiro

Monday, September 17, 2012

Graffiti in the Library of Babel by David Langford

This was a strange little tale about first contact but with a twist.

In it a coded message is sent through the Total Library project, if you think about what Google wants to do by scanning every book ever published you then get the idea of this fictional library.

An alien intelligence is trying to communicate with Earth by tagging quotes from the library.

It is definitely a new twist on the much loved SF theme.

It certainly leaves you wondering if we are looking in the right way to find evidence of alien intelligence.

Information on David Langford can be found HERE, HERE and HERE

Ansible can be found HERE

Friday, September 14, 2012

Helen O'Loy by Lester del Rey

Here's a quirky story.

Two robotics experts create a perfect artificial woman, complete with human emotions.  Through an innocent mistake one of the creators of Helen needs to go to work and leaves her with instructions to clean the house and prepare dinner.  In her free time she was allowed to watch "stereo casts".  This story was published in 1938 and television was still very much in the experimental/start-up phase of the industry.  del Rey took what he knew about broadcast radio and blended it with the cutting edge technology of the day, television.  At the time television, as a term, wasn't coined yet.

In any case Helen spent a lot of time watching - get this - soap operas!  Helen learns how to be a doting wife to one of her creators.

The story is a good one and still stands the test of time.  Maybe not in the preconceived notions of what a woman should be like but in the field of robotics.

Keep in mind that this was a time of aggressive German expansionism; WWII is not far away.

Helen O'Loy was first published in Astounding magazine, December 1938.

Information on Lester del Rey can be found HERE and HERE

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Helping Out by Frank Zafiro

Stan, first introduced as "Sean's Dad" ask the narrator, Aaron, a cop, about some trouble he's having with his ex wife. She never sees the kid and when she does she exposes him to her partying and drug use.

Stan asks Aaron to check out his ex wife, just to get a cops-eye-view on things and to asses the safety to his boy.

Aaron knocks on her door and is invited in. A little while into the conversation the boyfriend comes home and, well, things get a bit complicated after that.

A fantastic story to kick off this collection from one of my favorite mystery authors.
Frank Zafiro

Monday, September 10, 2012

At Budokan by Alastair Reynolds

What happens when you cross the band Metallica with robots?  Or giant robots?

What if you could bio-engineer a rock band?

When does it become too much?

Could you lose control?

At first the story is just a fun little thing.  Whimsical and harmless.  But after you read it you start to think in terms of "What if?"  You just know that this kind of thinking is going on right now, maybe in a more mundane setting, but bio-engineering has the powerful ability to scare anybody who wonders what is going on in the worlds' labs.

Information on Alastair Reynolds can be found HERE, HERE and HERE.

Information on Metallica can be found HERE.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Twilight by John W. Campbell

This was a wonderful story.

To be honest, I nearly gave up on it because it was a bit over-long.

Set in the present (of 1932) a man is driving down the road where he finds a stranger lying prone in the ditch. He picks him up intending to take him to a doctor. On the drive the stranger wakes up and begins to tell the tale of how he got to that ditch.

He is a time traveler from a thousand years in the future who went forward in time many millions of years. There he discovered the sad future that awaits humanity.

Campbell went on too long describing the fantastic, empty cities of the far future. But if you can slog through his obvious attempt to increase his word count, you will thoroughly enjoy the logic of the end of the story.

This was a first-rate thought exercise.

As you may imagine it's been reprinted countless times but it first saw the light of day in the November issue (1934) of Astounding Stories.

More information on John W. Campbell can be found HERE (Wikipedia) and HERE (ISFD).

Monday, September 3, 2012

Book Report #48, Seawitch by Alistair MacLean

I was in the mood for a bit of action and got that with a rather silly story about a group of wealthy oil executives trying to stop a rogue oilman from drilling in international waters. 

The book was published in 1977 and really does not stand the test of time. 

I found the narration stiff and old fashioned.

Off shore drilling was a relatively new thing in the 70's, apparently, and deep-water drilling was forbidden by an old-boys agreement among the major oil executives. So that part was quaint.  

But one guy, Lord Worth, develops, deploys and begins producing oil from a newly developed deep-water oil rig, called Seawitch.  This goes against the agreement but worse, Lord Worth is undercutting them on price. (Gasp!) Again this a bit quaint since today's oil is bought and sold on the open market and not subject to being valued by the producer. 

The old boys hire a "fixer" to stop Lord Worth only to discover that he has a personal vendetta against Worth and he goes over the top by sinking one of Worth's ships, hiring mercenaries to overtake his oil rig and plans to destroy it buy using military explosives stolen from US military stockpiles. 

You read that right - stolen from US military weapons depots!  The bad guys just waltz in by showing some forged ID tags and walk out with weapons.  This took me right out of the story; I cannot suspend my disbelief so much as to believe security could be so easily beaten.  Not in the 70's - not ever.  This was written during the deepest parts of the Cold War, there was no way the author could expect his readers to go along with this part of the story.

To be honest, all the characters had something artificial about them. And the women - yikes! - they were the poorest written of them all. And there were only two.

Unless you're a MacLean fan or just want to revel in a poorly told story, I recommend passing on this old gem.

You can read more about Alistair MacLean HERE

Alistair MacLean