Friday, November 30, 2012

Two-Story Brick Houses by Patty Friedman - New Orleans Noir

Set in pre-Katrina Uptown, New Orleans this story is about a young girl who tries to be accepted by a group of popular girls.

Her participation in a game of "Secrets" has some very real and unexpected consequences.

Very sad and well told.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What's The Score by Ted O'Brien - New Orleans Noir

A guy walks into his favourite bar in Mid-City New Orleans.

Trouble looks like it's brewing when two sets of soccer fans take over the bar to watch a match on the TVs.

Trouble does come but not quite in the way we expected.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Book Report #51 - Year's Best SF 16 by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

Taking on the science fiction short stories of 2010 was surely a monumental task.  The fact that the editors can do it over again each year is commendable.

I first approached the book in the wrong way; I wanted it to give me the sense of wonder that the cover evoked.  Exploration, the unknown, technology - the future.

What I got was a mixed bag of Steam Punk, Post-Apocalyptic, Alternative Reality, Slip Stream along with some more traditional Science Fiction.

The book is more a reflection of what was being published in 2010 not a collection of straight ahead SF which caused my disappointment with the book as a whole.

Out of the 21 stories I liked about 16 of them, 76%, not bad really, but from that group only three of them could be said to be set off-world.  That's only 14% of the total stories.

What happened?  Where has science fiction gone?  Well, like just about any kind of entertainment SF is a reflection of the times they were written in.  Back in the 40's, 50's and 60's it was all about the space race.  But ever since Gene Cernan left the moon in 1972 humanity has never left low earth orbit.  A generation of thinkers, scientists, engineers and writers have no experience with space flight and exploration.

These days SF is slipping into the past with Steam Punk or delving into the world of computers, virtual reality, augmented reality and consciousness uploading.  The last story in the book has a line that perfectly describes SF today:

"For a long time, for many people and certainly for me, the past had taken the future's place, as any hope or sense of forward progress had dried up and disappeared.  But now, as I aged, more and more of the past had taken over the present also, because the past was all we had. "

From Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance by Paul Park

Like Park suggests I many have to mine the past to enjoy fiction of the future.  It's to the musty back issues of SF magazines and collections of reprint classic SF fiction for me.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance by Paul Park

Oh my God!  I hated, hated, hated this story.

This was 67 pages of utter Literary Fiction, self-indulgent, nonsensical drivel.

I wanted to throw the book across the room but kept reading it because the editors promised an SF story in the end.


Skip it. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Eight Miles by Sean McMullen

This was an interesting Steam Punk story set in the mid 1800's.  Told from the point of view of a man who owns a hot air balloon who is approached by a wealthy gentleman who pays for his services to conduct some high-altitude experiments.

The subject of the experiments is Angelica who is described as a werefox, having many of the characteristics of a fox most notably being covered in fur.  Through repeated attempts to go higher we discover that the wealthy gent has discovered that Angelica becomes more alert the thinner and colder the air gets as the balloon gains altitude.

Steam punk is always fun when it's done right and keeps to the engineering knowledge of the time.  This story was fun.
Sean McMullen

The author's website is HERE

His bibliography is HERE

The story was originally published in Analog September 2010.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Jackie's-Boy by Steven Popkes

This is another post-apocalypse story where we follow Michael Ripley, 11 years old, into the St. Louis zoo where he discovers and befriends an Indian elephant named Jackie.  The zoo still has power and is being cared for by a robotic keeper named Ralph.

Early on in the story we learn that Jackie can speak and she can read.  She gets Michael to find everything written down in the labs and brings them to her to read.  She is on a mission to learn something but is unwilling to let Michael in on it.

She learns of an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee and decides she want to find the herd that must be there.  Together they travel south along the Mississippi to the Ohio river, avoiding dangers and looking for a way across into Tennessee.  All the bridges have been destroyed.

The dangers increase when they make their way across the Ohio river and find their way to their destination.

I had a bit of fun reading this by following their route using Google Maps.  You certainly got the sense of how large and imposing the rivers are and how big the bridges are, or were, in the case of the story.

In the end I enjoyed the story.  The talking elephant part was an easy thing to suspend my disbelief.
Steven Popkes

The authors website is HERE

His bibliography is HERE

The story was originally published in Asimov's April-May 2010 issue.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt

Being an Apollo buff I loved this story about Jerry Carter, a PR man for NASA who is working on the Minerva program which is a shared US/Soviet mission to return to the moon.

Before the historic launch the Russians release some pictures, from the far side of the moon from 1967.  In those pictures a structure is found on the surface and a tabloid runs them and causes a sensation.  Pictures from NASA circa 1968 show no such structure.  The incident is laughed off and explained as a technical error.

Jerry is intrigued by this and decides to look into it a bit further, what he discovers is very interesting.

I always love big government stories like this one, where there incredible discoveries just waiting in a box in an archive somewhere in a little used facility.  Cover-ups are fun especially when a decision must be made to keep it secret or to let it out.

The story was first published in the first issue of Lightspeed Magazine, an electronic magazine who's content is available free from the website our you can subscribe and receive it monthly as a digital issue.

Jack McDevitt's website is HERE

His bibliography is HERE

Read the story online HERE

Check out Lightspeed Magazine HERE

Jack McDevitt

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Good Hand by Robert Reed

Here was an interesting story, an alternative history tale, where the USA and only the USA has The Bomb. How would have US foreign policy been different if that was the case?

We follow Kyle Betters, a sales rep for a US company, on a business trip to France. There he discovers that folks in other parts of the world don't really love Americans, or America to be more accurate.

The US has even more influence in world affairs than they do now and have an acute need to control just about anything that could jeopardise "American interests." We are treated to one such event, the bombing of the French space program facilities in Northern Africa. This sweeps Kyle into a situation he cannot control.

I usually stay away from alternative history stories mostly because Eric Flint seems to be the go-to guy of this genre and his covers really turn me off. Firstly, I'm not well versed in the history of the 1600's, so stories set in and around that time have no effect on me. I've seen one cover in particular where there is a bunch of present day red neck yahoos driving through a battlefield in a big red pickup truck. The cover alone was enough to tell me that a story like that is not for me.

If the past is altered I'd much rather read about how it is effecting the present that I know. Like this story does. It's a bit of a thought experiment using the classics SF question: "what if?" I found myself drawn more to the Geo-political side of the story and could have kept on reading this into a novel length story.

Showing the effects of a large scale event on the life of just one man is a perfect way to illustrate how different the world could have been.

I really liked this one.
Robert Reed

The author's website is HERE

The author's bibliography is HERE

Friday, November 2, 2012

Penumbra by Gregory Benford

More flash fiction than short story this little story weighs in at three and a half pages.

If you are interested in astronomy then you may have heard of gamma ray burst. Gamma ray bursts are described as when a large, high-mass star implodes to form a black hole. When this happens huge amounts of gamma ray energy is released.

This kind of discharged has only been observed in other galaxies and it has been speculated that if such an event happened here, in the Milky Way galaxy, it could pose an extinction level calamity on Earth.

This story delves into such an occurrence.

Frankly the story was too short - it could have been expanded a lot and been very entertaining.

I loved the realization of how the characters in this story survived. Nicely thought out.
Gregory Benford
Gregory Benford's website is HERE

Gregory Benford's bibliography is HERE

You can read the story online HERE
First published in the June 10, 2010 issue of Nature