Monday, November 18, 2013

Arena by Fredric Brown - The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Voume I

Humanity is on the cusp of inter-stellar war - mutual destruction in very likely.

Two representatives, one human one alien, are transported out of space and time to an arena by a god-like entity who is never seen and heard only once. 

They are instructed to fight to the death because the universe can only accommodate one of these races, there can be no middle ground.  Who ever wins the fight will ensure that his race will survive while the other will be wiped from existence.

I kept thinking, "I've read this before." and I may have; this story is a classic.  Then it struck me that it sounded very similar to an episode of the original Star Trek, where Kirk has to fight a giant lizard guy.

Not only did it sound familiar but Fredric Brown was credited for the episode.  You can read a quick story on how this came about at Memory Alpha:

After a bit of Wikipedia research I found that Brown had a very interesting writing career and I may have to dig out some more of his fiction, both SF and mystery.

The story was first published in 1944 and is quite a bit different in the details than the Star Trek episode.  In the story the alien is a red ball with tentacles and the two combatants are separated by a force field.  For those who complain that TV shows and movies are often nothing like the source material; think about the photo above.  In the 60's how would they have been able create the alien from the story?  The visual arts has its own limitations so sometimes they have to make adjustments but the basic story remains.  If I remember correctly the ending of the Star Trek episode is quite different from the short story.

In any case I am a fan of Fredric Brown.

Fredric Brown

Astounding Science Fiction - June 1944

Monday, November 11, 2013

Book Report #73 - Star Trek: A Time to Die by John Vornholt

Captain Picard is relieved of command of the Enterprise and is kept sequestered at Star Fleet medical undergoing a psychological assessment.  His removal from command was covered in the first book, now he is under medical supervision and cannot go anywhere without being accompanied by his doctor.

Conditions in the Rashanar battle site remain unsolved and the remaining crew desperately want to clear Picard and get him back aboard.  Through a technicality Picard is allowed back on the Enterprise but not in command, he is always with his doctor who now believes in his innocence and is determined to help.

This book kept the same pace as the first and I was very happy with the story the A Time To ... series is nine books long but is split in to four two-book cycles with a single stand-alone novel completing the whole epic.

I also enjoyed the return of Westley Crusher in these two books.  The plot hole of the last book was explained but it was the most contrived and clunky part of the story.  Even with that one flaw it was still a very rich environment to set a Star Trek story.

Read it.  It's fun.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Report #72 - Star Trek: A Time to Be Born by John Vornholt

Back in the pulpy goodness of Space Opera.

Start Trek has always been my go to SF universe.

The "A Time to ..." Series spans 9 books and occupies the times between the films Insurrection and Nemesis.

The Enterprise is sent to help retrieve bodies and control scavengers in the Rashanar sector which was the site of a cataclysmic battle of the Dominion War.  Once they arrive they discover that the assignment is not as simple as it sounds; this region of space has many hazards including; the multitudes of wrecks and debris, gravitational anomalies, an antimatter asteroid, pirates, reluctant members of the Federation and a mysterious shape-shifting ship hiding among the wreckage.

The book was well paced, not bothering with much exposition.  Let's face it, if you're reading a Star Trek novel you understand the universe in general; exposition can be minimized.  When you dive into the novels, however, you must be prepared to accept that lots has gone on that is never covered in the TV shows or the movies.  This simply causes me to want to read other ST books.

I'd say this opening book sticks pretty close to the conventions of Hard SF.  Of course the science is flawed, unproven or incomplete but if that is what takes you out of the books you need to be reading something else.  Star Trek has always been about the characters and this book kept me interested throughout.

It's difficult to believe in any sense of danger when you know that, from the outset, authors are not permitted to do anything dramatic with the characters, like killing them.  If you take the mind set of reading a cliff-hanger series, then you wonder more about how a character is going to get out of a situation rather than if they will survive it.

There was one plot hole that I hope is resolved in the second book.  It involves the rescue of Data that was helped by an unknown party lurking in the Rahanar Battle Site.

I enjoyed this first book and dove right in to the second without pause.  So far, I'm hooked.
John Vornholt

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Report #71 - Painted Ladies by Robert B. Parker

Spenser is hired to protect a man who is prepared to pay a ransom for the return of a rare painting.

It does not go well.

Spenser takes it on himself to discover the killers and uncovers a larger conspiracy involving art stolen by the Nazis, academia and a shady organization.

This book was a bit different in that the whole of the crime was wrapped up in a higher moral task of returning stolen art to rightful owners who suffered untold losses during World War Two.

The bad guys were creative, smart and nearly invisible but they made one crucial mistake; underestimating Spenser.

This was a first rate book, the only disappointment I had with it was the absence of Hawk who's take on cases and his interplay with Spenser is one of the things I look forward to.

This was well worth the time to read.

Truly Parker had his character down pat.  I love reading a book where the author is in complete command.

Robert B Parker

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Report #70 - Robert B. Parker's Fool Me Twice by Michael Brandman

Once again Brandman manages to pull off a beautiful balance of a story.

Jesse Stone is pursuing multiple cases at the same time, which is more realistic than most cop stories that focus on only one case.  I'm sure cops are working lots of things at once.

Here Jesse looks into a complaint of a water bill that is too high, the arrest of the daughter of a prominent citizen for distracted driving causing bodily harm, the arrival of a movie shoot and a troubled ex-husband terrorizing his ex-wife who is the star of the film.

This was a wonderful romp, an easy read and completely enjoyable.

Brandman is solid in the role of writing new Jesse Stone novels.

Michael Brandman

Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone.

The Man Himself - Robert B Parker

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Report #69 - Robert B. Parker's Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman

This was the first Jesse Stone novel written by another author after Parker's death.

Michael Brandman was a perfect writer to take over the series; he was deeply involved in producing the Jesse Stone movies starring Tom Selleck.  One of the first things Brnadman did was to move Jesse into the house that he occupies in the movies.  I thought that was a nice touch mostly because I came to Jesse Stone via the movies.

Brandman was able to take up Parker's style of writing with seeming little effort.  The dialog was perfect and the narrative was in keeping with Parker's own.

But was the book any good?


Jessee is confronted with multiple events; there is a beautiful promoter who wants to set up a rock concert festival in Paradise, there is a rash of cars being stolen with one ending in murder and, unknown to Jesse, he's being stalked by an ex-con who he arrested in LA during the period he was a drunk on the job.

I loved how the author was able to balance the mundane events of being a small town cop (sorry, chief of police) with the extraordinary events of mob crime and psycho killers on the loose.

I am so happy that Jesse Stone is such capable hands. 
Michael Brandman
Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone

Robert B Parker

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Ice War by Stephen Baxter - Asimov's Science Fiction, September 2008

Alternate History seems to fall into the mix of SF simply because it embodies that "sense of wonder" that is so important to the world of SF.  There was a time that SF stood for Science Fiction which rather limits the genre.  Personally I like boundaries, they help to form an expectation of the entertainment before the reader.  Say what you will about how borders limit creativity; it's those very borders that can help a person find a type of fiction they enjoy.  And what's wrong with that?

Lately SF now stands for speculative fiction which is so broad as to dilute the genre.  Now there is an overwhelming mix of mystic powers and creatures; revisionist history and plain old sword-and-sandals fantasy cluttering my old playground that used to include science and futurism.

NOTE: Steam Punk I like because it is still science fiction just set in the Victorian past.

This last story in the September issue is an alternative history tale where we follow Jack Hobbs a less than admirable narrator.  Set in England 1720 Hobbs is escaping the wrath of a young woman's father.  During his flight a meteor crashes right in front of him. This meteor is a fragment from a passing comet that harbors alien life forms who begin to terrorize the countryside.

While Hobbs is trying to escape this new threat he comes across an overturned carriage containing Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift and Issac Newton, of course. (Sigh.)  Together they go on to be instrumental for the conclusion of the story.

As a story goes it was fine.  It's just that its inclusion into a science fiction magazine disappoints me.

If it took place in the future or even the present day it would have made a better fit.  It's just the contrived notion of playing with history and the well-known players therein seems indulgent to me.

The problem I face with all these magazines is that they reflect the attitudes of authors and publishers of their time.  In 2008 SF - Science Fiction - was a bit of a mess.

Stephen Baxter

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Usurpers by Derek Zumsteg - Asimov's Science Fiction, September 2008

I'm not sure how this story qualifies as SF.

There's a hint of it but its very vague. 

We meet King who is a high school running star in a race against a rival team who spent thier summer in China undergoing some kind of athletic enhancements.

This was the authors' first published work and it WAS good, for sports fiction, but it did not give me that sense of wonder that is so important in science fiction.

 I found no website or image of the author.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Midnight Blue by Will McIntosh - Asimov's Science Fiction, September2008

Set in an alternate reality of middle America in the early 1970's.

In this setting there are orbs, about the size of grapefruits, scattered around the globe.  These orbs have been around for decades and give the person who found them special powers.  Each is a different colour which indicates the power it will give.  

By this time the orbs are getting very hard to find, in the past these orbs just appeared out of nowhere and it is not explained how they came to be.  Jeff Green is a kid who wishes he'd been born earlier so that he could have found an orb of his own.  These days the only way to get an orb is to buy one, most have already been found in the wild.

One day, while fishing with a friend, Jeff finds a very rare orb.  He becomes very famous quickly; he's smart enough not to sell the orb too easily.

When Jeff decides what to do with the orb it changes everything.

This tale was a delight to read - pure escapism.

Will McIntosh

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Slug Hell by Steven Utley - Asimov's Science Fiction, September 2008

This is kind of a non-story where nothing really happens to a group of scientists who've travelled back in time to the Paleozoic era to document and explore the local flora and fauna.

Part of the story touches on how the men are coping with the isolation by talking about the things they miss from their time.  They all seem to be coping well.

Without a conflict or resolution there is no plot, without a plot I wonder what I've missed.

I didn't get it.

According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database this story falls in to the "Silurian Tales" series of short stories.  It was the 30th story of 38 which may explain why it didn't resonate with me.

 Sadly, the author passed away January 13, 2013.

Steven Utley

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cut Loose The Bonds Of Flesh And Bone by Ian Creasey - Asimov's ScienceFiction, September 2008

A story of uploaded consciousness but with a twist.

What would you do if your overbearing mother decided to upload her consciousness and move in to your house after her death?

It was a thoughtful exploration of the effects of such a thing to the people left alive and who would have to add this UC to their lives. 

I liked this one.

Creasey has many stories published, oddly enough, I could not find an image of the man.  However you can visit his website HERE

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Horse Racing by Mary Rosenblum - Asimov's Science Fiction, September2008

What do you get when you cross benevolent social development with the technique of a professional sports draft?

A fascinating twist on a world that still believes in profit but goes about it with a micro social engineering component to it. 

What a wonderful, thought provocative story.

Mary Rosenblum

Friday, September 6, 2013

Asimov's Science Fiction, September 2008

In honor of it being September I thought I'd review this magazine published in 2008.

Over all I enjoyed the issue it had some fun moments and included some sense of wonder that is so important to the genre.

Starting today and running to the 13th I will post a review of each story.

Hope you enjoy it.

Sep 6 - In the Age of the Quiet Sun by William Barton
Sep 7 - Soldier of the Singularity by Robert R. Chase
Sep 8 - Horse Racing by Mary Rosenblum
Sep 9 - Cut Loose the Bonds of Flesh and Bone by Ian Creasey
Sep 10 - Slug Hell by Steven Utley
Sep 11 - Midnight Blue by Will McIntosh
Sep 12 - Usurpers by Derek Zumsteg
Sep 13 - The Ice War by Stephen Baxter

In The Age Of The Quiet Sun by William Barton - Asimov's ScienceFiction, September 2008

An interesting novella where an ex-con is prospecting through the Jovian asteroid belt with one crew member and an uploaded consciousness.

The trio discovers a crash landed alien ship, complete with its dead occupant. 

They go against the rules and take ownership of the wreck, running away from the authorities, towing the ship with them, so they can learn everything they can from the technology. 

I liked the structure and how the author was able to tie our present day to this possible future. A future unforeseen but completely plausible. 

A very good opening story. 

I love me my space ships.

William Barton

Monday, September 2, 2013

Book Report #68 - Tower by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman

The opening pages made my heart race; it was so intense and scary.

Bruen's work has a quality of malevolence that I've encountered from no one else.

The structure of the book is interesting; it begins at the end and works its way back to it in two separate narratives.

Each part of the book tells the same story, in first-person, but through the eyes and minds of the two main characters.  Nick and Todd have been life-long friends both have become involved with an Irish mobster.

The book tells the story of how each one got involved and, ultimately, out from under the thumb of their boss.  The lies, betrayals and violence are impressive.

If you like your crime fiction stone-cold then you should pick up anything with Ken Bruen's name on it.  This is my first taste of Coleman's writing and it tied in very well with Bruen's.  I'll be adding his books to my watch list.

This book clocked in at 172 pages, at throwback to the paperback era, which makes it a perfect summer read with a fast moving plot.
Ken Bruen
Reed Farrel Coleman