Sunday, January 28, 2018

Rendezvous on a Lost World by A. Bertram Chandler :: Amy's bookshelf

Title: Rendezvous on a Lost World
Author: A. Bertram Chandler
Tagline: Prisoners of a Cybernetic Paradise
Publisher: Ace (Ace Double F-117)
Copyright: 1961
Pages: 124
Cover Price: 40¢
Cover Artist: Ed Emshwiller
Series: Rim World series book four
Genre: science fiction

Note: republished as When the Dream Dies (1981)

Description from the first page of book:

   His was a dream few spaceman ever saw come true. Alan Kemp was an obsessed man - driven by the realization of a dream into the black emptiness between the stars.
   In a rebuilt, second-hand, obsolete space ship, Kemp and his three comrades took off - determined to set up a shuttle service between the planets at the rim of the galaxy.
   But trouble - in the form of two lost colonies, one inhabited by giant mechanical insects and the other by the descendants of a murderous pirate - threatened. Kemp's crew began to wonder: just how much will one man sacrifice to realize a dream?

A. Bertram Chandler (1912 – 1984) was an British/Australian science fiction author. He was born in England. Chandler was a merchant marine officer. In 1956, he emigrated to Australia and became an Australian citizen. He is most well known for his around 20 John Grimes science fiction adventure novels and his Rim World series. He published over 40 science fiction novels and over 200 works of short fiction.

This is another book from my stack of vintage Ace Double books. I decided to feature Rendezvous on a Lost World because it has, in my opinion, a striking science fiction cover, a spaceman confronting a smaller, spider-like robot. Is this one of the "giant mechanical insects" mentioned in the blurb? My copy of this book is in very good condition. As the last book, the pages have yellowed and the print font is small. The cover graphic was copied from A. Bertram Chandler's website, which contains good information about the author. I haven't read this science fiction book, so I can't say more. Perhaps something from my bookshelf to add to my to-be-read list?

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Secret Agent of Terra by John Brunner :: Amy's bookshelf

Title: Secret Agent of Terra 
Subtitle: Vultures from the A-Power Orbit
Author: John Brunner
Publisher: Ace (Ace Double F-133)
Copyright: 1962
Pages: 127
Cover Price: 40¢
Series: Zarathustra Refugee Planets book one
Genre: science fiction

Note: story reworked / revised as The Avengers of Carrig (1969)

Description from the first page of book:

   Planet Fourteen --  just a speck on a spacial stereo map, just a world inhabited by a group of barbaric refugees.
   But to Belfeor, it was instant cash. All he needed was an iron hand and a means to dig out its radioactive resources for export to his own world.
   To Maddalena it was a final exam; this would be her last chance to prove herself worthy of Corps Galactica membership.
   To Saikmar, it was a nation and a people stolen from him by cruel treachery.
   To Gus Langenschmidt, it was part of a job he had, watching the skies and helping men who were being enslaved. But how do you help people who don't know you exist and who must not be told?

John Brunner (1934 – 1995) was a British science fiction author. His book Stand on Zanzibar (1968) won the 1969 Hugo Award for best novel. Other notable books include The Shockwave Rider (1975), The Sheep Look Up (1972) and The Jagged Orbit (1969).

I randomly pulled Secret Agent of Terra from a stack of vintage Ace Double books. The shown book cover graphic is from Wikipedia, unfortunately my copy is a bit more worn. The pages have yellowed in the over 55 years since it was published. It's not many pages long but the print font is small. I haven't read this science fiction book, so I can't say more. Although digging out "radioactive resources", as mentioned in the description, sounds dangerous. I'm featuring this book because I thought the cover was interestingly retro looking. Perhaps something from my bookshelf to add to my to-be-read list?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 Hugo Award Winners, fiction categories

Belatedly, here's the list of the Hugo Award winners in the four fiction categories (there are many additional categories) for 2017.

These awards were presented in August 2017 at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, Finland.

The list of finalists or nominees can be seen in the previous post.
Best Novel

    The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit Books)

Best Novella

    Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing)

Best Novelette

    “The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)

Best Short Story

    “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

2017 Hugo Award Finalists, fiction categories

A little more than a week from now, on Friday, August 11, the 2017 Hugo Awards will be presented at this year's World Science Fiction Convention, Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, Finland. The Hugo Awards ceremony is always a highlight of a Worldcon.

Here's a list of the finalists in the four fiction categories (there are many additional categories), offered without comment, just in case you, like me (Amy), need a little reminder of the works that are up for these awards this year. May good stuff win!
Best Novel

    All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor Books / Titan Books)
    A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager US)
    Death’s End by Cixin Liu (Tor Books / Head of Zeus)
    Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris Books)
    The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit Books)
    Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer (Tor Books)

Best Novella

    The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle ( Publishing)
    The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson ( Publishing)
    Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing)
    Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum Literary Agency)
    A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson ( Publishing)
    This Census-Taker by China Miéville (Del Rey / Picador)

Best Novelette

    Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex by Stix Hiscock (self-published)
    “The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan (, July 2016)
    “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” by Fran Wilde ( Publishing, May 2016)
    “The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)
    “Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016)
    “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny Magazine, May 2016)

Best Short Story

    “The City Born Great” by N. K. Jemisin (, September 2016)
    “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong (, March 2016)
    “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine, November 2016)
    “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)
    “That Game We Played During the War” by Carrie Vaughn (, March 2016)
    “An Unimaginable Light” by John C. Wright (God, Robot, Castalia House)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Voices Without Voices, Words With No Words" by Amanda C. Davis :: Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week

My Story Recommendation of the Week is for "Voices Without Voices, Words With No Words" by Amanda C. Davis, from Issue #73 of Cemetery Dance magazine.

Jeremy lives in a house inherited from his parents, a house with no power, no heat, no telephone. He has lost his job, his girlfriend, his life. Because he has time for nothing but his work. His work is: he picks up a dead phone and hears voices. He writes down names, numbers, and words that the voices give him. Then he goes to one of the few remaining pay phones in town with a stack of quarters. He dials the numbers, asks for the names, and tells them the words. Words like "Choose the green" or "Stop at two" or "Ask for Veronica."

So Jeremy is a loon, right? Except it's easy to believe he's not. For one thing, how come he can always reach someone with the right name at the numbers he dials? This is a guy who has devoted himself to work he didn't choose, at tremendous cost to himself, in the hope it's helping people he doesn't even know. He is a sad, pathetic, very noble character. Like someone who leaves a high-paying job to work with the homeless, or perhaps even a writer who devotes her life to telling stories she's not sure anyone else appreciates.

The story begins in earnest when Jeremy dials a number but it doesn't ring. He looks down and realizes it's his number, for his disconnected home phone. The message is for him: It ends. Be at the side of the lost queen at midnight. Twenty-five twenty-one. Will he puzzle out by midnight what that means?

This is a fairly simple story concept, executed cleanly and elegantly. I've been reading a lot of short fiction lately and I fear I've been getting a bit jaded – it's hard right now to get me to really care about what happens to a character in a short story. But Amanda Davis pulled it off. I was right there with Jeremy to the end of the story. I enjoyed "Voices Without Voices, Words With No Words" very much.

Amanda C. Davis writes horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction. Her work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, Shock Totem, and many other publications. Incidentally, I think of Cemetery Dance as a horror magazine, but to me "Voices Without Voices, Words With No Words" is not a horror story. Good for them stretching their boundaries to publish such a terrific piece!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

"Vaseline Footprints" by Jeff Bowles :: Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week

My Story Recommendation of the Week is for "Vaseline Footprints" by Jeff Bowles, from the November-December 2016 issue of Black Static magazine.

A sister magazine to Interzone, Black Static generally focuses on horror and dark fantasy, but I'd be more inclined to label "Vaseline Footprints" as bizarro fiction, with story elements at once absurd, surreal, satirical and grotesque. I like bizarro, and if you can appreciate offbeat fiction, I think you'll like this one a lot too.

From the opening line ("I keep dead women in my closet."), the narrator of "Vaseline Footprints" is oh so far beyond unreliable. He has a tough go of things, what with a boss he'd like to kill and the constant need to replace his bloody socks and his gallon container of Vaseline. But he tries to stay positive:
I love the dead women in my closet very much. I keep pictures of them on my phone. The dead women in my closet are my reason for living. I think I would probably go a bit weird if I didn't have them.
No doubt! This story may not be for everyone, particularly if you're sensitive about your religious imagery, but I thought it was a hoot and a half!

Jeff Bowles is a Colorado author, whose work has appeared in PodCastle, Stupefying Stories and other markets, and has been collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"Mika Model" by Paolo Bacigalupi :: Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week

My Story Recommendation of the Week is for Mika Model by Paolo Bacigalupi, which appeared at in April of 2016 (cover art by Lisa Larson-Walker).

Regular science fiction and fantasy readers know that Paolo Bacigalupi is awesome, but may not know to look at for good new SF. "Mika Model" is part of their "Future Tense" series of articles exploring how technology and science will change our lives.

The technology addressed in "Mika Model" is artificial intelligence. If we really are able to create a thinking machine, which learns from experience, what's the first thing we'll do with it? In "Mika Model," our protagonist Police Detective Rivera meets an artificially intelligent sex robot. It (she?) is constantly analyzing all available data to determine how best to turn on the men she encounters. She tells Rivera she needs a lawyer:
“What do you need a lawyer for?” I asked, smiling.

She leaned forward, conspiratorial. Her hair cascaded prettily and she tucked it behind a delicate ear.

“It’s a little private.”

As she moved, her blouse tightened against her curves. Buttons strained against fabric.

Fifty-thousand dollars’ worth of A.I. tease.

“Is this a prank?” I asked. “Did your owner send you in here?”

“No. Not a prank.”

She set her Nordstrom bag down between us. Reached in and hauled out a man’s severed head. Dropped it, still dripping blood, on top of my paperwork.

“What the—?”

I recoiled from the dead man’s staring eyes. His face was a frozen in a rictus of pain and terror.

Mika set a bloody carving knife beside the head.

“I’ve been a very bad girl,” she whispered.

And then, unnervingly, she giggled.

“I think I need to be punished.”

She said it exactly the way she did in her advertisements.
Rivera's first order of business is to decide whether this is a murder case, or rather a product safety failure. Mika tries to convince Rivera she is real, and he would certainly prefer to think of her as a person.

A lawyer does show up in the story, Holly Simms, and she promptly mocks Rivera for being a predictable male, so easily manipulated by what is, after all, a rather simple machine. And she is absolutely right. Then again, Mika had Rivera feeling like she understood him, while Simms just makes him feel small.

If people are so easy to manipulate, why is it we so seldom manipulate each other into feeling good?

This is Paolo Bacigalupi's third Story Recommendation of the Week. He joins Aliette de Bodard, Samantha Henderson, Rachel Swirsky, and Catherynne M. Valente as the only authors to receive SROTWs three times.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"The Sound That Grief Makes" by Kristi DeMeester :: Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week

"Caleb had been dead for two weeks when I started pretending to be his ghost."

I do love a great opening line!

My Story Recommendation of the Week is for Kristi DeMeester's The Sound That Grief Makes, from the October 2016 issue of The Dark magazine.

In "The Sound That Grief Makes," our narrator's husband has committed suicide. She and her son Hudson are devastated. In a dubious bid to help him deal with his loss, his mother begins lurking outside Hudson's room at night, knowing that he believes the noises she makes are his father's ghost:
Every night, I knocked on his door.

Every night, my son would talk to me from behind that thin wood.

And then I found a worm, Dad. Big as my arm. Swear. And Nathan dared Scott to take a bite of it, and Scott said he would do it if Nathan handed over his entire Punisher comic book collection. Nathan said okay because he thought there was no way Scott would do it. Nathan kept the worm to keep everything fair, and then Scott showed up the next day, and ate the entire thing.

Hudson poured out his life for his dead father, and I sat and listened and understood I would never be able to give him all that he needed. I couldn’t be his father.

Eventually, the knocking would stop. Eventually, I would have to stop haunting my son.
(Since we know who the "ghost" is, this story has no supernatural element. Some would conclude it's not a horror story, but in my view horror fiction does not always require a supernatural element, and this story is a great example.)

Surprisingly, his father's apparent ghostly appearances really seem to help Hudson deal with his grief. But who is going to help Hudson's mother?

"The Sound That Grief Makes" is a simple but sad, moving, and elegantly written piece.

Kristi DeMeester's short fiction has appeared in such markets as Black Static, Apex, Shimmer, and Shock Totem. Her first novel, Beneath, is due out in April 2017.

The Dark is a fairly new on-line horror magazine, which I am digging so far. Look for more SROTWs from this publication.

Monday, December 05, 2016

"An Advanced Readers' Picture Book of Comparative Cognition" by Ken Liu :: Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week

My Story Recommendation of the Week goes to "An Advanced Readers' Picture Book of Comparative Cognition" by Ken Liu, from Liu's Saga Press collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (cover art by Quentin Trollip).

Science fiction and fantasy readers out there don't much need me to tell them that Ken Liu can write a decent short story. But you may not be aware that his new collection The Paper Menagerie has one new story in it (among all the reprints of award nominees and winners), and it's one you want to check out.

"An Advanced Readers' Picture Book of Comparative Cognition" alternates between brief passages explaining the systems of memory and cognition observed in various alien species and a scientist's love letter about his estranged wife, written to their daughter.

Every one of the descriptions of alien species is interesting and original enough to support its own story, but apparently Ken Liu comes up with good story ideas so routinely he can afford to toss off a half-dozen of them all at once. Show off!

The most telling of the alien passages describes a dying alien race that saved a few of their children by putting them on a near-lightspeed starship with no means of decelerating, thus ensuring that the children would live until the end of the universe—which they would experience in just a few short years. The passage concludes, "All parents make choices for their children. Almost always they think it's for the best."

In the main narrative, a husband and wife, both nerdy scientists, would each make a different choice for the future of their daughter. The parent who prevails has at least as many regrets as the parent who does not.

This is a well-constructed, emotionally charged story, right up to the sad and lovely closing line: "There are many ways to say I love you in this cold, dark, silent universe, as many as the twinkling stars."

Monday, November 28, 2016

"The Counsellor Crow" by Karen Lord :: Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week

We are between brackets of the Battle of the Books, so time to catch up on some story recommendations.

My Story Recommendation of the Week is for "The Counsellor Crow" by Karen Lord, from the anthology The Bestiary, edited by Ann VanderMeer and published by Centipede Press (cover art by Ivica Stevanovic).

The Bestiary is an anthology of short pieces, each describing a creature one suspects does not actually exist. The gimmick is that there is one strange animal with a name beginning with each letter of the alphabet, plus creatures called The Ampersand and The          .

The strength of this anthology is the array of writing talent Ann VanderMeer has assembled. How can you go wrong reading pieces by such authors as China Miéville, Catherynne M. Valente, Brian Evenson, Vandana Singh, Michael Cisco, Stephen Graham Jones, Karen Heuler, Karin Tidbeck, Felix Gilman, etc. etc.? The weakness is the pieces are similar enough that after a while the book can start to feel like a single gag repeated until it gets tiresome.

But the best pieces here are very good indeed. To me the funniest story in the book is "The Daydreamer by Proxy" by Dexter Palmer, about a genetically engineered parasite that your employer urges to try, because it will make you a wonderfully efficient worker! At least for a while. I think the most clever and elegantly done story is "Tongues of Moon / False Toads" by Cat Rambo, about an animal remarkably efficient at camouflage. ("One may go so far as to imitate an alchemist and thus fall prey to a recursive trap, lost in a mental mise-en-scène, seeking itself.")

And my overall personal favorite in the book is "The Counsellor Crow" by Karen Lord, perhaps because it has a rather more pointed message than most of the pieces. "The Counsellor Crow" describes a type of corvid whose appearances tend to coincide with human misery:
The turning point in the evolution of the Counsellor Crow took place not in Ildcrest, but in neighbouring Ilderland, where a new Prince and a resurgent nobility developed a strongly nationalistic and anti-modernist ideology that called for a return to old values and old ways. Modern technology was banned, foreigners were ousted, and the nobility tried a motley assortment of centuries-old garments, weaponry and rituals in an attempt to replace a Golden Age that never was with a New Age of their own devising. Naturally, with all the permutations and combinations of available customs, there were disputes, rebellions, and then civil war. The sacred battlefields of Ilderia returned, and the Counsellor Crows fed and grew fat.
The narrator of this scholarly article on the Counsellor Crow suspects the animal of using mimicry, speculating whether it is "the first recorded instance of a predator that mimics not the voice, nor the appearance, nor the scent of its prey, but their thoughts." The narrator ends with the alarming observation that the population of Counsellor Crows is now the highest on record.

Karen Lord, originally from Barbados, has only been publishing fiction since 2010 but already has amassed an impressive collection of awards. She does not often write short fiction, so "The Counsellor Crow" offers a rare opportunity to sample her writing in a single sitting.