Considering my resistance to children in stories, I was beginning to worry I was being too much of a curmudgeon. But I can see I have some learning to do if I want to be nearly as grumpy as Gregory McAllister. The dominant voice in Odyssey, by Jack McDevitt, Mac is an editor with a deep mistrust of the government, profound contempt for the media, and a dim view of the general intelligence of humanity. And yet, the outlook of the future is this book is basically optimistic. Global warming is still a threat that hasn’t wholly materialized. The growing population is still getting fed somehow. And the space travel that so bores the public is superluminal.
After all this space opera and time travel and scifi, I was ready to read something truly human as I cracked open In the New Moon’s Arms, by Nalo Hopkinson. The book opens with the funeral of Calamity’s father, and Calamity is trying to hide her laughter over Mrs. Winter losing her drawers. Calamity herself begins finding things, from a gold pin she had as a little girl, to her favorite toy truck, to a half-drowned boy with a broken leg washed up on the beach.
Back at Boskone 44, I heard Tobias S. Buckell explain how he pulled together a list of all the cool stuff he wanted to see in a book–and then he wrote the book. And another one. Lots of cool stuff and great action.
The hero of Ragamuffin is Nashara, a superhuman warrior woman, the last survivor of ten cloned sisters with a secret weapon instead of a womb, a weapon that she can’t use without destroying herself. She escapes from the human ghetto of Pitt’s Cross, nearly gets away on a merchant ship, and instead seeks refuge on a Ragamuffin ship. The Ragamuffins are considered pirates by the alien overlords of this universe, the Satrap. They’re actually spacefarers once from New Anegada, the isolated world we first explored as Nanagada in Crystal Rain. While you don’t have to have read Crystal Rain to enjoy Ragamuffin, it adds to the fun when you meet your favorite characters again.
In “Memorare,” by Gene Wolfe, March Wildspring is a producer, filming a documentary about memorials orbiting Jupiter near the places where people died trying to colonize the solar system. Like the pyramids, they are booby-trapped.
The narrator of his films, his beloved Kit, brings along an assistant, a woman who hides until she’s forced to reveal herself as March’s first wife, Sue. Only now she’s Robin Redd.
March and Kit film a few more memorials, each one more deadly than the last. Just as they’re about to explore Number 19, one that scares even March, Robin’s new husband, Jim, shows up. He wants Robin back. Oh, and he only hits her to make her shut up and listen to him. Nice guy. The two men engage in some tense verbal fencing to arrange a meeting–and then Robin lights out for Number 19.
In “Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse,” by Andy Duncan, Father Leggett, a priest in Savannah of the early 30s, receives a peculiar phone message taken by the church secretary.
He meets Mary O’Connors, a little girl with a frizzled chicken she calls Jesus Christ. It’s the best name, you know. As you can see, she has quite an attitude. She even taught Jesus to walk backwards.
In “Awakening,” by Judith Berman, Aleya awakes among the dead, escapes, and explores a world that has changed since she last lived. She too has changed, but she refuses to believe that she is a revenant cloaking her unholy passions with memories of life. Buffeted by the magics of a witchwoman, shaman, and the sorcerer who rules her city in life and death, Aleya is shocked that even peasants know charms and gods’ names to fling at her. She can only fight back with cunning and persuasion. The section where she wanders the dead dreams and memories of her home, and finally climbs the tower to confront the sorcerer are creepy and evocative. In the end, she finds the peace she needs in the simple pleasure of life. And yet, after going on this long, complicated journey with her, the part I find most instructive is the opening.
If you’d like a taste of The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman, it’s worth listening to this interview from November 2006. He gives a great reading from the first chapters, in which Matt Fuller, lab assistant and sometime grad student at MIT, stumbles on a calibrator that’s taking tiny little jumps into the future. Matt works out that it’s going farther each time, that it won’t kill him, and that he can jump with it. And then his first real jump drops him in the middle of traffic, in a non-functional car, dressed in a wetsuit. I was hooked.
“The Story of Love”, by Vera Nazarian, opens with an interesting passage offering the thesis that love unifies two opposites into something like steel.
Then we meet Crea, who has just been beaten by her father, carefully, so as not to spoil her beauty. We learn that her father, Nahad, grieves for her mother, as he grieves for none other among his wives and concubines. Seeing Crea fills him with rage. Having come into her full beauty, Crea puts on her mother’s dress and utterly enchants her future husband, Belam.
“The Helper and His Hero,” by Matthew Hughes is the latest installment of Guth Bandar’s adventures in the noösphere, a shared dreamspace. In the waking world, Guth Bandar is on a journey into the Swept, to investigate whether the gravitional anomalies there can affect the noösphere.
The story is filled with picaresque inventions: the Swept itself, a great grassy landscape that lies over an ancient battlefield; the Rovers, created from dogs, back in ancient times when such genetic manipulations were deemed acceptable; the “lassitude,” a disease of Old Earth that makes you stop moving and talking and in time suffer an early death; the mountebanks offering easy cures.
Vernon is a small-time regional music producer who landed in Black William, Pennsylvania with his (now) ex-wife, Andrea, when their car broke down. Perhaps because he’s recounting events that happened ten years before the main action of the story, the opening passage of “Stars Seen Through Stone,” by Lucius Shephard, sounds stiff in its formality and distance.
But when Vernon takes in a hot prospect, a vile specimen called Joe Stanky, the prose loosens up. Despite his talent, Stanky is bad news for any human being who has the misfortune to encounter him, especially women. Vernon, by contrast, has an unexpectedly good encounter with Andrea and they begin a rapprochement. As Vernon develops Stanky, his tactics were mildly interesting, but I wanted to know where the fantastic element went.