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Out of their Minds (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 26 March 2017 00:00

rom out of the yellowing book box, another draw (this one happily not flaking into scraps). As usual for me (hey, I have my interests) another science fiction tale from Clifford D. Simak from 1970, a strange little story titled Out of their Minds.

So this one is strange - hero-guy Horton Smith is troubled. He's (I assume) burned out from his life as a globe-trotting journalist. Now he's in his car heading back to Pilot Knob, the tiny town way up in the hills (somewhere somewhat close to DC, but then again, in the 70's, the wilderness was a lot closer to DC, I suppose).

And Smith has a lot on his mind - namely the curious death of his friend who was killed when another car crashed into his. The weird thing - no trace of the other car was ever found. So he's mulling this over as the night grows more foul, the weather closing, the road confusing. He's about at the point of admitting he's lost when a triceratops charges out of the darkness, pounding towards his car.

He skids. He stops. He bolts. He pauses. He looks back. No dinosaur.

But now his car is stuck.

Finding a tiny farmhouse, he asks for shelter for the night from a Alleghany couple, a small ornery man and a huge woman. The man has a big black hat and smokes a corncob pipe. I'll cut to the chase here - it's Snuffy Smith (nice clues were dropped, I'll admit). Of course, most modern audiences won't know who I'm speaking of so I'll save you the trouble of a google search - go HERE.

Other strange things happen before he finally makes it to Pilot Knob and a dry hotel room, where a piece of mail has finally caught up. It's from his dead friend, and is a long explanation of evolution and how the next leap to another life form might be one of thought and human imagination. Turns out, of course, that it's true. And these ethereal beings are tied in enough to be like some rogue government agency, trying to kill anyone who knows about them.

Okay, so the story is fine - a bit weird with all aspects of human imagination coming into place (sea serpents, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Devil). But it's a little too pat. Why should these beings of an alternate reality care that humans know - it's not like they can do anything about it. It just didn't seem plausible (no, I'm okay with the general premise) that suddenly he's being hunted by the fantastic. Even the book cover throws us off - there is a whimsical devil smiling from the White House fence. In the story, he's breathing brimstone and is quite a nasty sight.

I can't speak for the author but I suspect that he thought it was a clever idea, that all our characters from all our imaginations have created this other world, and that they are pissed that we populate it not with the ogres and demons of the past but with characters like Dagwood Bumstead and Charlie Brown. But the plot seems a bit rigged with the character known as the "referee" claiming that Smith had to undergo three trials. Why three? Why not kill him? Drop a bomb on him or something. It was a shaky plot that was fine for a Sunday afternoon read but not for something more, like, say, a book review?

Funny, still, to reflect that if Simak's world was true, Horton Smith now lives in that netherworld with all our other creations, aimless and pointless. And pretty much forgotten other than the odd historic review.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 March 2017 19:50
The Sirens of Titan (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 19 March 2017 00:00

o let's not start by talking about this book as a story or a metaphor or anything. Let's talk about it as a book. Been carrying this little paperback with me for 40 years or so. It was on my shelf in Drapers Meadows West in Blacksburg, it lingered in my huge shelves in my vault I lived in at York. And in the time between all these places, it sat in a book box waiting to be reread.

I can't even say why I'd have bought it. I did read some Vonnegut at University for classes and found him funny. Maybe that's why. Funny to look at a seventies art sci-fi cover, read the strange blurb on the back and wonder what drew me to it. Because, dammit, I still haven't gotten around to reading the Lensmen yet, and I promised!

But as I read it again (and didn't remember a thing) all these years later, I realized that time does take a toll on books. With a crack, the back split. Then big chunks began coming unglued. I actually held, not a book, but a collection of papers in my hand. I was just desperate to get to the end before the entire thing fell apart in a cloud of mummy dust (hey, the waitress at Juniors thought that was a funny comment - she laughed).

So, yes, Sirens.

Look, have you ever read Vonnegut? Have you ever read one of his stories that casually involk scifi just to make a point? It's not about technology, or logic, or even belivability - its about a social statement.

So that's this story. We start with Winston Niles Rumfoord, a rather domineering fellow who, with his dog, flew a spaceship into some sort of gravity crazy-thing between Earth and Mars and now exists in a strange state. He can see the future as easy as you can flip to the final page of a book (I didn't dare, here. It was falling apart in my hands!). The trouble is, he exists in an energy state strung between Earth and Betelgeuse, appearing every eighty-odd days at his own mansion to frown at the crowds and be ignored by his wife.

See? Kinda weird but interesting, right?

So into this comes Malachi Constant, a playboy riding on his daddy's estate, invited to meet the ghostly Rumfoord. And here he is delivered an odd prophesy, that he will birth a child with Rumfoord's wife on Mars, journey to Mercury, then finally (after a short stop on Earth) fly all the way out to Saturn's moon Titan where he will meet the three Sirens.

Yeah, so see?

That there is an army currently marshalling on Mars (under Rumfoord's orders) to invade Earth, that there is an alien trapped on Titan with a message from another galaxy and a busted ship, that there are creatures who eat music, a game called German batball, that Mars is made of iron, Mercury crystals and Titan heated to balmy summer by its interior; well, that's par for this book.

So yes, if you like your stories neat and tidy with heroic heroes and solid deeds and your basic Waldenbooks bullshit, this book will make you crazy. But if you like a story that hints at meanings, that moves sideways and doesn’t really come to a conclusion you would expect, try Sirens. I really loved it.

Even as it broke up in my hands.


Last Updated on Sunday, 12 March 2017 20:43
The Wanderer (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 12 March 2017 19:42

ooks are time machines and we read them in our context at our peril (or rather, our down-our-nose smarminess).

The Wanderer copped a Hugo Award back in 1964, which was seven years after On The Beach (a story about a gentle yet depressing apocalypse) came out. Yet gone are the gentle civilians living out their last days in quiet contemplation of the doom that was settling over them. In The Wanderer, we're back to people meeting their end with violence antagonism. Mobs. Guns. Killing. Drunkenness. All the things we Americans do well*.

So the story opens with a half-dozen openers - an American on a moon base. His girlfriend going for a drive (with her cat, which turns out to be remarkably lucky) with their close friend. And drunks in Wales. And revolutionaries in South America. And smugglers in the South China Sea. But several traces of something skipping through hyperspace are noticed, little wobbles of starlight coming right for us. And when it arrives, oh the humanity!

It turns out Wanderer (the name everyone agrees on) is a planet-sized spaceship which plops down close to Earth with remarkable precision. Its sudden mass captures our moon (goodnight, moon!) and begins to flex our own fault lines and stir up massive tides. And suddenly it's calamity to everyone as volcanos erupt, lowlands flood and everyone goes circus-berserkus. End of days.

There are some very neat scenes: As the moon breaks up (the aliens will be crunching it up and sucking it down for fuel) the lone surviving astronaut launches in desperation but goes unconscious and loses his escape window. Plummeting moon-ward, he flies his tiny craft through the chasms breaking all through the moon, passing through its core in a CGI scene I'd love to see. Back on Earth, our primary victims (the astronaut's girlfriend) settle in with some "saucer students" (UFO cranks) and have to deal with a vastly changed California. Some of the other characters we've been introduced to actually live to see the conclusion. A lot of them die in quick paragraph ends.

So, yes, a good book.

What made it even better is when we find out just why the Wanderer is here, what it's fleeing from, and what is taking place offstage across the stars. When I read that, I actually found myself stunned. It was a truly terrifying and justified fear the Wanderers felt, one that left me with one of those echoing story thoughts, book-moments that stay with us. Yeah, thoughtfully grim.

So anyway, I pulled this one out an old book box. Been meaning to read it for a year (even carried it to India and back) and finally got it up into the stack. If you can find a copy, it's worth your time. Death, disaster, and dismay - what's not to like?


* = though I will admit that H.G. Wells wrote a pretty grim end-of-the-world in WOTH, with panicking trains fleeing London while plowing through crowds desperate to be taken aboard. That's another nightmare I occasionally re-savor.

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 March 2017 20:10
First Love (Review) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 05 March 2017 08:47

.......nd Other Fascinating Stories of Spanish Life (full title)

Okay, I'll admit I was behind the eight ball here. Was reading The Wanderer (a Hugo Award winner from the 60s) and got pulled into Go for Beginners. Sometimes you need a fast filler to make a deadline.

Hello, Project Gutenberg.

Howdy "Short Stories" section.

This one is a translation from an old book; the stories take place in the mid-1850s but perhaps it's been Rafatinied from the mid-1900s - no information. (late breaking news - just searched around and yes, 1927. So it was written roughly the same time Captain Blood was becoming popular. It appears as if the 20s-30s had a bit of a throwback period where a lot of in-the-old-style stores came out).

So, five really short stories, all for free. I was drawn to An Andalusian Duel, where two dear friends, Pulpete and Baldeja, well-dressed (and well-described) gentlemen enter a bar, drink in each other's company, then out hiss the knives and they face off for a duel. After Pulpete requests that he not be hit in the gut (for the disfigurement) and the gut (for the agony), the two go at it in earnest. In the middle of this crashing, stomping, close quarters duel, Dona Gorja enters, the woman this is all about. Nonplussed, she watches for a bit and then coolly explains how she prefers neither of them. Wa-wa-wa. And out she goes. And, pretty much, that's it for the duel. Arm in arm, the two friends leave. Actually quite funny.

I also enjoyed Captain Veneno's Proposal of Marriage. In this one, the aforementioned Captain, brave and commanding as a lion, requests the hand of Augustias, a beautiful woman as head-strong as he. And yet he has a fear of children. Because children get sick and die and cause all manner of grief. And so, as part of his proposal, he asks that they live in seclusion where nobody knows them, love passionately and completely, and turn over any children that result to a orphanage. So gasp you may, but the conclusion is a laugh. Given my shared feelings with the good Captain and what I've seen happen to my friends, this one rang very true?

But what happened? Hey, you can find out yourself, for free, right HERE. Download it and have a nice short read.

Short stories are wonderful - you can run through them in quick order, a nice break from the longer tales (and series they seem to spool these days).


Last Updated on Sunday, 05 March 2017 09:21

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