Archive for April 2009
Redshift manages to squeeze 30 stories into 544 pages and one of the reasons for this is because Sarrantonio stuffs it with short disposable stories from his mates. ‘Unique Visitors’ does nothing and there is nothing you can say about it.
One final point: the Penguin sf covers presented here are neither exhaustive nor intended to be. Aesthetics are every- thing for a website called The Art of Penguin Science Fiction, and in this regard many of the later covers have little to offer. Thus they are excluded, and from 1977 to 2009 all coverage (no pun intended) ceases. For as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote for very different reasons, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”.
Sarrantonio boasts that this is her first science fiction story but unfortunately what Oates has produced here is a dull and obvious re-working of ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson (right down to the inappropriately old-fashioned narrative voice). It is also much too long and starts to drag before it is even half way through.
This is the first story in the anthology that looks like it might actually be trying to follow in the footsteps of Harlan Ellison. The story is pretty standard though: a middle-aged man recounts an inexplicable event in his youth which has haunted him since. Well written but nothing more.
From time to time I get hits from people searching for information about Dark Waters of Hagwood by Robin Jarvis. This sequel to Thorn Ogres Of Hagwood was due to be published in 2005 but there has been no sign of it, despite Amazon announcing a new publication date of February 2009 at the beginning of the year. I finally decided to email Puffin about this and they have confirmed that the series has been abandoned.
A great shame as Jarvis is a wonderful writer and I had high hopes for the series. He is still writing though and if you only read one anthromorphic mouse series make it the Deptford Mice trilogy (not the Deptford trilogy).
ETA: Apparently the book is written and Puffin have announced a new publication date of 2015 (see comment below) but since this is so far off I will continue to consider the book dead for the time being.
ETA 2: It lives! The book was published in 2013 and you can read my review at Strange Horizons.
Pretty much unreadable story in which a bunch of comical grotesques sit around chatting shit with God in a private members’ club.
It is some sort of cruel joke putting this straight after Le Guin’s story and Sarrantonio manages to contribute his worst introduction yet: he slaps himself and Dan Simmons on the back for discovering Whitton whilst pretending not to and at the same time simultaneously over-praises and denigrates her work. According to isfdb this was both her first and last published story.
In contrast to Le Guin, Whitton puts her xenoanthropologist centre stage. Unfortunately Jo-ann, her main character, is possibly the worst xenoanthropologist imaginable. Advanced life has been found on a new planet but apparently this species shows no sign of intelligence so the whole planet has been handed over for mining to the company that discovered it. Jo-ann sets out to prove the species are intelligent after all. (How she manages to get to another planet and set up her research centre without any apparent backing is never explained.) Her methods are even more baffling. The warning signs that she is not perhaps the most serious researcher are there from the beginning with the fact she is happy to call them Froggies. This doesn’t prepare the reader for the fact that she then kidnaps a Froggie and raises it as her son. “The ethics panel would have a field day with her methods.” No shit.
The Froggies are intelligent and quickly learn to speak English. Rather bizarrely this is not considered evidence of intelligence, that would supposedly only be proved if they had their own language. Again, this is never explained nor is it made clear how an alien species can seem entirely unintelligent to a trained xenoanthropologist survey but quickly learn English after being given a hug.
Somewhere in this mess there is some interesting stuff about how the Froggies perceive the world in their natural state. Mostly this is lost by the stupidity of the story.
Chino, a maximum security prison, was where convicts were evaluated and assigned to the most suitable prison to serve their time. On his third day at Chino he was sent for the mandatory psychological assessment and presented with a set of tests. A significant part of those, he was shocked to realize, had been written by himself, 14 years earlier, when he had been one of America’s leading psychologists [...] The completed tests clearly showed, to the surprise of anyone who had read newspapers during the previous decade, that Dr. Timothy Leary was docile, conformist and meek. He was, the paperwork insisted, in no way an escape risk, and no one was prepared to argue with the paperwork.
The local authorities initiated a zero-tolerance policy with the ‘long-hairs’. Scores of arrests followed, as did many allegations of beatings and police brutality. People were arrested for jaywalking. Laws against riding skateboards were introduced and enforced. A ‘Gay Squad’ was created to entrap homosexuals. According to Rolling Stone [ed. note: in an article by Joe Eszterhas, who would go on to script Basic Instinct and Showgirls], other measures to defeat the menace that were raised at council meetings included permanent police barricades on both of the roads into town, the dynamiting of the caves in Laguna Canyon where the hippies were believed to hang out, and the mandatory removal of vocal cords of all resident dogs at birth to prevent the hippies from using guard dogs to alert them to police presence. A local columnist even went as far as to argue for conditional use of permits for the building of sandcastles. “No sandcastle may be built if the shape deviates from the established norm of sandcastle construction,” he proposed. “A copy of the norm is on file with the chief of police.”
This is the sort of anthropological science fiction Le Guin is famous for and this is a particularly good example. Our unknown narrator sits outside the story reporting the evidence to us in a voice that is both scholarly and companionable:
I am not comfortable with the phrase “specific obsession,” but “cultural instinct” is worse.
That “obsession” is to build the Building, a gigantic ever-growing stone structure that is thousands of years old. There are no characters, just the warm, academic voice of the narrator half-explaining, half-tasting the culture. Excellent stuff.
Again Sarrantonio uses the introduction as an opportunity to inform us that all he is really interested in is good storytelling and this is a virtue above all others for writers. He tells us nothing of the story itself. I am begining to think I should just skip these.