Monday, September 28, 2009

Turning Point, by Poul Anderson

Read of the Day

Had to get back on to share a classic from Poul Anderson, Turning Point. It's classic Anderson, a team of traders figuring out how to handle an alien race that's so superior and nice it's just not fair. Anderson's heroes are broad-living men, good at most everything they do, and can even handle it if they are not the best. Eric Flint's intro to the story casts Anderson in the same light. This is from a collection called The World Turned Upside Down, which I will return to after a detour into some Christopher Anvil...

3 stars for this one.

Frank Herbert's Dune series

Yesterday I read a short story entitled Treasure in the Sand, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. Brian Herbert is Frank Herbert's son, continuing the franchise with wordsmith Anderson. The piece is a corner tale, about a priest of Dune's religion coming back to the long-dead planet to find treasure.

The Dune Series

Herbert's Dune novels are about as complex as books can be without completely losing the reader. You can get sucked in by them just through the accomplishment of understanding some of where they are going. The influence was tremendous. Really I don't have much to add--except that I wish I'd been older when I read them, or raised UU, or some such. I read them as a teenager and persevered through references I couldn't understand or figure out how to look up (Zensunni? WTF?). I read several of the novels before finally wearing out on the series, but I deeply sympathized with Paul Muad'dib.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Favorite Stories: Karuna, Inc. by Paul Di Filippo

One of my favorites found through Free SF Online is Karuna, Inc. by Paul Di Filippo. This is a powerful good vs. evil story, with great characterization. A veteran named Thurman, hanging on to life, is transformed by his association with Shenda Moore, a dynamic Caribbean woman. She has created a working cooperative per the title of the story, where people having hard luck like Thurman can work. She takes on the completely amoral Phineas Gage society. The story is a great ride, of people surmounting tremendous limitations to confront evil. Go read it for a lift.

Read of the Day

Today I read a story from Eric Flint's Ring of Fire anthology, called American Past Time. This is part of a series featuring a 20th century small town in America displaced to 1632 Germany. It's a decent read, but nothing to chase down. It is part of a large slug of material posted on Free SF Online from Baen Books, and I'll be reading a lot of it in the next several days. 2 stars for this one.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Come Lady Death, by Peter S. Beagle

Today I listened to Come Lady Death, a very fine short story by Peter S. Beagle, and the first story for Podcastle, a fantasy podcast site. This is from Beagle's early period. His most famous work is The Last Unicorn, and a coda, Two Hearts, is now available for free.

Come Lady Death describes the jaded life of Lady Neville, who is the most fashionable lady of London. She grows bored with the role, and decides to invite Death to a party. And Death comes. And decides to stay. The guests' fear and fascination with death come through. It's well read and a good listen--I give it 3 stars.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Crystal Spheres, by David Brin

The Crystal Spheres is a podcast on StarShipSofa. David Brin takes on a theme that occasionally crops up in SF and colloquial contexts--why are we alone? Why have no alien civilizations contacted us, or conquered us? Earth has been prime real estate for billions of years, and yet no credible evidence of visitation (UFOlogists aside) has been found. Life should be common, but it isn't. Stephen Baxter's Manifold Time touches on this as well--see my earlier review.

Brin's take is that Earth has been surrounded by an undetectable sphere, which we broke accidentally from within. We explored outward, and found all other habitable planets similarly protected, and we cannot break in. The sadness and loneliness of future humanity is palpable.

This one is going on my all-time favorite list--I highly recommend it. Four stars.

I also listened to Brin's Tojours Voir. A very tiny piece on epilepsy as a space travel device, cute if you're a Brin fan. I have seen this theme before, but cannot remember where--will catch you up if it comes back to me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My Bookmarks

About three years ago I began bookmarking SF I had read or planned to read on Delicious. Over 800 items are on the lists now. On the site I've written very brief reviews/descriptions of the stories, with a 5 star rating system like those occasionally shown on Free SF Online. If you want to check it out, go to Delicious ( and check out peterkin's bookmarks.

Read of the Day: Hell Fire at Twilight, by Kage Baker

This is a 2 hour podcast on StarShipSofa, a fun site I'm getting to know through Free SF Online. It is a tale set in Elizabethan England, but the protagonist is a time traveler. The plot is a bit thin, centering on a fake manuscript. The rather florid reading on the podcast is simultaneously interesting and irritating, in the end it kind of makes the tale. OK, but not a short lister. Rating: 2 stars.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hell Is the Absence of God, by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang is my favorite author to emerge in this millenium. His stories challenge you to follow them through and consider the ideas. So I have been very much looking forward to reviewing Hell is the Absence of God as free online literature.

The piece depicts a world in which God, through the Angels and other beings, is very much a part of ordinary life. But that presence has a very random feel to it. Miracles happen regularly, but they produce collateral damage. The story revolves around ordinary peoples' responses to both.

It is a very thought-provoking piece. Chiang manages not to fall into the ordinary supernatural-being-in-the-story traps, just as he avoids the usual time travel lessons in The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate. The Podcastle website allows comments, and there are some highly literate ones. As an SF reader and a religious person it was a must read (listen) for me.

Podcast Vs. Reading

And yet, like several other commenters, I will want to go back and read this one in print. The audio quality is a bit poor--I don't recommend listening in the car. The deadpan reading style actually helps one focus, in my opinion, but not all would like it. When I have the choice, I like my SF as literature rather than a story told to me.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gregory Benford, a Favorite Author

I've read all of Greg Benford that I can find for several years. Today I read a little piece he published in Flurb, a very attractively produced online 'zine. Paradise Afternoon depicts a couple of researchers discussing what they cannot say around the FDA, as very advanced bugs hover near. It's a toss off piece for him. Much better pieces available online for free include Bow Shock and I Could've Done Better. His Galactic Center series was my introduction. Great stuff.

Reads of the Day
Up today was a nice little story from Ruth Nestvold entitled "Mars: A Traveler's Guide". It's a quick read from what looks to be a very good anthology, StarShipSofa Stories Vol. 1. You are reading the results of a traveler's database search, which gives clues to his situation. I've seen this plot device before, but cannot remember just where--if I remember I'll post it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pump Six, by Paulo Bacigalupi

Pump Six is the lead story in a collection of the same name. The link is to a podcast including it. Paulo Bacigalupi is a very hot name now, one of those who is capturing darker versions of our future. This story tells how quality infrastructure might do us in, by continuing to function incrementally less well as time goes on, such that we forget how to maintain it. Sounds like modern India, or, increasingly, the U.S. I don't think we're actually in danger of having this particular future materialize--what we build doesn't hold up nearly that well, though some water systems do remind one of it (there are wooden pipes under Boston, leaking 5 gallons for each one they deliver).

This one goes on my recommended list.

Read of the Day

Also in the above podcast is Iain Creasey's Reality 2.0, a piece of irony done as an infomercial. Check it out for a little laugh. The folks in Pump Six world might have been able to manage Wondernumbers.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Keys I Don't Remember, by Forrest Aguirre

Keys I Don't Remember is a tasty little story that stretches SF greatly. Aguirre has honestly achieved unclassifiable status, and is proud of it. This one is worth checking out for a quick challenging read.

Read of the Day

Today I listened to Gigantic, by Steve Aylett. Aylett inhabits a strange space, and this is a strange podcast, on the comeuppance of dismissers of weird theories. Don't know that I would repeat the experience.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Best Obscure SF Novel Ever

Thanks to Free SF Online, a few years ago I found this very fine unpublished work by Michael Coney, Flower of Goronwy. It is the story of a galactic UN-type mission that turns into a career for well-meaning but only marginally effectual bureaucrats. I really haven't seen that theme very often. The aliens appear familiar but are thoroughly alien underneath. Most notable is that it has the two most fully-realized female characters I have encountered in SF, and they are extremely different from each other. All in all, a delight to read. It was never published, so you can join a very elite group of readers. Take the opportunity while it's still posted.

Reads of the Day

Michael Allen's An Invitation Via Email is in this issue of Weird Tales. Very much a tossoff, not much here, but the rest of the issue looks OK.

Kevin J. Anderson's Newts is a smooth and competent tale, as all of Anderson's work is. He tells the tale of an Earth colony founded by a leader/prophet, now under attack from decadent Earth. His perspective is that of a "newt", a neutered man who cannot feel the deep emotions of the time. It's an interesting exploration of how it would feel to not feel. My only critique is that the story is kind of told backward--the backstory comes a good ways in, making the front harder to follow.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review: Manifold Time, by Stephen Baxter

Manifold Time is a great big read from Stephen Baxter. It takes on nothing less than the making and remaking of the future of the entire universe. The central character is Reid Malenfant--"bad boy", loosely translated, and it fits him nicely. He overcomes bureaucracy by daring in an attempt to understand events. These kind of big scope books are my favorites--Cosm by Gregory Benford and Birthright: The Book of Man by Mike Resnick are good examples. There are actually sequels, maybe I will check them out someday.

The book came at an interesting time for SF. It was a heady time--published in 2000, after we all survived Y2K and the .com boom was still on. Cyberpunk still dominated SF at the time, so a big book about the universe was a little unusual. But it fits Baxter to a T. In Manifold Time we read the confidence of that era, that even if we didn't know the answers we could find a way through.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Current Read: Manifold Time, by Stephen Baxter

Manifold Time is the first in Stephen Baxter's Manifold series. It recently became available as a free PDF--this blog will be on hiatus for a week or so while I read it (so little time in the day!) and I will let you know what I think of it.

Baxter's works don't quite make my very favorite list, but there are many on the Very Good list. SHEENA 5 is a preview of the above book, if you want a sample. Fubar is a cute quick read. I don't always agree with his worldview, but I like his style. More on that after Manifold Time.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Under Arctic Ice, by H. G. Winter

Under Arctic Ice is another early Astounding Stories piece, by Harry Bates and Desmond P. Hall under the H. G. Winter pseudonym. The hero is more sympathetic than their Hawk Carse stories--an ordinary man with an extraordinary tale, scorned. He rises to the occasion. It lacks the prevailing cultural biases of the time, but that actually makes it less interesting. Pretty much skippable.

Favorite Stories: Kij Johnson, The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change

Now THIS is a good one. It haunts me to this day. Most stories about speaking dogs kind of assume we'd get comfortable with the idea. This one is more complex, the dogs have their own interior lives we just can't quite handle. And cats are just right out. If you really want to think hard about our relationship with animals, this would be the story to read.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Bluff of the Hawk, by Anthony Gilmore

The Bluff Of the Hawk is the second in Gilmore's Hawk Carse series. Mostly about how wonderful Hawk Carse is. Why am I reading it? Unintended humor gems. Hawk's sidekick, a stereotyped African American, is named Friday. One of the hero's friends lives near a town named Porno. All without apparent irony. Nuff said.

The Best SF Story Ever
Isaac Asimov's Nightfall is now available as a podcast on Escape Pod. Not much to add to this story, except to make it free! Seeing something bad coming, not quite knowing what it is--all told in the cool, rational style Asimov mastered. It gets no better.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Veteran, by Neal Asher

The Veteran is a podcast of this Neal Asher story. It's reasonably well put-together. Neal Asher gets better as I read more of him, someday I think he might write something striking. This isn't quite it.

Favorite Stories: Understand, by Ted Chiang

Most stories about very advanced human intelligence sound stupid. It's hard not to sound stupid describing something smarter than you. This story does not sound stupid. Chiang captures the essence of how it feels to be way, way ahead. The 'zine where this is published is no longer active--get it now while it's still live. Chiang is an amazing author, every story makes you think hard.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Why this blog? It's about free literature, and freedom from ownership. From very early on I have deeply enjoyed the atmosphere of access to literature without concern for ownership. Before the internet I was a devoted library user, and in fact became a professional librarian for many years. I love to read, and love books. But I've bought no more than 20 or so for myself, aside from textbooks. Access is sufficient--I do not need to own them.

Along comes the internet, and more than I could ever read is freely available. All hail Project Gutenberg. And then, even better, Free SF Online. Science fiction has by far the strongest tradition of freely available work, I have not found near its like in mystery or any other genre. It's a feast larger than I could possibly digest--but I dine on as much as I can, and I'll share the goodies I find in the process.

Acephalous Dreams, by Neal Asher

Acephalous Dreams is a novelette-length story, about a man convicted of murder given the opportunity to be in an alien tech experiment instead. Neal Asher's work is pretty uneven, ranging from OK to unreadable--haven't found one I really liked. This one has better execution than average, but has some unnecessary violence that isn't quite justified by the story quality. A near miss, maybe the next one will be a hit.