Saturday, August 28, 2010

Goblin Night, by James H. Schmitz

James Schmitz's fiction was well-aimed at adolescents. I kind of wonder how his mostly male readers would have reacted to his very capable 15 year old female protagonist in 1965. In Goblin Night, she vanquishes an evil latent psionic with her own powers. The other fun story elements are a nightmare figure (a goblin, a horror vanquished during earlier planetary settlement) and an ultra-capable fighting dog. It's another fun little read, a period piece.

Balanced Ecology, by James H. Schmitz

Continuing my exploration of James H. Schmitz's award-nominated stories available for free online, linked from Free SF Online. This one is Balanced Ecology, a little adventure story. It follows a familiar line--children living in a fine, supportive environment are threatened by an evil uncle in league with commercial interests. They defeat him with the aid of the local life forms on their planet. But it's actually the planet itself doing the defending--the humans are integrated. It's a reasonable read, somewhat new for its time but familiar territory. Give it 2 stars

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Planet of Forgetting, by James H. Schmitz

James H. Schmitz was a prolific and decorated author in the 60's. The Planet of Forgetting was nominated for a Nebula in 1965. It's pretty much a standard action story, mostly focused on a Buck Rogers type space agent recovering his memory on a strange planet. The idea seed is about a particular way one of the native life forms has of defending itself. It is well executed and fun to read, but not unique or memorable. However, it was these sorts of stories that hooked me on SF in the first place--super capable men (nearly always) sorting out some unusual puzzle while doing intelligence work. Takes me back. Read it for relaxation, when you're not quite ready to sleep yet.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cat and Mouse, by Ralph Williams

Cat and Mouse is a Hugo nominated short story for 1960. It's a good adventure tale of a man pitted against a somewhat equivalent alien, a popular SF theme (including a Star Trek adventure and a better-known story that is not coming back to me at this time). This is the last story Williams wrote, apparently at his peak. It's OK, but there are many more like it.

The City and The City, by China Mieville

Just finished The City & the City, a Hugo-nominated novel by China Mieville. This is the first book of his, so I have not experienced his style--it's not for everyone, but I didn't mind. And the book itself is fascinating. The setting dominates the story completely, and drives it effectively. It consists of two cities, Beszel and Ul Qoma, that are barely civil to each other and intricately interleaved. Citizens are trained from birth not to notice the goings-on in the "other" city spliced through. The division is mostly maintained by psychology and behavior, though there is a possibly supernatural element thrown it that supposedly watches constantly for transgressions. In this bizarre setting a murder mystery takes place.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found the speculative elements very strong. I think it's a real contender for the prize. I found myself looking for real-world analogues--in the book, the characters specifically reject comparisons to Jerusalem or East and West Berlin, though I think the situation in the Palestinian territories might somehow compare. Settlements interleave intricately with Palestinian territory, most likely creating a mix of ostentatious ignoring, violence, and some secret trade. It's well worth a read, in that it does what speculative fiction should do--make you think.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, by Robert Charles Wilson

Just finished reading this Hugo 2010 nominated novel. The first chapter, written as a standalone story, is available at Free SF Online as Julian: A Christmas Story.

The story is set in a world after oil somehow goes away (the age is referred to as "The Efflorescence of Oil"). It is not a dystopia--in fact, given the current outlook, one could regard it as something of a best-case scenario. America and its institutions have survived in recognizable form, and even prospered. The world somehow failed gracefully back to 19th century technology through the catastrophe (the "False Tribulation").

Julian Comstock's story is one of an American aristocracy that arises from the catastrophe. He is of noble blood, and comes to fight the tightly linked power structures of Church and State.

The action itself is a well-told coming of age story with strong tragic roots. It's good stuff, and I really enjoyed reading it. I can't say it breaks any new ground. From my own perspective it's almost too optimistic--if we do have a general failure of resources in the future, whether it's water or oil (water being far more likely), breakdown is far more likely than unwinding. But the setting is rich and fully realized, and the narrator of the story, Julian's best friend, has a fine comic-ironic voice.

The story is firmly grounded in the belief that truth and sense will eventually overcome ignorance and brutality. A very hopeful message in these times. I give it three stars. Read it and you will be entertained, with a lift besides.