Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fire With Fire, by Charles E. Gannon

Fire With Fire was nominated for a 2013 Hugo award.  But for my money it could have been nominated for a 1963 Hugo. 

This is a story of the early period of Earth's interstellar exploration and exosapient contact.  We have all the elements of a very good early Heinlein here:

  1. Powerful but limited faster-than-light travel (though not so fully explained)
  2. Earth governments cracking under strain, thus a secret organization (named ISIS!) emerges to steer Earth down the right path in confronting the aliens.
  3. A "true polymath" of a hero--investigative reporter, capable fighter, upstanding citizen to a fault.  And a hunk/ladies man to boot.  Named Caine Riordan.  How many action heroes have been named Riordan?  I think it's a lot.
  4. Really awkwardly portrayed women/sexuality. 
I could go on for a long time.  You name the late Golden Age trope, Gannon hits it.

It's not a terrible book.  Caine generates interest once in awhile, and the diplomatic chess games are somewhat interesting.  But this is 2014.  I looked for any sense of understanding of how we've changed since 1963, and found none at all.  Yes, the book asserts that women are the equal of men--you can find that in 1963 SF too, though the writers mostly didn't fully understand what that meant.  There's no consciousness at all of how technology has changed us socially--it's early 60's mentality with spaceships.

I can see the award nominators' nostalgia in offering this up.  But really, if you want this sort of thing, go back to the originals.  Read Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Asimov.  Don't bother with this one.  2 stars from me.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Dust Devil on a Quiet Street, by Richard Bowes

Dust Devil on a Quiet Street is a sort of fictional memoir.  A lot of events appear to be true, but none of it is guaranteed to be.  Definitely the tone of the book is a memoir, more than a novel.  I guess it's OK as a form, but for me it kind of fell short.

Beyond being a memoir, Dust Devil is about gay life in Manhattan, with a strong element of reaction to the tragedy of 9/11.  Bowes poses himself as a self-effaced sort of man-about-town, hanging out with many great writers and getting some nominations but not ever quite enough to make a living at it.  Supernatural elements, mostly low key, are woven in as a natural component.  He sees things because he can.

While he does appear to have been around a lot of famous people, he seems to have changed the names for some of the central characters.  I can't verify Judy Finch (Judy Light, Judy Icon) as a rock singer or Barbara Lohr as a fantasy writer.

Bowes was a reference assistant at a New York university library for 30 years, and librarian personality has sort of infested this writing.  Certainly he didn't start out that way--mostly high, lots of racy scenes and risky sex, and close calls with death.  But it all seems kind of remote.

Many reviewers seem to find this book profound and moving, but really it just never got going for me.  Bowes is so very detached from his own life that it's hard for him to tell us why we should care about his adventures.  Certainly there's an exciting life story here, that leads to something--redemption, recognition--but we don't see it here.  I'm going to give it 3 stars, but I think I'm being generous.