Monday, November 30, 2009

Words of wisdom

"Speaking of plots, we want to emphatically warn our prospective contributors against submitting interplanetary war stories. A plot submitted that simply relates a war between two planets, with a lot of rays and bloodshed, will receive little consideration. What we want are original ideas, new points of view on interplanetary exploration; new ideas regarding the activities of Terrestrials on strange worlds, and of extra-Terrestrials on earth. Read the letter from George W. Race in the "Reader Speaks" of this issue and see what to avoid.

The man who sends in a plot:
  1. That pictures people of other worlds as being just like Earthmen, and (as some authors put it) speak English;
  2. That shows our hero going to another world to rescue a fair princess from an evil priest;
  3. That shows our hero going to another world to single-handed overcome a great army; or
  4. That shows our hero going to another world to conquer a horde of strange beasts;
This man should not hope his plot will receive serious consideration. If our readers study the plots that have been written into stories, they will perceive in each one some original "slant" on interplanetary travel, or of the conditions on other worlds. That original "slant" is what our readers should strive for."

Hugo Gernsback, Wonder Stories, September 1, 1932.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Darkness and Dawn

Andre Norton's Darkness and Dawn (2003) contains two unrelated but thematically similar novels published in one volume. Both are set in a post-apocalyptic world disfigured by catastrophe in which humanity has been reduced to a pre-industrial existence. They are each rite of passage stories relating how a young protagonist comes to maturity. Yet for all their similarities, each novel treats the topic in a different way and comes to very different conclusions.

The first novel, Daybreak—2250 A.D. (aka Star Man's Son, 1952), introduces us to young Fors of the Puma Clan. Fors and his mountain tribe are descendants of survivors of the Great Blow-up, a nuclear war that wiped out industrial civilization and unleashed mutations hundreds of years ago. Fors himself is just such a mutant, marked by his white hair and ability too see in the dark. The orphaned son of a Star Man, one of the brave and privileged members of the tribe who venture forth to seek the knowledge and relics of the Old Ones, Fors hopes to gain entry into that organization himself. He has already bonded with Lura, one of the giant mutant cats that live among his tribe. But because of the stigma of being a mutant he has little chance of being accepted into the order. So he sets off on his own, determined to retrieve the secrets of the past and prove himself worthy of entrance into Star Hall. He soon befriends Arskane, a black-skinned warrior whose people are descendants of the flying ones who found refuge in the desert after the Last Battle. Together they must survive the threat of both rival tribes, like the nomadic, horse riding Plainsmen, and the Beast-things, vicious, mutant humanoid rats.

The novel unfolds with a straightforward and competent vigor. Norton is a natural storyteller and she sweeps you into the book quickly and keeps the plot moving at just the right pace to ensure that the momentum never lags. The chapters of this book are short to the point of terseness, recalling the clipped delivery of the old pulp magazines. Norton does a good job of depicting tribal societies, especially that of the Plainsman. The characters are conveyed well, with Fors and Arskane being the most detailed. To begin with it is Arskane and his fervent idealism that stands out as Fors is still striving to find himself, but by the novel's climax Fors comes to his own. And while women only feature in the background of the book they aren't just decoration and have an important say in tribal matters. Perhaps the most striking thing is the human dimensions in which the main characters are drawn. Fors and Arskane are not macho action heroes capable of superhuman feats. They spend most of the book wounded and exhausted, making their eventual triumph all the more impressive. And while that triumph may be a trifle pat it makes for a satisfying conclusion to the tale.

The second book is No Night Without Stars (1975). Like the earlier novel the story is set centuries after a catastrophe has destroyed industrial society, but in this case it was not a nuclear war. There was a Dark Time when volcanoes burst forth, continents shook and rent, and the seas alternately racked the land and receded to form new coastlines. While Norton never explains the cataclysm in so many words, it's clear from the clues she gives that some sort of massive celestial body passed near the Earth and the resulting tidal strains caused devastating geological disruptions. Civilization fell and the remnants of humanity reverted to tribalism and sunk into illiterate superstition.

This is the world of Sander, the smith. He has left his tribe, the Mob, after his father died and they refused to recognize him as a fully qualified smith. Accompanied by the huge mutant coyote, Rhinn, he hopes to rediscover the lost secrets of working the hard alloys of the Before People. They come upon a destroyed fishing village that has been laid waste by the Sea Sharks, vicious pirates that prey on the coasts. That night they are confronted by someone they soon learn to be Fanyi, the Shaman of the fishers who was away at the time of the slaughter. With her two large, mutant otters, Kai and Kayi, she has vowed revenge. The two of them soon join forces and set out to find a lost city of the Before People where they hope to discover the knowledge they will need to accomplish their ends.

Although they encounter strange mutants during their odyssey, the greatest threat to them comes from their fellow human beings. There are Traders who have laid claim the the ruins of the Before People and are ready to kill in order to keep others from their finds. Even more menacing are the White Ones, ferocious light-skinned warriors from the north who ride into battle on huge mutant deer. The White Ones raided Sander's Mob when he was a child and he has never forgotten the terror of that fight.

This novel finds Norton a noticeably more assured and mature writer. While she's lost none of her storytelling panache, she brings a more practiced hand to bear on the material. The result is a book with more texture than the earlier work. The only false note struck is the complete lack of any sexual tension between Sander and Fanyi. Despite sometimes sharing cramped sleeping quarters and occasionally stripping off wet cloths in front of one another neither evinces the slightest sexual curiosity about the other. In fact, despite all they go through they never develop any real intimacy, physical or otherwise. This is somewhat understandable on Fanyi's part, as she is a Shaman and therefore a bit aloof form mundane concerns to begin with, but it is a puzzling lack in Sander.

Having these two novels in one volume allows them to be contrasted one against the other. While both evoke a strong sense of loss, of the vanished accomplishments of the destroyed civilization, they each present it very differently. In the first it is humanity's own militarism and folly that has doomed it. It is hoped by some, like Arskane, that people can remake that lost world, but this time learn from their mistakes and outgrow the warlike tenancies that doomed their ancestors. In the second, however, the catastrophe was a natural disaster beyond humanity's ability to avoid or even influence. The world that follows is one where overgrown animals abound, where humanity is dwarfed by nature (and perhaps even the supernatural). The animal's stature is increased even as humanity's figurative stature is decreased. And now the past and it's accomplishments, while initially sought out, are ultimately something to be rejected.

Both of these books are fine accomplishments by Norton. Despite the similarities of general plot each gives the subject matter a distinct and interesting treatment. There is no sense that the second novel is a pastiche of the first, as one might expect. It casts the subject in a different light and draws conclusions that stand in contrast to the earlier work. It takes a talented author to cover the same ground twice and pull it off, but in these two books Andre Norton has achieved just that.

Post-Apocalyptic Andy Rooney

You have to suffer through a 30 sec. commercial (just hit mute) to watch this sketch, but it's worth it.

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Birthday, Frederik Pohl

Today is the 90th birthday of award winning sf doyen, Frederik Pohl. One of the most important figures of the genre, the list of classics that he's written is as long as my arm. There are his famous collaborations with fellow sf heavyweights, like The Starchild Trilogy, and Doomship (1973) written with Jack Williamson, and the seminal The Space Merchants (1953) with C. M. Kornbluth.

Then there are his equally impressive solo novels, like Man Plus (1976), and Gateway (1977), which began the Heechee saga.

And his equally masterful editorship of Galaxy Science Fiction during the 1960's.  Frederik Pohl has not only penned masterpieces but charted a career that has made contributions to the genre that few can equal. Here's wishing you a very happy birthday, Frederik Pohl.

Go Sukashi!

The sentai silliness of Go Sukashi!

[via Japan Probe]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Interstellar travel

There's a great article today on the New Scientist site about possible propulsion methods capable of traversing interstellar distances. Not only is it an interesting topic to begin with but they include a shout-out to Arthur C. Clarke who used small black holes to propel interplanetary spaceships in his novel Imperial Earth (1975).

Dark power: Grand designs for interstellar travel
25 November 2009 by Marcus Chown

SPACE is big," wrote Douglas Adams in his book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. "You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is."

So what would it take for humans to reach the stars within a lifetime? For a start, we would need a spacecraft that can rush through the cosmos at close to the speed of light. There has been no shortage of proposals: vehicles propelled by repeated blasts from hydrogen bombs, or from the annihilation of matter and antimatter. Others resemble vast sailing ships with giant reflective sails, pushed along by laser beams.

All these ambitious schemes have their shortcomings and it is doubtful they could really go the distance. Now there are two radical new possibilities on the table that might just enable us - or rather our distant descendants - to reach the stars.

In August, physicist Jia Liu at New York University outlined his design for a spacecraft powered by dark matter ( Soon afterwards, mathematicians Louis Crane and Shawn Westmoreland at Kansas State University in Manhattan proposed plans for a craft powered by an artificial black hole (
 (Full article)

The Terrible Answer

"They came to Mars inquiring after the stuff of Empire. They got—"

"The Terrible Answer" by Arthur G. Hill

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Astounding Stories (May, 1931)

Project Gutenberg provides us with another full issue of Astounding Stories from May, 1931. This issue includes a story by pulp duo Nat Schachner and Arthur L. Zagat, plus another installment in Ray Cumming's serial novel, The Exile of Time. And be sure not to miss Grand Master Frederik Pohl's series of blog posts about Astounding Stories.

Astounding Stories (May, 1931)

Dark Moon by Charles W. Diffin

Mysterious, Dark, Out of the Unknown Deep Comes a New Satellite to Lure Three Courageous Earthlings on to Strange Adventure. (A Complete Novelette.)

"When Caverns Yawned" by Captain S. P. Meek

Only Dr. Bird's Super-Scientific Sleuthing Stands in the Way of Ivan Sarnoff's Latest Attempt at Wholesale Destruction.

 The Exile of Time by Ray Cummings

Young Lovers of Three Eras Are Swept down the Torrent of the Sinister Cripple Tugh's Frightful Vengeance. (Part Two of a Four-Part Novel.)

"When the Moon Turned Green" by Hal K. Wells

Outside His Laboratory Bruce Dixon Finds a World of Living Dead Men—and Above, in the Sky, Shines a Weird Green Moon.

"The Death-Cloud" by Nat Schachner and Arthur L. Zagat

The Epic Exploit of One Who Worked in the Dark and Alone, Behind the Enemy Lines, in the Great Last War.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Day of the Dog

"The Day of the Dog" by Anderson Horne

"They came home from a strange journey.... And heroes they might have been—a little dog and a man!"

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"I'm writing the new Doctor Who"

Michael Moorcock has an article over on the Guardian website going into detail about how he decided to write the new Dr. Who novel. Well worth reading both by Whovians and travelers of the Moonbeam Roads. The New York Times has it's moments, but The Guardian proves once again to be the only major newspaper giving the genre serious attention.

About the only real science fiction I've written since the 1960s was The Dancers at the End of Time stories, all done in the 70s. They're comedies set in the distant future with a nod to the fin-de-siècle of Oscar Wilde, HG Wells, Ernest Dowson and The Yellow Book. Both comedy and SF depend on compression and exaggeration and are very often entertaining when combined. There's a long tradition of it: even Wodehouse wrote a funny, futuristic story early in his career (The Swoop! or How Clarence Saved England). In the SF magazines, writers such as Henry Kuttner, Robert Sheckley and L Sprague de Camp were best loved for their comedy. Douglas Adams, of course, hit the jackpot in the 1970s with The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Davies and his writers realised this when the Doctor made his comeback some five years ago with Christopher Eccleston and then David Tennant in the role. Both actors have a talent for comedy and melodrama. The plots became increasingly complex, playing with ideas of time and space, and I became an addict again.

Of course the paradox of TV sf is that Dr. Who, a show premised on time travel, seldom employs the tropes of the traditional time travel story, whereas Star Trek, a show premised on space exploration, not only turned the Enterprise into a flying time machine but involved so much time travel that they eventually had to introduce the Department of Temporal Investigations into the U. F. P. bureaucracy. So as I see it, MM is under no constraints to write a time travel story as such. And I can't wait to see what he does with the Who mythos.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Passenger

"The Passenger" by Kenneth Harmon

"The classic route to a man's heart is through his stomach—and she was just his dish."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Foreign Hand Tie

"The Foreign Hand Tie" by Randall Garrett

"Just because you can "see" something doesn't mean you understand it—and that can mean that even perfect telepathy isn't perfect communication...."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lion Loose

Lion Loose (novella) by James H. Schmitz

"The most dangerous of animals is not the biggest and fiercest—but the one that's hardest to stop. Add intelligence to that ... and you may come to a wrong conclusion as to what the worst menace is...."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vital Ingredient

"Vital Ingredient" by Charles V. De Vet

"It is man's most precious possession—no living thing can exist without it. But when they gave it to Orville, it killed him."

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Unforsaken Hiero

Sterling E. Lanier's novel The Unforsaken Hiero (1983) is as you might expect a sequel to his earlier novel, Hiero's Journey (1973). An adventurous yarn like the first, it's told in the same simple, straightforward prose. The narrative picks up almost immediately where the previous book left off in a short prologue that leads into the main narrative.

Hiero has managed to outwit both the Unclean hordes and the malevolent House. Thanks to Luchare he has the manuals necessary for the Abby to make a computer. But Brother Aldo has other ideas. He tells Hiero he must go south with Luchare to face the Unclean threat there. Brother Aldo will travel north with Gorm and take the manuals to Abbot Demero, who he suddenly reveals is his friend. Hiero doesn't question why he kept this secret until now. He accepts Aldo's plans, hands over the manuals, and heads out to the southern kingdoms.

The tale then leaps forward to Hiero's life in the feudal lands. As Luchare's husband, Hiero is literally being given the royal treatment. He has ingratiated himself with her father, King Danyale, and is now an heir to the throne. The feudal kingdom of D'lwah is very different from the theocratic Metz Republic from whence he hails. Here the church is separate from the state, and he's aghast at their practice of priestly celibacy. He also discovers for the first time members of different faiths, the Mu'amans (Muslims) and the Davids (Jews), though we learn little about them other than that they exist. He has managed to pick up the skill of riding the hoppers, the huge mutant kangaroos that are used as cavalry mounts.

Yet Hiero hasn't been able to get a lead on the Unclean. His only suspects are those who are able to shield their minds from his formidable telepathy, which had increased to superhuman levels in the last book. These are the priest Joseato, and court favorite, Duke Amibale Aeo. There is no evidence of wrong doing on either one's part, and as such mind shields can occur naturally Hiero must wait and watch. But evil plots are underway, and Hiero soon finds himself kidnapped and given a drug which robs him of his psi powers. By a stroke of fortune he escapes his captors and embarks on an odyssey back to the North if only he can survive the perils along the way.

Lanier is an able story teller and this book is a good complement to the previous installment. As in the earlier work he finds occasion to give a convincing account of boating, and later in the book paints a persuasive picture of a massed fighting force. The descriptions of the hopper cavalry are as picturesque as they are implausible. The book suffers from similar flaws as the first as well. The narrative bogs down in exposition at times, and Lanier's reliance on giant animals to populate this future landscape seems uninspired. The manner in which Hieiro's telepathy is restored was also overly convenient if undeniably unconventional.

The characters are again reasonably well drawn, but as the bulk of the novel involves Hiero trekking northward on his own we hear far too little of them. The allies he makes along the way, the Children of the Wind, and the old friend he reunites with in the final chapters stand out in this regard. Hiero behaves in a relatively more priestly manner this time around, saying prayers and orisons that were noticeably lacking from the previous book. We are also given a glimpse inside the councils of the Unclean, but they are little more than stereotyped two-dimensional villains.

And as evil as they are it's hard to stomach the response of Hiero and his allies to them. At one point some Unclean are unceremoniously condemned and killed because they had just killed helpless captives, yet in this book as in the last Hiero himself orders the killing of a helpless prisoner of war. When the forces of the north deliver their first blow against the Unclean it's by shelling the port city of Neeyana despite the absence of any sizable body of enemy troops and without any regard for the civilian population. These are priests that know nothing of mercy, only ruthlessness. Add to this that Hiero is fighting in the name of a patriarchal theocracy and it makes it difficult to sympathize with his cause.

There's also an unnecessary amount of repetition in the story. Several times during his wilderness trek we're assured that Hiero's skills as an outdoorsman are compensating for his lack of psi abilities, as if Lanier recognized he was straining the reader's credulity. And twice during the story we're treated to emotional reunions between Hiero and his trusty mount. And there are strange inconsistencies in Hiero's character. As mentioned earlier he prays regularly, but he no longer applies the face-paints he wore in the previous book, something that isn't even commented on until near the end of the story. And despite his contempt for celibacy among priests when he is later introduced to an noble young priest he instantly and approvingly recognizes him as a celibate. This strange incongruity is never addressed.

There is a sense that Lanier was running out of steam. There was a gap of ten years between the first book and this sequel. The novel ends on a cliff hanger with Hiero preparing to go to Luchare's aid. There are indications that a powerful evil being, the source of the Unclean, is present in the south and must be defeated. A climatic confrontation between Good and Evil is clearly in the offing. But no concluding book was ever written. The trilogy is left incomplete and we can only wonder at the ultimate fate of Hiero and his world.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Zero Hour

"With a Vengeance" by J. B. Woodley

"Keep this in mind in teaching apprentices: They are future journeymen—and even masters!"

"Zero Hour" by Alexander Blade (pseudonym)

"By accident Bobby discovered the rocket was about to be shot to the Moon. Naturally he wanted to go along. But could he smuggle himself aboard?

"They Also Serve" by Donald E. Westlake

"Why should people hate vultures? After all, a vulture never kills anyone…"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"It flies sideways through time..."

If it weren't for SF Signal I would've missed this and it wouldn't have blown my mind...

Michael Moorcock says, "
Looks like it's official. I'll be doing a new Dr Who novel (not a tie-in) for appearance, I understand, by next Christmas. Still have to have talks etc. with producers and publishers but we should be signing shortly. Should be fun."

He goes on to say, "I've been watching Dr Who since it began. Haven't liked all the doctors and after Peter Davison stopped watching regularly until the new BBC Wales series." And, "Since the Tom Baker series, a lot of my ideas crept into the stories and so in many ways I'll be writing a story which already echoes my own work." And much more.

Far out, man!

No word yet on how Charlie "Don't get me started on Doctor Who" Stross is taking the news.

I wonder if Dr. Who will encounter Dr. Technical and his Silver Machine?

Holes, Incorporated

Today a story by Louise Leipiar, who like most women writing sf during the Golden Age adopted a pseudonym to disguise her gender, in this case "L. Major Reynolds."

"Holes, Incorporated" by L. Major Reynolds

"Would you like to see all hell break loose? Just make a few holes in nothing at all—push some steel beams through the holes—and then head for the hills. But first, read what happened to some people who really did it."

Friday, November 13, 2009


Today we're treated to the first of James H. Schmitz's stories about the capable and psi endowed young woman, Telzey Amberdon. The stories were republished in an edited and altered form by Baen Books and the complete collection of those versions are available for free download.

"Novice" by James H. Schmitz

"A novice is one who is inexperienced—but that doesn't mean incompetent. Nor does it mean stupid!"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Monsters of Mars

Today Project Gutenberg adds another full issue of Astounding Stories featuring the writings of sf greats like Edmond Hamilton and Jack Williamson. Also included are another of Sewell Peaslee Wright's Commander John Hanson stories, and the first installment of a novel by Ray Cummings of The Girl in the Golden Atom fame.

Monsters of Mars By Edmond Hamilton

"Three Martian-Duped Earth-Men Swing Open the Gates of Space That for So Long Had Barred the Greedy Hordes of the Red Planet." (A Complete Novelette.)

The Exile of Time By Ray Cummings

"From Somewhere Out of Time Come a Swarm of Robots Who Inflict on New York the Awful Vengeance of the Diabolical Cripple Tugh." (Beginning a Four-Part Novel.)

"Hell's Dimension" By Tom Curry

"Professor Lambert Deliberately Ventures into a Vibrational Dimension to Join His Fiancée in Its Magnetic Torture-Fields."

"The World Behind the Moon" By Paul Ernst

"Two Intrepid Earth-Men Fight It Out with the Horrific Monsters of Zeud's Frightful Jungles."

Four Miles Within By Anthony Gilmore

"Far Down into the Earth Goes a Gleaming Metal Sphere Whose Passengers Are Deadly Enemies." (A Complete Novelette.)

"The Lake of Light" By Jack Williamson

"In the Frozen Wastes at the Bottom of the World Two Explorers Find a Strange Pool of White Fire—and Have a Strange Adventure."

"The Ghost World" By Sewell Peaslee Wright

"Commander John Hanson Records Another of His Thrilling Interplanetary Adventures with the Special Patrol Service."

"Blind Spot" by Bascom Jones

"Everyone supported the Martian program—until it struck home!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Occasion for Disaster

Today Project Gutenberg adds a novel about psi powers by Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer that would later be reprinted under the title Supermind. Also added is a story by William P. McGivern published under the Ziff-Davis house name "Gerald Vance".

"Larson's Luck" by Gerald Vance

"Larson couldn't possibly have known what was going on in the engine room, yet he acted....""

"The Eyes Have It" by James McKimmey

"Daylight sometimes hides secrets that darkness will reveal—the Martian's glowing eyes, for instance. But darkness has other dangers...."

Occasion...for Disaster by Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer

"A very small slip, at just the wrong place, can devastate any enterprise. One tiny transistor can go wrong ... and ruin a multi-million dollar missile. Which would be one way to stop the missiles...."

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Lost Kafoozalum

"The Lost Kafoozalum" by Pauline Ashwell

"One of the beautiful things about a delusion is that no matter how mad someone gets at it ... he can't do it any harm. Therefore a delusion can be a fine thing for prodding angry belligerents...."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Waste Not, Want

"Waste Not, Want" by Dave Dryfoos

"Eat your spinach, little man! It's good for you. Stuff yourself with it. Be a good little consumer, or the cops will get you.... For such is the law of supply and demand!"

Saturday, November 7, 2009

King Vampire

Well, the chronological posting of Dracula over on Whitney Sorrow's blog has come to a conclusion. I enjoyed re-reading the book, especially in such an unconventional manner. It's been years since I last read it and in revisiting it I was reminded of a few things I'd all but forgotten.

For one thing I was surprised at how much a nerd "assistant schoolmistress" Mina is. She's into the latest gadgets and has one of those newfangled typewriters. After she reads her hubby's disturbing diary her first impulse is to type the whole thing out and organize it. But the clincher is the fact that she's a trainspotter.

'"When does the next train start for Galatz?" said Van Helsing to us

"At 6:30 tomorrow morning!" We all started, for the answer came from
Mrs. Harker.

"How on earth do you know?" said Art.

"You forget, or perhaps you do not know, though Jonathan does and so
does Dr. Van Helsing, that I am the train fiend."'

Give that girl an anorak.

The vampirism at the heart of the novel can be interpreted many ways, but there's no escaping the Victorian erotophobia it denotes. When expressing revulsion for the vampires the most common adjective used to describe them is "voluptuous". Not only is Harker almost seduced by the three vampire women in Dracula's castle, but much later in the novel Van Helsing himself finds them "so exquisitely voluptuous" that it's only by a major effort of will that he can drive a stake through their hearts. Add to this that Dracula himself is constantly sinking his fangs into the flower of English womanhood and you have a novel that practically begs for a Freudian interpretation.

One of the more amusing details of the novel is when, in chapter 19, Van Helsing equips the gang with a veritable vampire hunter's utility kit. In addition to the requisite assortment of pistols and knives (the Texan, Quincey, has a Bowie knife, natch), they are each issued a small silver crucifix, a wreath of withered garlic blossoms, a small electric lamp, and a portion of Sacred Wafer. In fact it's surprising how often the Sacred Wafer is used to ward off vampires. It's an odd detail that you won't find in most of the movie & TV derivations of the tale.

Something else that has been altered in later vampire stories is the nature of their resting place. Most often it's asserted that vampires must rest in soil of their native land. But Van Helsing gives a much different explanation. It's not the soil of their homeland that vampires must sleep in, but sacred soil. "For it is not the least of its terrors that this evil thing is rooted deep in all good, in soil barren of holy memories it cannot rest." The only way to prevent this is paradoxically to sanctify the soil further. "He has chosen this earth because it has been holy. Thus we defeat him with his own weapon, for we make it more holy still." Placing the Sacred Wafer in the dirt does the trick. Those Sacred Wafers sure are versatile. No vampire hunter should be without them.

The book's denouement doesn't coincide with Halloween which is a bit of a surprise. If Stoker were British this would be more understandable since the big holiday there is Guy Fawkes Night, but you'd think an Irishman would give the season its due. And I still find the ending very anti-climactic. Dracula is unceremoniously stabbed to death as he lies helpless in his coffin. I know that he's more than a match for mere mortals, and there's no way the protagonists could prevail in a fight, but it's still an undramatic finale.

Like its Un-Dead antagonist this book lives on. Stoker wrote many other stories, but this one strikes such a cord that it's about the only one that gets read and re-read even more than a century later. It's hard to overestimate this book's influence on popular culture. Without Stoker's novel where would the legions of Twilight fans be? Would the Goth subculture even exist? Possibly, but as it is they owe more than a little to history's most famous King Vampire.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Fifth-Dimension Tube

Today Project Gutenberg adds the sequel to Murray Leinster's novelette, The Fifth-Dimension Catapult.

The Fifth-Dimension Tube (A Complete Novelette) By Murray Leinster

"By way of Professor Denham’s Tube, Tommy and Evelyn invade the inimical Fifth-Dimensional world of golden cities and tree-fern jungles and Ragged Men."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Icelandic Ultra Blue

If you're an Adult Swim junkie like me and you agree with Dr. Who's maxim that "Sleep is for tortoises." you've probably noticed an unusual mock-infomercial running during the 4:30 EST time slot for something called Icelandic Ultra Blue. It's one of the most hilarious parodies of infomercials I've ever seen. I have no idea who did this. You can hear David Cross doing a voice-over at one point, so maybe he and Bob Odenkirk are up to their old tricks. The bit ends with a "To Be Continued..." tease, so hopefully we'll find out more soon. There's certainly nothing on the AS site, and the first search result that turns up on Google is to a webpage infected with a virus. Thanks a lot, Google.

Meanwhile, a new season of Venture Bros. has premiered and is living up expectations. The season premier episode consisted of chronologically jumbled scenes, and watching it more than once helped to get the most out of it. I can understand why Jackson Publick cautioned, "...this premiere is a strange one that might require additional viewings to fully comprehend. " Hank's new attitude and Dean's current status as favorite son are making for some enjoyable story complications. And that business last episode with the prog-rock induced hallucinations was brilliant. The newly rehabilitated Sgt. Hatred is an hilarious substitute for Brock, and I can't wait to find out if 21 will ever successfully revive 24. All in all it's shaping up to be another great season of a great show.

The same can't be said for Titan Maximus. With the Robot Chicken crew behind it I had high hopes for this show. It looked to be a parody of the Super Robot sub-genre, and I was expecting it to lampoon anime the way Venture Bros. skewers comics. Instead it's like the most sophomoric of RC bits stretched out to 15 mins. A big disappointment all around.

Now where did I leave that bottle of Icelandic Ultra Blue?

The Clean and Wholesome Land

"The Clean and Wholesome Land" by Ralph Sholto

"Utopia had been reached. All the problems of mankind had been solved. It was the perfect State. If you doubted it, you died."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hiero's Journey

The last century, when the Cold War dominated politics and the fear of nuclear holocaust overshadowed daily life, gave rise to many sf tales imagining the aftermath of such an atrocity. Each treat the catastrophe in different ways, but all imagine that humanity struggles on. Ranging from the grim to the bizarre, they can approach the subject with a dour realism or as an excuse to introduce outlandish circumstances as the background for an thrilling tale. Sterling E. Lanier's 1973 novel, Heiro's Journey, is characteristic of the latter type.

Set thousands of years after modern civilization has been destroyed by nuclear war, or "The Death" as it is known, it paints a picture of a transformed world. The American Great Lakes have merged into a great Inland Sea that is dotted with the ruins of a bygone age. The Deserts of The Death, "patches of atomic blight", blot the landscape. Global warming has heated the northern latitudes to sub-tropical temperatures, helping spawn strange lifeforms. Giant animals, like the Snappers (snapping turtles), giant brown gulls, morse (moose), and others roam the countryside. Some of animals have even achieved a human level of intelligence. Humanity itself has been reduced to a medieval existance, but many of its members have gained the power of telepathy.

This is the world of Per Hiero Desteen, Secondary Priest-Exorcist, primary Rover and Senior Killman. Sporting an ancient M-1909 Bolo knife and riding his truty intelligent, telepathic morse, Klootz, he is a citizen of the Metz Republic, a theocratic Christian state ruled over by the Abbeys. But there is evil afoot. The Unclean, sinister telepaths and hideous mutants bent on universal conquest are a growing threat. Hiero has been tasked by the Most Reverend Kulase Demero to journey southward to the ruins of the ancient world to recovered a computer which will allow the Abbey's scholars to better search their archives for a method to defeat the Unclean.

As Hiero undertakes his odyssey he encounters Gorm, an intelligent telepathic bear, and the two become fast friends. Soon he rescues the beautiful Luchare, a runaway princess from the D'alwah Kingdom, and the two fall deeply in love. He also finds a ally in the mysterious Brother Aldo, a member of the secretive Brotherhood of the Eleventh Commandment ("Thou shalt not destroy the Earth nor the life thereon."). They must strive against the evil Unclean adept, S'duna, and his hordes of Leemutes, malicious mutations like the Hairy Howlers, and the Man-Rats.

Hiero's Journey is an entertaining but garden variety novel. The plot sticks to the well-worn trail of standard heroic fantasy. The prose is competent but occasionally gets bogged down in exposition. The characters in the book have an adequate amount of individuality, but play rather cliched parts. The reliance on giant versions of regular animals to furnish this future world is somewhat unimaginative, although there are a few colorful mutants encountered along the way. Lanier was a great admirer of J. R. R. Tolkien, and echoes of The Lord of the Rings can be heard throughout, most obviously in the novel's central tension involving a Manichean struggle between the forces of Good an Evil. But Lanier's book lacks the fine detail and sense of tragedy that distinguish Tolkien's magnum opus. The result is an entertaining but ultimately superficial quest through the ruins of the future.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Today Project Gutenberg adds a story by Nebula Grand Master and living legend, Frederik Pohl, along with a story by James H. Schmitz.

"Pythias" by Frederik Pohl

"Sure, Larry Connaught saved my life—but it was how he did it that forced me to murder him!"

"The Other Likeness" by James H. Schmitz

"There is a limit to how perfect a counterfeit can be— a limit that cannot be passed without an odd phenomenon setting in...."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Prelude to Space

"Say "Hello" for Me" by Frank W. Coggins

"Twenty years is a long time to live in anticipation. At least, Professor Pettibone thought so—until the twenty years were up."

"Field Trip" by Gene Hunter

"It is rumored that technology might eliminate many useless items from our regulated life of the future—including good, old-fashioned sex. However, let's kibitz for a moment ..."

"Pipe of Peace" by James McKimmey

"There's a song that says "it's later than you think" and it is perhaps lamentable that someone didn't sing it for Henry that beautiful morning...."

"Prelude to Space" by Robert W. Haseltine

"You're certain to be included in a survey at one time or another. However, there's one you may not recognize as such. Chances are it will be more important than you imagine. It could be man's—"

"Spies Die Hard!" by Arnold Marmor

"Earth's espionage ring was a headache, so the Martian Security Chief offered ten thousand credits for a key agent. But even for a price—"