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Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Cover (and Everything in Between...): Was Once A Hero by Edward McKeown Blog Tour Interv...

The Cover (and Everything in Between...): Was Once A Hero by Edward McKeown Blog Tour Interv...: SYNOPSIS: Reluctant privateer Robert Fenaday searches the stars for his lost love, Lisa, a naval intelligence officer whose ship disappear...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Beyond by Jack and Jean Sutton (Putnam 1967) 

This is one of the first science fiction books that I read and a copy of it has traveled with me through life for decades to be periodically re-read. 

The word for this book is, evocative.  The book opens with a Captain Cromwell of the smuggler Cosmic Wind landing on the exile colony of Engo.  That world, soaked in the ghastly glow of its orange moon, holds a steadily decreasing population of miserable telepaths, condemned there by the Federation on behalf of a galaxy of those who fear the rape of their private thoughts by those with such powers.  Engo is the loneliest place in the Milky Way, on the edge of the great galactic gulf to the Andromeda Galaxy.  No other stars light the storm-tossed night sky of Engo, with its giant, weeping, Agora trees and sighing stands of Bulla glass on the edges of its black water rivers.  Engo is a sigh of despair, an unshed tear and the stage for the battle for humanities soul.
Cptain Cromwell, while the initial POV character, is only a secondary character at best.  Yet the old man, dreaming of his past youth as he walks on Engo’s surface heading to rendezvous with Simon the only telepath he ever sees in the crude log cabin town, is a vividly drawn character.  You believe that he has spaced the stars in his aging tramp freighter for a lifetime, his ship, his crew and himself all winding down in the same slow way, likely to pass on in space when some critical failure overtakes the small starship.  His reverie is interrupted when he sees slender, sickly boy with a big yellow dog, playing in a field.  He is captivated by the scene, until the dog leaps into the air and is suspended high above the boy.  The boy is revealed as a Beyond, someone with powers beyond telepathy.  Something dreaded by the Federation.  The Captain flees the scene and Engo.  But his bad luck persists and he is arrested, drunk and garrulous about what he saw sometime later.

Enter Alek Selby, investigator for the Social Administration Arm of the Federation, one arm of the galactic government controlling (read hunting and suppressing) telepaths.  He is called to a meeting with his superiors, Hallam Vogel, psymaster and Director Smithson only to find the saturnine executor of the dreaded Dept 404, Phillip Wig and his hacthetmen: Jonman and Conrad there.  All three of the Dept 404  men missed their calling in Hitler’s SS and are the archetypes of those who declare others to be non-people to be hunted down for the good of the state.  And that is what proceeds here.  If a Beyond exists on Engo, then exile does not suffice, a ten-year old boy’s murder is casually discussed in a fashion that chills the blood.  The rational is the fear that the “Mutant Underground” under its own Scarlet Pimpernel, Mr. Olaf, will spirit the Beyond back into the Federation.

There is little doubt of the target, few children have been sent to Engo, David Gant slender, highly intelligent and telepathic is the only choice.  The only other boy Johnny Sloan had only a small degree of power, was short, stocky and not bright.

Vogel and Smithson seek to moderate the judgment by sending Selby, in the Cromwell’s Cosmic Wind to investigate, and as a counterbalance to Wig’s own investigation.  Selby knows it is a helpless gesture, he has no power over the executor but he goes and finds himself on dying Engo in the company of the smugglers.  But Selby bears his own dreadful secret, which he has buried so long that he does not consciously acknowledge it.  Selby bears the telepath taint, ignored and suppressed so long it barely functions.  He is a transmitter.  One who can project thoughts and impression on others so strongly he can delude them.

Once on Engo he quickly meets the ancient Simon, then Lora Gant, the sister of the boy Cromwell saw, David Gant.  But it seems the mystery is ended before begun as David, frail even before the Engo, has fallen to a fever.  Selby knows Wig will not be stopped by this, the executor needs a Beyond and he will create one for his political gain.  Selby, his sympathies engaged by the exiles, seeks to shield David’s young friend, Johnny Sloan.  But there is something odd about Johnny, he is not as Vogel described.  While he is physically David, his intelligence and mental power are far above what the records show.

But it is Johnny’s sister Lora who instantly captures Selby’s attention.  The brave girl revealed herself to SoC Ad so she could accompany her little brother into exile.  Selby cannot deny his heritage after meeting her and the fear and dread of what he is fails before the need to be who he is.  Selby is no longer the observer, he has become a partisan.  Just in time for Wig and his Dept 404 team to arrive on a regular naval vessel.  The Navy men see the 404 men as fanatics, and do not care for their company but they will do their duty as Wig’s men scour the village.

The first mystery is that the town is empty of all save Simon and shows little sign of having been lived in.  The cemetery is revealed as a sham, where have the telepaths been going?  The only fly in Wig’s ointment is that Johnny is in fact dead, one of the few recent occupants of the cemetery.  Over Selby’s protestations, Wig pursues David, claiming that he is somehow the Beyond Cromwell saw.

So begins the cat and mouse dance of the parties, the telepaths, led by the mysterious David and the beautiful Lora, Selby and the Federation military under Wig.  Somehow the telepaths are escaping.  Is it the mutant underground with Olaf?  Or is something greater going on?  All parties and points converge on a midnight gathering in a darkened field where Beyond powers will war with conventional weapons in a showdown that will leave you gasping.

 A comment on the cover:  What drew me in and held me was the classic cover.  On it in beautiful, lurid colors is a giant orange moon.  Under its glare flies a spaceship straight out of the old Aurora model catalogs, something reminiscent of the fighter planes of the early Cold War and Verner Von Braun.  I believe it to be the Cosmic Wind, as it doesn’t match the limited description of the government ship.  On the surface below the ship, men in helmets chase a man and woman, doubtless Selby and Lora, dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Jetson.  The sensibility of the cover is compelling, it is pulp imagery.  It is evocative and the image will stay with you as it lures you to sad Engo and a disgraceful chapter in human evolution.  Go, there is more hope at the end then you will expect.

Pros:  The visual nature of the writing, vital, persuasive and colorful.  More than any world that I have read about, I feel that I have trod Engo’s muddy streets, turned my collar against the water falling from the weeping trees, shivered in the darkness as I stared for enemies, including the dreadful Groat, a beast that Sherlock Holmes might dread more than his own adversary, the fearsome Hound of the Baskervilles.

I have seen Lora’s brown hair blow in the chill wind, seen her pale face drawn and concerned for her brother.  Cromwell’s aged ship and crew are old friends, with their old chessboard, howling engines and conversations that have been held so long and so often by men who know each other so well that they assume the form of ritual.

 And Wig, he was my introduction to corporate and government evil, mouthing the words of high purpose for low intent.  I have seen Phillip Wig stalk the world all my life, he is a common type in history and even day-to-day.  Governments and corporations are filled with such as they gravitate to power of any sort. 

 The best compliment I can give to characters is that I believe that existed before I opened the page and after I close the book.  That’s how I feel about these

Cons- Very few.  Selby could be a more interesting character, his awakening to what he is , feels a bit too seamless and quick.  I would have liked to see more confusion and difficulty in it.

Wig while a fully realized villain is none-the-less just a villain.  There is a valid point that human nature is not compatible with telepathy.  We are not our thoughts and cannot control them beyond a point.  Try not thinking about a pink elephant.  We are entitled to the privacy of our skulls to work out those thoughts and feelings we cannot defend.  Telepathy makes you live naked in the worst sense.  In many respects that fact is glossed over.  Telepathy and Beyond powers could be the insidious end of Homo sapiens as we were for the preceding species: Home Erectus and Neanderthal.  We may well have not fought them, or exterminated them but we sealed their doom by existing, by out-competing them for mates and resources and going beyond where they could go, leaving them to wither on the vine.  A Phillip Wig who believed he was saving humanity from extinguishment might have been a more interesting character and possible elevated this from YA to a full adult piece.  Yet the world is full of people from the Nazi’s to the Khymer Rouger who acted on Wig’s ambitions with far less reason so that may not be correct.

Still one thing that elevates the villain Magneto in the X-men series is the nagging sensation that he is correct and the Xavier is a foolish idealist.  There is no example for a benign replacement or coexistence, even between cultures, much less between species.  He may merely be a realist looking at the world as it is.  And isn’t that far more frightening?

From Wikipedia

Sutton was born on July 25, 1913, in Los Angeles, California. He began work at fourteen as an office boy in the editorial department of the Los Angeles Examiner, where both he and his father worked for many years. He was a staff photographer and writer with International News Photos from 1937 to 1940.

Sutton was in the United States Marine Corps from 1932 through 1936 and reenlisted at the outset of World War II, serving with the 2nd Marine Division in the South and Central Pacific areas. His novel The River owes much to his experience on Guadalcanal. He married Eugenia Geneva Hensen on February 1, 1941, and they had two children: Christopher and Gale.

Sutton did not immediately turn to writing after the war, but worked in a number of jobs, including as an assistant to San Diego Mayor Harley Knox. After receiving his Master's degree in experimental psychology at San Diego State University, he worked as a research engineer in human factors engineering in the aerospace industry. He then worked in editorial public relations for General Dynamics, an experience he used when writing his novel The Missile Lords a few years later. As a human factors engineer working for Convair, he explored man's adaptation to machines and established his business as an editorial consultant to industry. Several years later he returned to writing.

Sutton began publishing fiction in 1958. Throughout his writing career he remained a free-lance editorial consultant to aerospace industries and published articles in related professional magazines. He published 23 novels in more than 10 languages, including a number of science fiction, war, political, and juvenile books. In one of his interviews he said that writing came naturally to him. He wrote that his greatest interest had always been people and the settings in which they function. As a writer, he focused on subjects related to his earlier work – space, astronautics, war, newspapers – and on science fiction. Among his books about space exploration are Bombs in Orbit (1959), Spacehive (1960) and Apollo at Go (1963).

Jean Sutton helped edit fifteen of her husband's novels, starting with his first fiction book First on the Moon (1958). They first collaborated as coauthors on the juvenile book The Beyond (1968). They published some juvenile books as coauthors, including The River, The Programmed Man, Lord of the Stars and others. Two of them, The Beyond and The Programmed Man,

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In addition to my love of science-fiction and fantasy, I am a mystery fan.  The two genres seem to have started together with Edgar Alan Poe, and while some of Sherlock Holmes mysteries seem to have a touch of the fantastic about them (The Devil’s Foot) it was more in his Professor Challenger that Arthur Conan Doyle cut loose and explored speculative fiction in his Lost World.  Still Mystery and SF seem like natural bookmates to me and usually are found that way in bookstores.

Today I am reviewing Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti mystery, The Girl of His Dreams.  For those who do not know this series, it is about the Venetian police (that’s Venice, Italy, not Venice, California, or Venus) in the person of the middle-aged and married Guido Brunetti, a Commissario of Police (equivalent of a Detective Lieutenant, I believe, of the NYPD.)  Brunetti is a thoughtful man, up from the working-class with a better than usual education and an appreciation of the classics.  He is married to the rather volatile Paola, a college professor fond of Henry James and has a boy and a girl.

Like most portrayals of Italian policemen, he is saddled with an incompetent, political chief (or Questura) Patta.  Brunetti seems as completely cynical about government, law and the prospects for changing anything as his fellow Venetians.  Yet at his core, Brunetti is an idealist He tilts at the windmills of the politically connected who run Venice and step on the law with apparent impunity.  He is a humanist, believing in the dignity of the individual person.  And so he fights his world-weary battles with bureaucracy and crime, aided by his big, bearish sergeant Vianelli and the every handy and delicately beautiful computer whiz, Signorina Elettra, Patta’s secretary who runs the police department  as if it was her private possession, all in Patta’s clueless name.

But let me not miss the central and most compelling character of the Brunetti series, Venice herself.  If you have not been there, you may not quite understand, but Venice is like no place on Earth.  When I stepped out of the dim brown train station into Venice proper with its exploding colors, exotic architecture and canals full of boats of all descriptions, I was a changed man.  I had come face to face with Beauty in the manifestation of a city.  I lost my heart to Venice and have not gotten it back, nor do I look to.  Never mind the throngs of tourist (was I not one?) who came from across the globe to worship at the feet of this goddess, or the other small details (everything in Venice is small, I had to open the shower doors to raise my arms) that moment of revelation is what every movie director dreams of being able to pull off.

So Venice is as, Rudy Maxa said, decadent and dreaming of her vast, past glories, and through her narrow streets (calles) and along the murky canals stalks Brunetti.  In this adventure he is called to a scene where a 12 years old girl’s body has been pulled from a canal.  She is one of the Roma, a gypsy, despised as troublemakers and petty thieves in Italy.  On her corpse are a watch and a wedding ring.  The burglary the child committed was not reported.  Italians avoid all contact with their impotent police force save for the middle crimes.  For the lesser crimes, it is not worth it and nothing will happen.  For the great crimes, those of the Mafia or wealthy, nothing dares happen.  The Mafia, in these books, is referred to as it were another branch of government, a great power and it is untroubled by the police who seem to exist to war with the middle branch of working class crime.  The Guarda Di Finanaza battles the Mafia to the extent anyone does and the regular police rarely, in Brunetti’s world, seem to encounter them.

Still occasionally one of the rich and powerful who move through the same waters as the Mafia stumbles and falls into Brunetti’s sights and on these he shows no mercy, pursuing them with dogged determination regardless of the threat to his career.

Brunetti wishes to know if the child, who no one has reported missing, or is looking for, was pushed or if she fell escaping the homeowners.  He knows she would not have been alone so someone knows.  This leads him into the closeted and dark world of the Roma, persecuted for many decades and nearly exterminated by the Nazis.  They do not trust the police, yet he is able to wheedle out some leads.

Spoiler Alert (Stop here, skip the italics and read on and you will be safe)

Yet in this book, too much reality leaks in.  Brunetti pursues his investigation originally with the tacit acceptance of his superior Patta, which is reversed when Patta learns that the burglarized family is connected by an engagement to the son of the minister who oversees the police.  This then becomes like some of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, where Brunetti like Holmes, learns what is going on, unravels the mystery but does not, as a protagonist, bring the culprits to justice.  He does not have the evidence.  This is all too realistic a scenario and in a long series like this, completely forgivable.  Like Doyle, Donna Leon realizes her hero cannot win all the time.  Sometimes he must settle for knowing.  Yes as with those Holmes stories, it leaves a vaguely unsatisfied feeling, this is not the Hound of the Baskervilles, but more the Black Hand, where the Hero is more witness to crime than avenger of it.

Okay back on the record.   I enjoyed this book as you would any visit with an old friend, whose quirks and habits charm you.  You long to walk with them to the brioche stand and have a glass grappa, to stand in the Venetian sun and dream of ancient empire.  For those who wish to enter this series, do not start here though, this book, in my view, requires that your relationship with Brunetti already exist.  Start with Aqua Alta or Death in a Strange Land.  Get to know Brunetti and Venice first and then read this.

A few notes on the TV series as seen on PBS.   Talk of your multi-cultural experiences!  Donna Leon, an American who has lived all over, does not trust the Italian governments she writes so scathingly of and will not employ an Italian company to film these mysteries.  The Donna Leon mysteries are filmed in Venice, but with an all German cast and crew.  Even Brunetti is played by a German Uwe Kockisch. Even for Germans, this cast looks GERMAN, particularly his wife Paola.  So you read the subtitles of what the Germans, playing Italians, say.  It can be jarring initially.  However if this is all the price I must pay to see my beloved Venice, I will pay it happily.
Venice Canal Painting by Schelly Keefer

Sunday, May 6, 2012

FREE- FREE-FREE (Kindle) The one, the only, the original, Lair of the Lesbian Love Goddess story. Meet Brian McManus, Regina Del Mar and everyone's favorite transgender informant Freddie Bouvier

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Here is the lastest freebie

Paul Cole I close this week’s program with A New York Minuted by Edward McKeown. This strange piece of fiction in truth well couched fantasy. The premise is a tall tale told in a pub in down town New York about the strange court held in Central Park. Ron Huber reads this fast paced tale and I know you will love the read.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The image will make sense after you hear it
It was the original artwork from when Planet Magazine pubbed it

Beam Me Up Podacast will be broadcasting my story New York Minute this Saturday, you can download it for a podcast for Free Enjoy-

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Thing from Another World vs John Carpenter's The Thing

Member Movie Review: The Thing from Another World vs John Carpenter's The ThingThe Thing From Another World (1951)
John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)

This is one of my favorite movies of all time, the original Howard Hawks version of John Campell's story of personal invasion. Who goes there?

Remade by John Carpenter in his 1982 version which enjoyed indifferent success and recently in another movie version that I have not yet but refer you to the SFReader review.

Why is the Hawks version my favorite and why does it pull ahead of so many other SF movies? Simply put, the story concentrates on the people. All of the characters enjoy considerable underlying verity, one gets the impression that they had existed before we tuned into their story and would carry on after. Unlike so many movies where the characters seem to exist only to be slaughtered (female ones while in their Victoria Secret underwear) these were fully fleshed out adults with existing relationships.

The plot: a US base at the top of the world detects the crash of an object from space. The air force dispatches a C-47 cargo plane with some airmen to the base to help the science team investigate. They discover a flying saucer buried in the ice from the crash the day before. The attempt to free the 20,000 ton saucer with thermite triggers an explosion, wrecking the saucer. All is not lost, the "corpse" of an alien pilot is found nearby. This time axes are used to retrieve the body and they return to the science lab.

But the alien is not dead, revived when he is accidentally thawed from his block of ice, he attacks the science team. The humanoid alien, reminiscent of the Baldies from Andre Norton's Time Agent and Witch World series though much more physically formidable, is attacked by a frightened guard and breaks out. Though the first shots are fired by humans (to little effect) this visitor is not the reasonable Klatuu of The Day the Earth Stood Still, he does not come in peace. He is a plant life form, inimically hostile to all alien life. His kind lives on animal blood and he sees us as mere bags of liquid food.

The soldiers and scientists battle the thing in a series of running battles that pit wit and brawn against each other. The humans are divided. Some in the science team insist on trying to negotiate with the monster, nobly motivated but impractical, they are killed by the monster or overruled by their own. The battle will be to the death.

The Thing plays its master stroke, it cuts off the heat. The humans huddle in the generator shed, a concentrated arget, near helpless as the Thing is indifferent to bullets and barely harmed even by fire. However as Noah saved mankind with an Ark of Wood, the scientists duplicate the feat with an arc of electricity. In the last stand of the humans, the enemy is lured into a trap and electrocuted. Humanity emerges victorious but wary; the film ends with the invocation, "Watch the skies."

This seems a conventional humanoid monster movie but the focus is the interaction by the humans. The playful and grown up sexy relationship between Kenneth Tobey's, Captain Hendry and Margaret Sheridan's, Nikki Nicholson is a highlight of the film. Hendry's relationship with his three man crew is rife with the good-natured kidding of a group of men who have served long together (implication is WWII Pacific) with respect and affection. Hendry, while in charge is more than happy to defer to good ideas from his Sergeant the mark of a true leader.

Douglas Spencer's reporter character, Ned "Scotty" Scott, is the best mix of the Ernie Pyle style of reporter. He is one of the guys, though devoted to the freedom of the press, and clashes with Hendry over Air Force secrecy. He is in the thick of the fighting with the Air Force, a stand up guy.

The scientist, Doctor Carrington, does dip into the area of cliché, he is the egghead, impractically insisting on peaceful coexistence where no chance exists. His naïve attempts result in the death of several colleagues and the near loss of the base. Yet he is saved from cliché by everyone's intense respect for his intelligence and his purity of motive. At the end he is referred to as having been wounded in the defense of the station, by Scott. To which the Air Force Lieutenant behind him says, "Good for you, Scotty." It's perceived that Carrington was willing to sacrifice his own life to save a source of knowledge and head off the conflict. These soldiers and scientist fresh from a World War and stuck in a Cold War, held off with their weapons to give peace a last chance when Carrington runs up to the monster to try and reason with it. But when the thing strikes Carrington down, rejecting the last chance at peace, they respond with cold-eyed ferocity and destroy their enemy.

With its overlapping and naturalistic dialogue, its intensely well-acted secondary and tertiary characters, the ensemble casts handles the piece well, elevating it above the pedestrian monster script that Campbell's story was made into. What distinguishes this movie is the attitude of its post WWII cast. They believe in science, they believe in the chain of command and cooperative effort. They support peace but have seen the price of appeasement.

This contrasts with the moody John Carpenter version which is far truer to the original short story. In this version you can count on no one. The monster invades the body of any living creature taking it over from the inside, including in the case of humans, their memories, skills and evident personality. The friend of many years could be a face-sucking enemy.

I am always puzzled by this characteristic which seems more of fantasy then science fiction. How could an alien absorb my memory, my knowledge and act in such a way as to persuade people that the alien is me. I can't even pass for French and the alien can pass for us? Well most SF pieces get at least one pass on the issue of the impossible, usually it's FTL. Here it is the way the critter "absorbs" us.

Kurt Russell plays the main character and I guess what says it all about this movie is, while its visuals easily exceed the far more effective original, and it is well acted and far more frightening, I do not remember the name or backstory of a single character. The supply of scientists and workers at this base, are a largely faceless and colorless bunch that you do not get to know, or really care about, before they start getting devoured. The monster is effectively monstrous but to me the movie is mostly a gorefest in the horror style. People die in unpleasant ways as again the science team battles the enemy. In the style of our modern times, the monster is insidious, the enemy is not clear cut, nor is there any way to talk to it. The original film monster recognized the attempts at communication; he merely dismissed them as beneath his attention. However he was an intelligent being with a plan. It is not clear what the monster from Carpenter's film is: alien crew, cargo, guard dog or hostile parasite that slaughtered the crew of the giant ship. It too, is implacably hostile.

The movie tracks in a similar fashion though there are no soldiers on the base, just Kurt Russell's disaffected helicopter pilot MacReady, the base seems improbably armed with flamethrowers and other weaponry. Here the movie ends with Russell and one other man staring at each other. Neither is sure the other is human and they settle down with a bottle of scotch to freeze to death. Humanity wins but the battle is phyrric.

I try not to compare these two movies too closely. They were done in very different times and reflect different national gestalts: the consistency of the well-welded society of the early 50's when the US dominance was an established fact and the belief in collective action was strong--to the anti-heroic and moody 70's/80s reflecting the national atmosphere of disillusionment with government and any collective action. You were on your own. The movies try to different things but I give my nod to the original.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Book Review: Across a Billion Years, by Robert Silverburg


Member Book Review: Across a Billion Years, by Robert SilverburgAcross a Billion Years, by Robert Silverberg
Year first published: 1969
Review by Ed McKeown

Scattered throughout the globe of human-occupied space is evidence of a civilization that bestrode the galaxy before humanity was born. Now, a strange device has been discovered that shows the details of that great civilization. The details include a star map and hints that the High Ones are not extinct after all.

The map beckons, and humans, being what they are, will follow. To the next great step in human destiny--or ultimate disaster.

Robert Silverberg's YA story of an archeological expedition that comes face to face with the history they are studying is one of the best YA novels that I have read. It is told in an epistolary fashion through the device of "message cubes" that the protagonist, Tom Rice, a young graduate student on his first deep space expedition, is recording for his disabled telepath sister left behind on Earth.

This mixed race expedition of humans and aliens is on the trail of the High Ones, a near God-like race that ruled the galaxy a billion years ago. Despite the high concepts of the book, ancient powerful aliens, machines that run for a billion years, Dyson spheres and more, it is in the down to Earth details of Tom Rice's life and perceptions that the piece pulls you in. Tom is not a politically correct young man, which is in a way refreshing; he is having to deal with prejudices about aliens and artificial humans. He is snarky and over-opinionated. Tom reveals this aloud through the messages to his sister and one does see him develop as a human being both in tolerance and humility as the expedition plows forward into greater and greater danger and hardship.

One scene I did find a bit off-putting was his indifference to a young lady getting molested by another team member while they were uncovering a great discovery. While the incident is not a serious assault, and she wards off the hapless "lady's man" with ease, it is none-the-less something that takes you a bit by surprise and reduced my identification with the character. The book was written before 1969 and like other movies and books is a product of its time and the attitudes then. Occasionally one can risk one's POV character being a jerk (witness the scene in the 2004 movie Sideways where the character played by Paul Giamatti stole money from his mother) but it is a dangerous move in first person story. Still Silverberg makes it work.

His understanding of women and love grows also in the story starting out with some fairly typical and close to cliché interactions with Jan, who ends up being his girlfriend. But he is very young and how well did anyone of us understand the opposite gender at that age? So he is not unsympathetic in his fumbling toward romance and understanding.

From this more or less young "everyman's" perspective we see the expedition uncover a series of finds that bring the long lost alien's closer to our own time. Here Silverberg excels with the sense of wonder and excitement until we come face to face with working technology of the High Ones. But no discovery is without cost and a deadly one is extracted. Further discoveries abound until we stand on the edge of a new future that could imperil everything from the past and we learn that those we had looked on as near Gods, may have had feet of clay.

Across a Billion Years is an enjoyable read, perhaps a tad dated. There are areas you longed to see explored more, the artificial human female, Kelly occupies less of the book than I would have liked. We encounter AIs that seem to have some emotionality but that is also not explored. Still, there are only so many pages in a book and you have to choose characters and plot lines to follow and others to regretfully let slip by. I suppose the best thing you can say there is that you wanted more time with some of the characters and the milieu at the end of the book. Tom Rice may not start as someone you would necessarily seek out as a friend, but he ends as a young man you would be proud to know.

Across a Billion Years, by Robert Silverburg at Powells

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, edited by Warren Lapine

Member Book Review: Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, edited by Warren LapineEdit

Member Book Review: Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, edited by Warren LapineFantastic Stories of the Imagination, edited by Warren Lapine
Wilder Publications
Reviewed by Ed McKeown

Fantastic Stories of the Imagination is Warren Lapine's new anthology, taking an SF magazine sensibility into the anthology market. He brings 14 very diverse stories by a wide range of authors from great masters such as Mike Resnick and Harlan Elision to more recent discoveries (at least to me). Fans of the Liaden universe will be glad to see a Sharon Lee and Steve Miller story.

The tales go from pure science fiction through to urban fantasy. There is no theme to the anthology though many of the stories deal with the intersection between man and machine and the question of where one leaves off. Most of the stories deal with ethical and moral issues characters face, about when to intervene in someone else’s life or situation. Love is encountered, succeeds, disappoints, fails and rises from the ashes as we learn to cope, to hold and to release.

These stories do not disappoint. In reviewing the ones below I applied my peculiar standard which is that it matters little whether I personally like a story but rather whether I felt the author was successful at telling their story. Likes vary too much. Still I am pleased to report there were no stories that I didn’t like, this was a strong field worthy of Churchill Downs and no nags started this race. Some appealed to me more and a very few a bit less but those were due to personal preferences, as Warren observed he does not generally care for Steampunk or religious stories yet both are present in here. So one’s preferences should always be balanced with IS THIS GOOD? WAS IT SUCCESSFUL? As an editor myself I have published stories that I did not like, where the author took a character to a place I personally did not believe the character would go. But I accepted it because it was valid, it was well-written and it belonged. As an editor you want to avoid making all the work sound like yours or your favorite authors. You need to keep room for pieces that defy your expectations. My guess is Warren felt the same.

Full disclosure: I have met Mike Resnick socially and been published by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.

The first story “Interface Patterns” by Kelly McCullough introduces some interesting technology in a future so dominated by computer assistance in daily living as to make the most wired of the latest generation look like Luddites. This is a crime story with an interestingly dark protagonist who may identify a little too much with the other side. Believe me, you will feel the impact of the end of this piece. Usually I am not a fan of virtual reality stories but this one is anchored in blood and pain and will not be confused with a bloodless “holodeck” adventure. VR bites hard in this piece.

Harlan Ellison’s “A Tiny Man” simply has to be read and experienced and I am not quite up to the task of explaining it to you. Madness and genius with two different endings, you will think of this one for a long while after. There is biting satire; an unusual first person narrator addressing the reader, and the perspective is at once intimate and distant. Is it a metaphor? A satire? A tale of Frankenstein in miniature, or have I followed Alice too far down the rabbit hole? All I can tell you it is damn good. Read it and wish you could write this. I did.

“Steaming Into Wonderland” by Douglas Cohen Well I swear that when I mentioned Alice in the proceeding note I had no idea I would literally be going down the rabbit hole with her in Douglas Cohen’s work. I must confess to never having read Alice in Wonderland and now I think that if I do I will find it dull by comparison with this romp through a most unusual wonderland. The Matrix meets Dungeons and Dragons and no one is quite what they seem. The real world references to Suicide Kings are sly reminders that this is not Lewis Carroll yet the voice is kept so well in tune that you may forget. Again, I have not read Carroll but Alice permeates that culture and no one now escapes Disney and the Mouse that Roars so it is certainly what I think of as Alice and probably truer to the original than many of the later movies.

“The Digital Eidolon That Fits In Your Pocket” is Trent Zelazney’s entry. This is the first piece in third person and makes a nice break from the first person perspectives of the other stories. It is a daringly written piece about the converse of all those wedding videos you see these days documenting the couple’s courtship. It features an encounter with a very peculiar salesman, a staple of encounters on the edge of the Twilight Zone. This story generates a real fear that, like the movie Gattaca, it presages a technology that is nearly upon us and that someday in the not too distant future, a salesman might offer you this item, and change the way in which we deal with the final arbiter of our existence, Death. Don’t look up Eidolon until after you read the story. The tone changes from ironic to chilling, and we are left with a question of who or what the Salesman is and how true his claims are. I would have liked a little more on that Salesman but if your worry is that you wanted to stay in a story after it ended that’s a good thing.

Riding the Bus by Tom Piccirilli is written with a fine New York sensibility that comes with an accent in your head (full disclosure I am from New York) and that sense of coping with impossibility that is a daily feature of life in New York. I actually laughed out with joy and enthusiasm with this noir-toned tale. I’d like to buy Tom a beer at some point. This was the first piece of the anthology that didn’t deal with us and technology at sword’s points. It was more about the classics of human life, hope and death. A well-written piece and whatever you think you see coming will not detract from it when it arrives.

“Sluggo” by Mike Resnick. If I laughed aloud in Ton Piccirilli’s story, as I write this, tears sting my eyes at Mike Resnick’s “Sluggo” a tale of loneliness and isolation with hope sprinkled on it. Yet the hope is not the one you expect and the bargain made is not the common one. A true friendship is the most valuable of commodities and love in whatever form it arrives is never to be despised or traded away. Dammit, I need a moment here…

The Swap by Barry Longyear. I needed an emotional break after Sluggo and found it in The Swop, this was a simply fun, though not simply written, tale of revenge and closure and the consequences of the lies we tell ourselves. The setting of Carlsbad Caverns made for an additional interest in this amusing tale of characters on the road of the afterlife.

Starwisps by Edward J McFadden. This tale takes us off our Earth for the first time into a fantasy world with an unlikely airship called the airscrew and Prince trying to save his people. This loosely Steampunk tale put me in mind of the works of Jack Vance in the Dying Sun series though less cynical and bitter. In the end it is the tale of a Prince and a Commoner there is a chance of happily ever after and they have a dog. What more could you ask for?

Custody by Jay O’Connell. Even the undead have family problems in this fast moving take of Mom, Dad and a the teenager whose going to drive them both crazy. This story features an immediacy and point of view that will remind you of True Blood and Sookie.

Haircut by Shariann Lewitt, is a powerful story of a young woman making a choice, I realized that I let out a pent up breath when she did, I was that relieved. I think that tells you most of what you need to know about this involving work. If you need more, well the story deals with life and death and the issue of at what point we trade what we were given by God (or random chance if you are an atheist) for what science can give you, when you do not HAVE to, when you are healthy.

A Cry for Hire, by Carole McDonnell, this piece deals with the intersection of fantasy and religion, a difficult address at the best of time. McDonnell uses a large old house that opens on to other realities and a woman caught in the hypocrisy of her marriage and religion as she reinterprets her life through the boy she meets in another world. Shades of CS Lewis and Orson Scott Card flavor this outing.

And What Were Roses? by Mary A Turzillo is a love story, human and mutant and the issue of whether love can survive the differences. In here too is an interesting issue on revenge. It’s said that an alcoholic must give up alcohol for themselves not for the good of another, and it seems the same can be said of revenge and hatred. You must do it for yourself or you will take to the bottle or the bomb again.

A Box in My Pocket by Amy Sundberg. Another sweet tale of longing and loss that will make your eyes sting if you have ever lost anyone. Sometimes the things we try to hang onto hardest are forced through our fingers. Maybe the thing we want to hang onto is not good for us to keep. It’s a real world issue we all face and will make you think.

Starblaze by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. The anthology wraps up with the only other story to be set entirely off our world, an SF piece of the Liaden universe of Lee and Miller, known for having its own extensive following. Here we find out that the experience of a taxi driver is a universal constant. You never know what can happen when you pick up a fare.

Because this story cannot explain the Liaden universe in its complexity, you may want to look up some information on it. Liaden are humans but culturally they are very Japanese or for readers of CJ Cherryh rather like the huge Atevi of her Foreigner universe. This is a complicated read so pay attention there is a whole universe in here and it is not casually followed. Honor and integrity battle consequences in this tale of a driver who goes to the nth degree for her fares.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Was Once a Hero #8 on Amazon Kindle SF

My publisher just told me we are #8 on Amazon Kindle for Science-Fiction. That is fantastic news and I thank all of you out there. We are still giving Was Once A Hero away for free on Amazon for 4 more days. Please get yours and hit the like button while you are there is you would. Look for the other wonderful writers of Dawn Hellfirepublishing too!
Reluctant privateer Robert Fenaday searches the stars for his lost love, Lisa, a naval intelligence officer whose ship disappeared near the end of the Conchirri War . He’s joined by the genetically engineered assassin, Shasti Rainhell, whose cold perfection masks her dark past. Both are bl...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Free for Download- Was Once a Hero

Free at Last, Was Once a Hero is free to download for the next five days for anyone. Enjoy.
Please retweet or repost so everyone can take advantage of the freebie

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Book Review: Sha?Daa, Last Call, edited by Edward McKeown. Michael Hanson, series creator

Book Review: Sha?Daa, Last Call, edited by Edward McKeown. Michael Hanson, series creatorEdit

Book Review: Sha’Daa, Last Call, edited by Edward McKeown. Michael Hanson, series creatorSha'Daa, Last Call, edited by Edward McKeown; Michael Hanson, series creator
Reviewed by Michael D. Griffiths
Publisher: Altered Dimensions
Year Published: 2010
Rating: (4/5)

This is the second book in what I hope will be a very long series of Sha'Daa titles. In case you have been captured by aliens or the like, the Sha'Daa is an event which takes place every 10,000 years. During the 48 hours of the Sha'Daa, the barrier between Hell and Earth is weakened. Throughout this time, the denizens of Hell not only journey to the Earth to feed, but also to try to claim it as their own. It is up to various, and mostly unsuspecting, humans to turn the tide and defend their world.

But, luckily for us, humanity is not without its allies. Chief amongst these is the mysterious trickster, Jonny, also known as ?The Salesman'. Jonny himself is barred from interfering directly in the Sha'Daa, but is able to supply people with items that could save the day, as long as they are willing to trade something dear in return.
Jonny also has another ally: the eternal barkeep Bak, the sole owner of the Triple Six Tavern. He has run his bar for thousands of years and realizes that an Earth-destroying apocalypse would probably be bad for business.

The book contains 12 stories, written by 10 different authors, set in this universe. But there is also a unifying interlude between each story, which, in this case, tends to focus on Bak's Triple Six Tavern and Jonny. If that isn't enough, the book also features over a dozen illustrations based on the various stories.

The saga begins with the cover story, "I Kill Zombies", by Edward McKeown. When a comic-loving teen is asked for a second, he picks the ultra-hottie superheroine of his dreams, Raven. But when he meets her, will she really be what he expected, or even able to help him fight through hordes of zombies?

We go from non-stop action to a more esoteric tale in "A Matter of Faith" by Arthur Sanchez. An old priest, who speaks of needing to sacrifice his life to stop the legendary Sha'Daa, has either gone completely mad or is the hero that could end up saving all of San Francisco.

Next is Paul Barrett's "As You Sow". A man watches as his estranged grandson is killed at his doorstep. Things go from horrible to abysmal when the man's own farm turns against him.

"The Road Forsaken", by Sha'Daa creator Michael Hanson, comes next. This is a straight-up horror story with several creepy details. You just have to read it. It's my favorite tale in the anthology.

Sarah Wagner is the author of "In the Chamber of Skulls". I have read her cyberpunk novel Hard Hired Humanity and she does the transition to horror nicely. A mom tries to keep her kids safe, but she is surrounded by people hell-bent on using her daughters for foul rituals.

"The Voyage of Eris" by T. Anthony Truax is an inventive story where a small group of people quickly discover they'd better step up and try to be heroes before they all end up dead. Like many of the stories in this book, you can't put this one down until you read the whole thing.

Ed McKeown gives us "Hellbeast". This isn't some kind of monster, but rather a monster-sized military vehicle used to haul broken-down tanks. Between Ed's two stories, I think I favor this one. It is full of action, suspense, and loads of violence and gore. He leaves you wondering if these veterans of battle and their vehicle have what it takes to go up against a true hellbeast.

Michael Hanson also takes another swing with "Iron Girl". I challenge anyone to find a dark fantasy story where the hero is a deaf, dumb and blind girl. And boy, can she kick some ass. Innovative and pushing boundaries, it leaves you wondering if Michael was trying to challenge his writing abilities, or if he was writing this one on a dare.

"Silent Hunter", by Deborah Koren, starts with a clich?: Inexperienced Lieutenant Javers is suddenly put in charge of a submarine after all his superior officers are killed by a huge, Cthulhuish beast. However, the story makes up for this little fault by the sheer, gut-yanking terror the crew goes through when the crew members try to engage in combat with a creature over the size of ten whales.

Bruce Durham brings us "Deathstalk", another story where the military take its hand at fighting creatures that no one discussed in boot camp. This one is pure adventure, the character development is good, and the monsters are pretty darn scary. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I have to say this story really delivers. By the time you get here, the reader is left thinking, "Damn, I'm reading a jam-packed book."

Jordan Lapp gives the anthology an injection of terror with "Reach in the Acid". The protagonist is trapped and alone on the Moon, until a bizarre, foul beast arrives.

"The Four Horsemen" by the late James I. Wasserman is a new take on this archetype. What if the Four Horseman were real and you were stuck fighting them? Oh, yeah, by the way, they can't be killed by any normal means. The result is not a pretty picture.

Some of the stories in Sha'Daa are comicbookish rather than pure horror or dark fantasy, which dilutes the experience. Also here and there, one sees instances where clich?s are employed. However, don't let these small faults slow you down. Sha'Daa is entertaining and packs a real punch. Any fan of horror or dark fantasy should have this book on a shelf. But be warned: watch out for that Salesman, because if he comes calling, that means you are about to be thrust into some serious trouble and you'd better have something to trade.

Learn more about Sha'Daa: Last Call

SFReader - Book Review: Sha?Daa, Last Call, edited by Edward McKeown. Michael Hanson, series creator

SFReader - Book Review: Sha?Daa, Last Call, edited by Edward McKeown. Michael Hanson, series creator

Monday, March 26, 2012

A list of interview and Articles on Was Once a Hero

Was Once A Hero by Edward McKeown. Book 1 of the Robert Fenaday Shasti Rainhell Trilogy
Was Once A Hero cover

Reluctant privateer Robert Fenaday searches the stars for his lost love, Lisa, a naval intelligence officer whose ship disappeared near the end of the Conchirri War . He?s joined by the genetically engineered assassin, Shasti Rainhell, whose cold perfection masks her dark past. Both are blackmailed by government spymaster, Mandela, into a suicidal mission to the doomed planet Enshar. Leading a team of scientists and soldiers, they must unravel the mystery of that planet?s death before an ancient force reaches out to claim their lives.

The classic Planet Stories of S/F have suffered abandonment, without a rescuer, until now. Edward McKeown's "Was Once A Hero" combines adventure and romance with the dark humor and human complexities absent from a more black-and-white age. Robert Fenaday and Shasti Rainhell are real people. They make mistakes, they hurt, they stumble in the dark emotionally, and they save the world. They are flawed, wounded heroes, and they make you realize, as you hungrily turn each page, that the best fiction contains excitement and passion; and the best aspect of life is the possibility of personal redemption. Was Once a Hero provides both." Tim McLoughlin, author of "Heart of the Old Country" (Movie Title: The Narrows) and Editor of "Brooklyn Noir"

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