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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