Captain Marvel, Memorabilia, and Music

Captain Marvel Mini-Review

(I don’t think I’m spoiling anything in the sense of revealing anything non-obvious but, if you want to be in suspense about whether, in the most general sense, Captain Marvel saves the day or not, skip to the next sections.)

It wasn’t my idea but I saw Captain Marvel this evening. It opens with an infodump which shows part of the plot, sci-fi comic book stuff notwithstanding, to be something suitable for a WWII movie with a spy behind enemy lines in need of extraction. It then intermittently moves between action and talk as the heroine tries to Discover Her Identity and Find Her True Strength. There follows an unbelievable reversal (though probably obvious and taken-for-granted if you’re more familiar with all this stuff – the movie assumes you’re steeped in its lore and innumerable related films) and then the net comes completely down as everything turns to ludicrously hot butter before the Woman (the grrl-power motif is extremely ham-handed: male pilot to female pilot, “You know why it’s called a cockpit, don’t you?” and the Montage in which the female is repeatedly knocked down but, nevertheless, she persists, and so on). That said, it looks fantastic with spiffy special effects (but for what movie is that not true these days?) and segments of it are entertaining with a nice 90s soundtrack (not an easy feat) and lots of other period elements as well as a couple of young SHIELD agents. And, of course, I’m evil and boneheaded and wrong for saying such offensive things and she’ll kick my ass, but the heroine is attractive and has an appealing sense of whimsy. I assume fans of this sort of thing will enjoy it and those who aren’t won’t find it too painful (aside from the butter thing).

Musical Interlude

My “rock/classical” ratio has been skewing more classical than usual lately and it occurs to me that, if I had to pick a dozen favorite composers on a sort of combo of the two factors of being reasonably massive and really enjoyable to me (as opposed to relatively obscure people or one-hit wonders I like inordinately) they would be (in chronological order): Corelli, Albinoni, Vivaldi, Telemann, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms. Which is to say, my taste in classical music is very boring, I suppose. (Now playing: Telemann’s first set of Paris Quartets.)

They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To

When I was reading Berserker recently, my 1978 copy had accidentally doubled inserts from the SFBC (Science Fiction Book Club) and one of them sort of fell out and I sort of fell off my chair looking it over. (I meant to comment on this after the review post but forgot.) The insert offers 25 books from which you need to pick four for ten cents. You have to buy four more books in the next year, which will cost at least $1.98 (plus the shipping and handling, which will be more than you’d imagine but still leave it a decent deal). What struck me was that I would have been perfectly willing to take twenty-three of them. I currently own sixteen and have read two others. Titles such as Asimov’s The Hugo Winners, Vols. I & II (2-in-1) and The Foundation Trilogy (3-in-1). Wollheim’s 1977 annual (with Varley’s “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank,” Asimov’s “The Bicentennial Man,” and Tiptree’s “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?”). All My Sins Remembered by Joe Haldeman. Gateway by Frederik Pohl. The Faded Sun: Kesrith by C.J. Cherryh. Starlight (2-in-1) by Alfred Bester. The Best of L. Sprague de Camp. The Book of Skaith by Leigh Brackett and The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison (both 3-in-1). More titles by Burroughs, Silverberg, Ellison, Clarke, Anderson, Niven, Benford, Dickson, etc.

Musical Conclusion

Dick Dale, the king of surf guitar, dies at 81. Sad news that I had to note. A true trailblazer. In addition to the unbeatable “Misirlou” and the great version of “Pipeline” in the article, here’s “The Wedge.”

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Review: Black Static #68, March/April 2019 (at Tangent)

This issue of Black Static contains two novelettes and four short stories
whose quality are almost uniformly inversely proportional to their length,
with the shortest story achieving excellence, though a few may be sufficiently
creepy to entertain.

Continue reading at Tangent.

Recommended:

  • “Totenhaus” by Amanda J. Bermudez (horror short story)

Review: Interzone #280, March/April 2019 (at Tangent)

The 280th number of Interzone contains two fantasies and three science fiction tales (including a novelette) which feature some religion, revenge, redemption, reconfiguration, and romance. While none appealed to me, all are substantial and some may appeal to someone.

Continue reading at Tangent.

Review: Clarkesworld #150, March 2019

Clarkesworld #150, March 2019

Original Fiction:

  • “But, Still, I Smile” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires (science fiction? novelette)
  • “When Home, No Need to Cry” by Erin K. Wagner (science fiction short story)
  • “Death of an Air Salesman” by Rich Larson (science fiction short story)
  • “Dreams Strung Like Pearls Between War and Peace” by Nin Harris (fantasy short story)
  • “Treasure Diving” by Kai Hudson (science fiction short story)
  • “The Thing with the Helmets” by Emily C. Skaftun (science fantasy short story)

(I would ordinarily have had this review done awhile ago but I’ve been under the weather.)

Smile” would seem to be matching a woman’s personal efforts to produce human life and her professional efforts to find alien life but I quit reading it a quarter of the way through. Since the author and editor are paid to produce English and failed, the review is that it doesn’t meet the minimum standards for a review.*Cry” would seem to take place in the same hospital as the prior story with associates similarly breaking rules for the protagonist. In this, it’s not a woman’s child, but the woman herself who is dying. She’s gone into space and had an Experience, developed cancer, and is now on Earth, waiting to die, but wants to go back to space. Many readers may expect one of a couple of interesting things to happen but will be disappointed. “Death” portrays a woman meeting a great guy and having a great relationship with him. Since this takes place in a dystopia of plague, unbreathable air, and wage slavery broken only by brief rentals of tiny cubicles in which people can watch gore and porn while not sleeping, it’s clear things aren’t as they seem. “Dreams” is not SF but is a steampunk fantasy/revenge fantasy in which a plethora of ethnic-like groups revolt against oppression. “Diving” has a familiar setting and involves a critter nearly getting eaten by a giant mutant anglerfish while diving for radioactive “treasure” and somehow surviving a breach of her pressure suit. The atypically hopeful elements which arise from all this might be welcome but aren’t convincing. “Helmets” is the real outlier of the issue. It doesn’t quite work but is better than the rest, unless “Death.” It’s reminiscent of “A Fine Night for Tea and Bludgeoning” by Beth Cato (Little Green Men–Attack!, 2017) with its bizarre juxtaposition of aliens and roller derby and other incongruities. The latter include eldritch helmets which elevate the roller derby girls to worthy adversaries of the invading aliens – but at a cost. This is the sort of thing that might be just silly enough to work for some readers but I guess I wanted it to be even sillier.


* The first two thousand words contained at least:

It was like those old nursery rhymes where one thing compiled on the next compiled on the next and became a monstrous sentence with qualifiers abound.

It was while thinking this… that the strange anomaly caught my breath.

An anomalous pattern of radio signals. It wasn’t like anything I’ve seen before.

pocketed the stickers fast like they were contraband [no “like” – they were contraband]

The nurse must have watching over me, rooting for me. She didn’t mention to anyone else about the miscarriage… She had simply logged in the necessary checkups…

“If only FTL drives were invented,” I said. “Then we course through to the outskirts of the universe and seek out more lives.”

“Just be lucky we have even enough power to get to Proxima Centauri. So much of our energy put into keeping the seas at bay and the skies barely breathable enough to live. We’re really hanging on a thread…”

While the most extreme example, it was not the only story with special English. For instance, “Dreams” has someone “wrought with fear” (barely possible but more likely “wracked”) and has a “heart beating like a caged bird” in which the figure is so dead no real effort is made to say it properly. (The usual simile is more along the lines of “my heart struggled within my ribs like a caged bird.”) And “Treasure” has “radiation that turned poison over prolonged exposure.”

Review: Lightspeed #106, March 2019

 

Lightspeed #106, March 2019

LS106

Semi-Original Fiction:

  • “On the Shores of Ligeia” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (science fiction short story)
  • “My Children’s Home” by Woody Dismukes (science fiction short story)
  • “Self-Storage Starts with the Heart” by Maria Romasco Moore (fantasy short story)
  • “A Hundred Thousand Arrows” by Ashok K. Banker (fantasy novelette)

As a notice, rather than a review, “Arrows” is the fourth of at least five consecutive out-takes from a “Burnt Empire” novel and takes 40% of this issue’s “original” word count. Also, “Ligeia” is a reprint of a 2018 story originally published in a Chinese magazine, leaving just over 10,000 words of indisputably original fiction in the other two stories.

Home” has steampunk robots and adults, who were once vat-grown children, raising other vat-grown children. There are no females anywhere but D-13 is considered an attractive boy by D-6 and the adult of the house as well as a strange bureaucrat who intervenes to take D-13 away, after which the adult and D-6 react. I could find no real logic in this story and the ending, such as it is, seems like an unwarranted assertion rather than a natural result of events.

Self-Storage” starts poorly with an unappealing protagonist (James) bemoaning the loss of his only friend who’s gotten married, had a kid, and stopped wargaming with him. (The homoerotic element which is brought into the open near the end is obvious from the start.) The fantasy gimmick is that emotions can be stored so that they won’t affect those who store them but it’s expensive. With a little effort and some chewing gum and baling wire, James creates a low-cost DIY version and, with the help of a new business partner, makes the lower-cost service available to others. In this middle, the story became more interesting. But repression is bad and, after an encounter with the old friend (which leaves us wondering why James loves such a jerk, albeit a partially correct jerk) things get worse before an all-too-easy ending which is arguably worse than the beginning.

Finally, I’m not sure whether to review “Ligeia” (the reprint which was billed as an original) because it falls in the cracks in an odd way. On the one hand, it’s a reprint and from a translation and from 2018 but, on the other, this was presumably how it was originally written and it appears in English for the first time in 2019. However, I did read it and the review is simple. On a literary level, almost any propaganda so obvious (or a story so warped for publication) is a failure. In this, an American has gotten a job at the ESA and is exploring Titan via semi-AI robot. The US is scheduled to launch a manned mission to Mars. The US mission fails, the ESA robot gets stuck, and it’s Chinese drones, which have secretly made their way to Titan, to the rescue! I could also complain about how the protagonist initially “sounded like a blithering fanboy, he knew” until he encounters a sign of what may be life and then he “put on his best professional voice” or how the robot was supposedly designed to exhibit curiosity after the fashion of a human but “lurched forward, resuming its biology program, untroubled by the appearance of little flying machines where none should be” (machinery is evidence of biology!)

(As far as the propaganda, it prompted a digression which really doesn’t belong in a review, as such, so I cut it, but I should write another post devoted to the subject soon.)

Month in Review: February 2019

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Counting a few stories from the late-breaking Tor.com Short Fiction and the last BCS and Terraform stories from January, February produced 48 stories of 210K words.* It also produced the odd results of two recommended dark fantasy/horror stories with no SF or general fantasy and five otherwise noted SF stories with no fantasy (though one could easily be considered yet another sort of dark fantasy/horror). Three of the five come from my two February Tangent reviews of Constellary Tales and InterGalactic Medicine Show, which have some oddness of their own. The former was born recently and I reviewed the second issue. The latter contained the surprising announcement of its death in the editorial. So the gods of short fiction giveth and taketh away.

* Which, between stories from next month’s printzines and some vintage stories, was the minority.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Fantasy

  • The Crying Bride” by Carrie Laben, The Dark #45, February 2019 (dark fantasy short story)
  • Quiet the Dead” by Micah Dean Hicks, Nightmare #77, February 2019 (dark fantasy/horror short story)

Also Mentioned

Science Fiction

  • “All the Things You Want” by Andrew Peery, InterGalactic Medicine Show #67, February 2019 (novelette)
  • Ambassador” by Michael Adam Robson, Constellary Tales #2, February 2019 (short story)
  • Early Adopter” by Kevin Bankston, Terraform, February 14, 2019 (short story)
  • Give the Family My Love” by A. T. Greenblatt, Clarkesworld #149, February 2019 (short story)
  • “Reading Dead Lips” by Dustin Steinacker, InterGalactic Medicine Show #67, February 2019 (science fantasy novelette)

Reviews

Magazines

Books/Other

News

Selected Stories: 2019-02-26

Past Dinosaur Fantasy Future Prehistoric

Noted Original Fiction:

  • Early Adopter” by Kevin Bankston, Terraform, February 14, 2019 (science fiction short story)

The weekly stories through February were not very strong and, even with “Early Adopter,” I was not thinking I’d be noting it through the bulk of my reading of it. I’m still kind of astonished that I am. This is a Valentine’s Day romance story which involves a relationship experienced almost completely by gizmo with the implication that possibly giving away all your privacy and information to the Corporate Powers That Be might be a good thing. Also, it has a “Her:/Him:” narrative approach which should get old fast and one can argue that the ending is a hallucinatory nothing. That said, it is a positive high-tech vision of the future with some literary quality. This tale of two people who, through very thick and very thin, can nevertheless not really do without one another for long, achieves a cumulative impact over its large scope, somewhat in the way of Charles Sheffield’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow. So, definitely a mixed bag, but hard to ignore.

Finally, while not quite something I’d generally note, I still want to mention that Tor.com has published a story in January and now one in February which is not in the January/February Tor.com Short Fiction. Erinn Kemper’s “The Song” deals with the people involved in a future whaling industry which provides food for the rich. It’s a powerful expression of misery and horror but only offers nihilism. It also makes me think of Nibedita Sen’s “Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep” (Nightmare #69, June 2018) except that the latter tale was a fantasy, was even more effectively written except for one flaw, had more interesting characters, and had similar or more interesting ideas. Still, anyone who was struck by either one might want to take a look at the other.

Edit (2019-02-27): Deleted comment about noted stories from Tangent reviews as that’s not relevant here (because I don’t ordinarily review CT and IGMS on Featured Futures). I confused myself with last month’s note about a DP story I’d reviewed for Tangent which was relevant (because I do ordinarily review that for Featured Futures).