Review: F&SF, January/February 2018

 

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January/February 2018

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(On sale January 2, 2018)

“Widdam” by Vandana Singh (novelette)
“Aurelia” by Lisa Mason (short story)
“Neanderthals” by Gardner Dozois (short story)
“Jewel of the Heart” by Matthew Hughes (novella)
“A List of Forty-Nine Lies” by Steven Fisher (short story)
“An Equation of State” by Robert Reed (short story)
“Galatea in Utopia” by Nick Wolven (novelette)
Plumage from Pegasus: “Toy Sorry” by Paul di Filippo (short story)
“The Equationist” by J. D. Moyer (short story)
“A Feather in Her Cap” by Mary Robinette Kowal (short story)
“The Donner Party” by Dale Bailey (novelette)

F&SF begins the year with a generally solid, workmanlike issue in which most people will find something to like (and probably something to dislike). While I found only the Wolven to be particularly striking (with an honorable mention to the Fisher), the Singh, Mason, Moyer, and Bailey have powerful aspects and most of the others also have their points. Seven of the tales are some sort of SF and four are not (with a couple of the latter being horror).

“Widdam” by Vandana Singh (novelette)

In the first, third, and fifth sections of this dense novelette we learn how Dinesh views “the Monster, the World-Destroying World Machine, the WDWM. Widdam,” as he’s named the emergent socio-economic system that rules all. The most notable manifestation of this, besides the absence of winter due to climate change, is the development of “Saurs” and other “sentient megamachines” who are digging up the ocean, changing the Arctic, and even reshaping the Moon in pursuit of resources and profits for their corporate masters. Some people are fighting back and have enabled some of these megamachines to go rogue, with varying results. In contrast to the Indian Dinesh’s extremely negative viewpoint, the story shifts briefly to a second section focusing on another “Indian,” the Native American Val and her interaction with one of these rogues. In the fourth (and oddly melodramatic and implausible) section, we meet Jan, the son of Carl Johansson, who was the Swedish roboticist who made the sentient megamachine breakthrough and then fell off the map, and we learn what happened with him. All this serves to paint a picture of our vast “autofac” and our possibilities of dealing with it.

However accurate Dinesh’s perspective may be, in aesthetic terms I was initially put off by its unrelenting negativity. However, the story grew on me and became quite interesting, especially in Val’s much more varied and less pessimistic section. Ultimately, the story didn’t have enough of a plot or drama (except in its largest “We’re all gonna die!” sense) to work for me, but it definitely had its points of interest.

“Aurelia” by Lisa Mason (short story)

Robert is a lawyer who receives a very strange client one day. They fall in love and get married and life is strange but wonderful until the strangeness grows and bad things happen. But, after Robert gets a divorce, worse is yet to come.

If you read and enjoyed “Riddle” by the same author in the September/October issue, you’ll probably enjoy this similar neo-gothic tale with a very unusually conceived femme monstrueuse; if not, not. This one leaves me with the same slightly nauseous feeling (which some people may go for). I also have a problem with the uneasy, implausible mixture of the mundane and weird worlds and the minimization of the latter by the former: incurious cops and medical examiners, people seeing plainly “impossible” things and writing it off as another person’s insanity, etc.

“Neanderthals” by Gardner Dozois (short story)

Using the avowedly very familiar gimmick of changewars, this short (c.2200 word) story describes a time traveling cyborg assassin landing in a place and time in which neanderthals have either been transported in from the past or recreated by geneticists. Two of these guard the assassin’s target: a drug dealer who works for the Other Side. The job goes oddly and the story tells us a bit about human nature.

If the neanderthal felt as he did, I’m not sure why he didn’t try to recruit his fellow neanderthal rather than biding his time until a human assassin happened to show up, but it does allow the two to have their conversation. And that’s fundamentally all the story is, but it has a somewhat neo-noir tone and style, with SF concepts flying around, and an implicit deep backstory.

“Jewel of the Heart” by Matthew Hughes (novella)

In this third installment of Baldemar’s adventures, that wizard’s henchman is sent on a quest for the “Jewel of the Heart” by a magic Helm at about the same time a pair of wizards are attacking his master. He and the Helm come to an agreement about handling the conflict (the Helm likes him) and he heads off into a fantasy metafiction adventure which has scenes reminiscent of Jack and the Beanstalk with a hint of the Wizard of Oz, a Wild West scene, and even a biker scene. All that is prelude to a gray mist scene which resolves into a new world and a new adventure (where “dream” and “story” are contrasted) and around we go before finally reaching a conclusion which partakes of the Ouroboros and the Cheshire Cat.

People who like fantasy stories which are self-consciously, explicitly about Story and who don’t mind picaresque fantasias of plots (driven mostly by the protagonist’s convenient “instinct”) may enjoy this tale which seems stylistically sound and has moments of weirdness and humor. However, at one point the protagonist

…itemized on his gloved fingers: “A giant’s heart, a jewel, a key, and things that come in threes — it’s all mysteries and fables. I’ve had enough.”

and, long before the more than 22,000 words are up, some readers may agree with him.

“A List of Forty-Nine Lies” by Steven Fisher (short story)

When you strip this tiny 525-word story of its telling, it’s “my wife and kid were killed by a dictatorship which has taken over the planet and I’m preparing to detonate a bomb to signal the Revolt.” The telling might even be dismissed as a gimmick. I don’t think it should be, though, as it quickly, effectively, and powerfully evokes pain, paranoia, and desperation. That’s not quite enough to fully recommend it, but it’s certainly noteworthy.

“An Equation of State” by Robert Reed (short story)

An alien diplomat and army arrive in a system significant only as a battlefield but, when the battle doesn’t seem to occur, the diplomat successfully lobbies for a side-mission and travels to a world in the system to investigate the natives. After being a horse in the Civil War and then a rat and other creatures (including hairless apes) in other wars, it’s achieved a strange relationship with those natives. When its superiors decide that, after two centuries, its time is up, it does not act according to plan.

It’s sort of remarkable how much this story feels like a darker, more bilious version of “Jewel of the Heart” in that it has a sort of surreal, meandering progress from one thing to another. It moves with much greater speed and force, however. This meditation on strife may have its fans.

“Galatea in Utopia” by Nick Wolven (novelette)

Rick lives in a world of “chambers” where, given prior implants and mods, almost everyone’s bodies can be reshaped into any gender or race they want. Rick is an inveterate changer and, before a night on the town, decides to go 100% female sex bomb. This has interesting results when s/he meets Alan, who informs Rick he’s a “permanent”: a person who had a condition in childhood which has prevented him from ever changing at all aside from the effects of aging. What follows is a whirlwind tour through their highly charged and difficult sexual relationship, with revelations in store.

This story may have something to offend every one in these days of offensensitivity. On the one hand, people at odds with today’s social preoccupations may take a dislike to this and, on the other, people looking to be outraged might find traces of old stereotypes. But, really, this is a story that shouldn’t be all that shocking, in that it reads a lot like Varley’s sex change future from the 1970s or even some of Heinlein’s experiments. It’s a very active story which, while lacking a crime/spy/etc.-type plot of interlocking logical pieces, does have a tight flow of action based on emotional beats. The protagonist has a clear and funny narrative voice. And the story is thought-provoking. It does have what might be seen as flaws (what would probably be anachronistic references to baseball cards and other pop culture phenomena; a lack of extrapolation – seems like a world where everyone can become everyone else would be ripe for crime/spy/etc. stories even more than relationship stories but there’s no hint of these issues) but none of the problems detract significantly from the story’s main interests. I recommend it.

Plumage from Pegasus: “Toy Sorry” by Paul di Filippo (short story)

In this long flash piece, some kids in 2036 receive interactive books complete with AI author dolls and learn what makes authors tick. Extremely “meta” but readable.

“The Equationist” by J. D. Moyer (short story)

This minimally science fictional story is the biography of a math savant who sees the life patterns of people and societies as being analogous to mathematical functions but has trouble identifying his own and deciding whether and how to change those of others.

This story, despite what a synopsis might lead one to expect, is initially very quirky and funny and creates a sympathy with the protagonist. Unfortunately, towards the end, it started to lose me, being a little too leisurely and extended when the basic ideas had already been established and the humor had been humored. The declining curve of engagement eventually rose again, but without all the early magic. However, it may constantly ascend for some.

“A Feather in Her Cap” by Mary Robinette Kowal (short story)

Biantera is a down-on-her-luck ex-heiress who’s taken up hat-making for a career, supplementing that income with assassination. When a client learns her identity and refuses to pay, she recruits a thief-friend to help with her revenge. Turns out sneaking into a rich guy’s house and trying to rob and poison him is even more exciting than they’d imagined.

This minimally fantastic story is adequate though underwhelming, given that the protagonist isn’t particularly engaging and it’s pretty pat with a natural, but not rousing, end. I also don’t follow the logic of her plan, which is to only sicken her adversary. If his knowing her identity is a problem in addition to his lack of payment and if he might seek re-revenge for her revenge, wouldn’t it be wiser to plan to kill him after robbing him? Plus there seems to be a contradiction between wanting and not wanting him to know who visited him. Be that as it may, this was entertaining enough.

“The Donner Party” by Dale Bailey (novelette)

Another angle on the widdam. Mrs. Breen is a social climber in an alternate Victorian England where the eating of “ensouled flesh” (cannibalism) is a treasured right and rite of the titled class and their friends. After making friends with the powerful Lady Donner and then rashly making an enemy of her after a perceived slight, we learn just how far Mrs. Breen and her husband are willing to go to advance themselves.

A relatively trivial issue is that a section of the story begins “The Breens began the Season that followed with the highest of hopes.¶They were borne out.” Yet what follows is anything but their hopes being borne out. Far more importantly, this story attempts a Victorian English style which seems awkward and sluggish. In more ambiguous terms, while the outre social habit is handled in a very believable way, generally, I have to wonder if there aren’t at least some laws regarding it (or at least a mention that some are immune to them) and I have to wonder when the practice originated because the religious conversation about “the body of Christ” would seem to give the practice even more social weight than it has (which is a lot). I also have to wonder how the finale was prepared so quickly. Aside from those quibbles, it is remarkable how well the literal and metaphorical parts of this “modest proposal” fit. Compared to so many stories in which the literal foreground of a story is nonsensical or contradictory because it’s driven by thematic concerns, this story’s literal and symbolic elements dovetail nicely. This story isn’t to my taste but some may savor it.

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Review of Infinity Wars for Tangent

Review of Infinity Wars, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Recommended:

  • “In Everlasting Wisdom” by Aliette de Bodard (SF short story *)
  • “Command and Control” by David D. Levine (SF short story *)
  • “Heavies” by Rich Larson (SF short story)
  • “Weather Girl” by E. J. Swift (SF novelette *)
  • “ZeroS” by Peter Watts (SF novelette)

Review: The Trouble with You Earth People by Katherine MacLean

The Trouble with You Earth People by Katherine MacLean
Donning (Starblaze Editions), 1980, $4.95 trade paper (237pp) ISBN 0-915442-95-7

“The Trouble with You Earth People” (Amazing, 1968-02, novelette)
“Unhuman Sacrifice” (Astounding, 1958-11, novelette)
“The Gambling Hell and the Sinful Girl” (Analog, 1975-01, short story)
“Syndrome Johnny” (Galaxy, 1951-07, short story)
“Trouble with Treaties” (Star SF #5, 1959-05, novelette, with Tom Condit)
“The Origin of the Species” (Children of Wonder, 1953-03, short story)
“Collision Orbit” (SF Adventures, 1954-05, short story)
“The Fittest” (Worlds Beyond, 1951-01, short story)
“These Truths” (Royal Publications, 1958, short story)
“Contagion” (Galaxy, 1950-10, novelette)
“Brain Wipe” (Frontiers 2, 1973, short story)
“The Missing Man” (Analog, 1971-03, novella)
“The Carnivore” (Galaxy, 1953-10, short story)

The opening and title story, “The Trouble with You Earth People,” is a first contact tale involving aliens who appear somewhat dog-like (possibly illustrated on the back cover). It tackles human taboos which manifest in suppressed language and suppressed thought which, in the story, result in an inability to fully make contact with the aliens or to understand their science (drawing on Whorf). It’s a delightfully oddball tale which simultaneously feels like a classic Silver Age tale of first contact and a thoroughly New Wave “dangerous vision” with its alien expressing its joy of meeting and desire for understanding by taking off its clothes and telling the thoroughly flustered elderly anthropologist, “You are beautiful. I would fertilize you if I could.”

Themes of repression and the use of animal-like aliens to help construct what are almost beast fables abound. There are bear-like aliens (or teddy-bear-like aliens) on Venus in “The Fittest,” which questions what defines the “fittest” to survive and the lion-like aristocats of “These Truths” which demonstrates that all cats might be brothers and shows how they might be encouraged to be more democratic, not to mention a menagerie of various herbivores whose fears of humanity’s aggression result in a tragically high cost in “The Carnivore.” Among the many stories which feature some element of repression, “Brain Wipe” is one of the more direct, dealing with an abusive father and his son who faces the titular punishment. “Origin of the Species” is more of a superman story and considers what it was like for the Promethean monkeys who were more human than their counterparts and what it would be like for a post-human among today’s humans, including the various kinds of repression it would face.

For one reason or another, while none are bad, these aren’t the strongest stories. “These Truths” has an odd tripartite structure which initially feels like it’s going to be time travel or alternate history (something MacLean rarely or never does), “Brain Wipe” lacks any sort of catharsis or conceptual breakthrough, “Carnivore” is somewhat similar in that regard and suffers from problems such as humans not actually being “carnivores,” and so on. Another of the less successful tales is “The Trouble with Treaties” which, perhaps due to being co-written, feels less like MacLean and aims at humor but doesn’t always hit the mark (though mileage may vary). It involves an aggressive multi-species empire running into a ship full of pacifist psionic humans and their goldfish, parakeets, and cat.

On the other hand, one of the strongest, if not the strongest tale is the second, “Unhuman Sacrifice,” which deals with the two crewmen of a small starship, the missionary they’ve had to convey to an alien world, and the natives who have a bizarre coming-of-age ritual which involves tying the youths upside down to trees and is sometimes fatal. From religious motives, the preacher wants to intervene with words and, from compassion, the initially resistant crewmen get involved with action. If you don’t see it coming, the result should be shocking and, even if you do see it coming, the result is well-constructed and still thoroughly effective. A couple of my favorite parts involve the main native’s very strange yet completely plausible perception of what the humans must be and the extremely exciting “fighting the flood” scene that basically forms the climax. In terms of combining dramatic action and thoughtful concepts, this is SF at its best.

(As “Unhuman Sacrifice” is a classic first contact tale, “Contagion” is an example of the classic “lost colony” tale and enjoyable, if less successful. The biology of the drastic effects of the first colonists on the second wave seems far-fetched, to say the least, and there are other issues but it’s a dramatic tale with interesting psychosexual dynamics, replete with irony, and with an interesting Catch-22.)

The third tale, “The Gambling Hell and the Sinful Girl,” is part of MacLean’s four-story “Hills of Space” set. Another example in this collection is “Collision Orbit.” I’m not sure of the precise political philosophy term but both stories depict a sort of anarchist or libertarian frontier society of tin cans (or “barrels”) in the Asteroid Belt in which people are supposed to be quite self-sufficient and non-aggressive but can defend themselves to an extent and depend on their neighbors for even more defense, all done in a sort of ad hoc communal way. The first tale is a very peculiar and funny tale of a Christian mother and her passel of children. When one goes out to make his way in the world and comes back with a sinful girl from a gambling hell as his fiance (fancifully illustrated on the front), relations are strained but, when the thugs from the gambling hell arrive to force her back to work, the family members again band together and demonstrate their resourcefulness. Similarly, when the protagonist of “Collision Orbit” is faced with a gang of robbers on the run who try to take over his establishment, he also shows he’s not to be trifled with.

The fourth tale, “Syndrome Johnny,” anticipates James Tiptree, Jr.’s “The Last Flight of Doctor Ain” with its biological tale of plague and comes right on the heels of de Camp’s Brazil-centered Viagens stories in depicting a Federated States of America which has more of a Spanish than English flavor. (Incidentally, “The Trouble with Treaties” and “Unhuman Sacrifice” and perhaps others feature “brown” characters who may be of South European, African or other ancestry.) This is also partly a superman tale or “next stage” story and can be interpreted as being extremely tough-minded and cynically realist. Like “Contagion,” it may be a little “super science” more than scientifically realistic, but is still quite interesting.

“The Missing Man” is the largest and most significant chunk of her other series of Rescue Squad tales, which were fixed up into the novel Missing Man (1975). I recall enjoying the novel but, very similarly to Silverberg’s Nightwings, the fixup sort of buries the special excellences of the core novella, regardless of its own merits or that of the other pieces. It tells the tale of the empathic George and the logical Ahmed who are searching for the missing man, Carl Hodges. Hodges is a computer and repair man of a futuristic New York in which there are, for example, underwater Brooklyn and Jersey domes. He has wandered into a “teener” gang’s area and been captured. His knowledge of the city’s weak points is being used by the gang’s clever terrorist leader as a method of extortion/political activism, beginning with the destruction of the Brooklyn Dome. With its overpopulated city and its gangs and activism, it is part of its “turn of the Sixties” era and kin to other stories such as Harrison’s Make Room, Make Room!, but when it describes commuters glued to their portable TVs akin to our “phones” and describes people literally living in “kingdoms” of similar people akin to our metaphorical internet bubbles (while “nonconformists who could not choose a suitable conformity” live in “mixed places”), it seems quite contemporary. Either way, her future city is a brilliant conception, the empathic and half-lost George is an interesting protagonist, the initial stages of the story are well-plotted, the action when George is desperately trying to escape the Jersey Dome is exciting, and the philosophical/technical moments of the later stages are provocative, even if the plot starts to decohere a bit at that point. (Since this is the story I first read in Nebula Award Stories Seven which led me to explore MacLean further, I obviously recommend it, even if it didn’t blow me away the way it did on a first reading.)

As mentioned, some of this collection’s recurring motifs are unconventional social structures (“The Trouble with Treaties,” the Hills of Space stories, “The Missing Man”) and aliens (usually of a familiar animal-sort) almost always in first contact scenarios. One thing that’s remarkable is that only one is a “the world watches as the aliens arrive” sort of tale and they’re all different in their ways, showing creativity in ringing the changes on the type. Another recurring motif is psi powers, which feature in several stories in some way or another (“Trouble with Treaties,” “The Fittest,” “The Missing Man”) but rarely in an especially magical or comic book way. Multiple stories are biologically-focused and deal with evolution and/or next-step supermen (again, not in a comic book way) and deal with the question of what is “fit” and how to survive. Some involve crime and punishment, which ranges from assimilation in “Collision Course” to brain wipes in “Brain Wipe,” along with the kindred subjects of taboo and religion. Perhaps the main impression this group of stories leaves the reader with is that of species struggling against limitations and trying to persist in an effort to become something greater.

I don’t know how her first collection, The Diploids (1962), would fare on re-reading, but I recall it being superb. Based on the recollection of that collection, I would say it was the more essential of the two but The Trouble with You Earth People is still recommended as a whole. Individually, I recommend “Unhuman Sacrifice” and “The Missing Man” and also appreciated the title story, the two “Hills of Space” stories, “Syndrome Johnny” and “Contagion,” while the rest are never less than readable.

(A caveat on the physical book: it is “edited and illustrated by Polly and Kelly Freas” but the interior illustrations are sparse, the book is filled with typos, and the prefaces to the stories are confusing and only one is attributed. I don’t know if the rest are by MacLean, the Freases, or Hank Stine (the one attribution). But it’s a nicely constructed book with durable covers and excellent front and back art and, depending on the story, is one of the few ways or the only way to have it in book form.)

Review: Spacehounds of IPC by E. E. “Doc” Smith

Percival “Steve” Stevens is aboard the Inter-Plantetary Vessel Arcturus, as a “computer” who is checking on some navigational problems. These turn out to be the fault of some lazy “astronomers” who haven’t been correcting the position of their stations in the space lanes. That problem solved, he’s tasked with entertaining the daughter of the head of the Inter-Planetary Corporation. This turns out to be, not a little girl as he originally thought, but the young, intelligent lady golfer, Nadia. She and Steve, who is a burly swimmer/diver in addition to being a great scientist/mathematician, are a perfect match. He’s showing her the ship when, suddenly, he feels something amiss and learns that the Arcturus is being sliced apart by rays emanating from an alien ship. They end up in one of the many airtight sections of the ship which forms a little short-range ship of its own, but all are dragged off to Jupiter in the aliens’ tractor beams. Finally, Steve and Nadia make their break when the time is right and end up on a habitable Ganymede where they play Robinson Crusoe together and Steve must rebuild civilization from scratch in order to produce a communications device with which to contact Earth, turning into a Herculean Hephaestus. Meanwhile, Nadia also develops “amazingly in musculature” and becomes the huntress Artemis, bringing home the bacon (or “boiled warple,” anyway) while her man does his work at the base. With part of the necessary fundamentals complete, they go off to a comet for metals and meet the enemy again, but also a new group of aliens (from Saturn’s moon, Titan) who turn out to be human, like ourselves, but much mutated. Working together, the two strains of humanity manage to fight off the enemy and help each other out in other ways. Finally, Steve sends out the signal and can convey to “Tellus” (Earth) the knowledge of what happened, and what the IPV Sirius will face and how to soup it up so that it can deal with the alien challenge. At this point, the view shifts and the milieu recomplicates as more ships and races and angles of combat are introduced, culminating in the overwhelming appearance of the Vorkuls: generally isolationist flying snake-things of South Jupiter with their omnipresent motif of seven-pointed stars and mega-ships. Their planetary and space combat with the intrinsically violent North Jovian hexans (who have been our enemy all along) forms the climax (which humans helped trigger but don’t really participate in), followed by a more human-centered denouement.

This novel is about 86,000 words and first appeared in three 1931 issues of Amazing before being published in book form by Fantasy Press in 1947. As Smith is mostly known for his Skylark and Lensman series, I was hoping it would be an unjustly neglected gem but its secondary status turns out to be fair. Those who are not fans of Smith or 30s SF or space opera would almost certainly have no interest in this while even those who are might not be fully satisfied with it. I enjoyed it, overall, but it has problems, mostly in the POV-shifts and time overlaps of the second half. Its main points deal with the “complementariness” of genders and multiple races of humanity (Martians, “Venerians,” and the people of the Jovian and Saturnian moons) and the idea of omni-competent people being pro-survival, being able to wage “a war of applied physics” (despite earlier saying that earth had united under one government “so that wars could no longer interfere with progress”). A further element in this war is that friendly interaction or isolationism each have their virtues but intrinsic aggression is unacceptable and must be met with greater, albeit momentary, aggression. For an urban American in 1931, some of the details in attitudes were remarkably “advanced” though they certainly wouldn’t pass muster with today’s ideologists. In this, Smith is much like Heinlein and, indeed, this is probably the book where Smith’s influence on Heinlein comes through most clearly. Much of the Steve-and-Nadia portion reminds me irresistibly of Heinlein.

In “Larger Than Life,” a 1979 essay on Smith, written at the request of Smith’s daughter (and the dedicatee of Spacehounds of IPC), Verna, on the occasion of MosCon I which was dedicated to him, Heinlein made the point that Smith was, himself, omni-competent, honest, hospitable, and “the perfect gallant knight” and that all this was “reflected in his stories.” He goes on to mention various attacks on Smith by the critics of that time and proceeds to defend his style (even dialog), love scenes, plots, and social values (Good and Evil, inequality of men (and women)). While the love scenes of IPC are certainly chaste and in keeping with the slang-filled general dialog, they’re actually not all that painful. The rest would certainly give some of today’s audience problems but Heinlein’s defenses are mostly reasonable. Smith actually does write proper English in a consistent and oddly effective way in narrative voice and his dialog may be “all x, no fooling!” but it contributes to a gee-whiz-bang feel blended with the, “Say, Bob…” old-style movie feel in everything from The Thing to even 2001. Heinlein gives Smith too much credit for plotting originality in terms of dynamics (and, in a different sense, the uneven plotting is my major problem with this particular book), but it is true that Smith basically invented the space opera and any critique of what came to be its cliches is, in Smith’s case, historically naive and backwards. As I touched on before, the social values are a curious mix. In 1931, they might have been seen as liberal and/or radical while, today, they would be seen as hopelessly incorrect. The hexans are not so much evil as just bad, like a plague of locusts, and the humans in all their strains are good as groups. Between those good groups, however, the question of whether they’ve diverged so much that they are no longer interfertile isn’t clear but interplanetary romance isn’t seen as acceptable by the hero. (The question as to whether this should be taken literally in science fictional terms or symbolically is also open.) Within these groups, men (and women) are not treated equally. The hero is better than the lazy navigational bums and certainly better than his enemies. While Nadia is smart, athletic, muscled, and hunts for their food and the two form a pair from the start, the hero is more mathematically and scientifically skilled than the heroine and the heroes certainly outnumber the heroines. There is also a question about whether Nadia will turn out to be a “spacehound” (able to handle zero-G and the general environment of space) or a “weight-fiend” (a landlubber), but she does turn out to be as spaceworthy as Steve or anyone else. These things will strongly affect those of any stripe who read SF primarily as social symbolism, although in different ways.

What most affected me were the “complementary intelligences” and “war of applied physics” concepts. For the first, the Tellurians (as Smith calls us), Venerians, and Martians work together to make a whole greater than the sum of the parts (as do men and women) and this motif is played out again when we meet the people of both the Jovian and Saturnian satellites. For the second, curiosity, intelligence, and an engagement with the actual physical world is seen as providing the keys to the kingdom. There is a remarkable blend of far-out super-science and nitty-gritty plausible engineering. There are wonderful perspective shifts such as a reference to the natives of Titan and their relation to Saturn’s rings and, of course, to Tellurians in relation to the various moonfolk. There are amazing set pieces such as the descriptions of the city and race of the Vorkuls and their war with the hexans. For people who respond primarily to such things and fun, super-science epics, Spacehounds of IPC may appeal.

BookPorn!

As they say. I think. I hope…

My public library had its somewhat annual booksale recently. Since it puts all its literature (including poetry!) in General Fiction, its philosophy in General Non-Fiction, and considers books about raising dogs, cats, birds, etc., to be “Science,” I came away a bit deficient in those categories – even more so than usual, for some reason. But I did manage some science. The “Biography & History” is no more granular than its description implies but I did manage some of that and some Reference, too. And there is, at least, an SF/F/H section which is actually SF/F/H. Almost everything I got came from there and, perhaps due to the selection, much more of that was fantasy and horror than usual. I also got some replacements for books I had in poor condition or even gave some books I used to have a second chance, so it wasn’t as cost-effective as it might have been if they’d all been new to me but it was still pretty good.

It was also nice, on a library/social level, to see that the sale was quite busy and that the SF section was among the busiest, even if, on a personal level, it might have resulted in stuff I’d have liked to get disappearing faster.

So: pics, or it didn’t happen! Here are a couple of spine pics followed by five of full frontal bookity.

(Click to embiggen. And sorry about the bad glare and blur and slight truncation – one of these days I may actually learn to use the camera.)

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I got all this in two trips but the sum was 104 volumes with 118 titles for $115 (I got overcharged $8 on one trip). Way too many dollars spent (good thing it only happens about once a year) but a pretty good deal at $1.11 a volume/$0.98 a title.