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Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

This is hilarious:

😀

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book cover wailing asteroid

I’ve gotten way behind in my science fiction reviews, so let me jump back in the saddle (or choose another cliché) with a short review of Murray Leinster’s “The Wailing Asteroid.”

My brief evaluation: Recommended with strong reservations.

Regarding Leinster, I’ll confess, for a science fiction fan, I’m embarrassed to say I had never heard of him, even though he was referred to as “The Dean of Science Fiction.”  Speaks to my cultural poverty, I guess. This Wikipedia entry gives a good summary of his career, and there is also a informative entry for him in the online Science Fiction Encyclopedia. He wrote in many genres besides science fiction, including mysteries, adventure, and romance; his earliest science fiction tale was published in Argosy in 1919, making him one of the pioneers of the genre.

Spoiler warning. The rest is “below the fold” (more…)

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Having read way-too-much politics and history lately, I needed a break and felt the urge for some classic science fiction. Andre Norton’s “The Star Born” fit the bill nicely.

Norton’s story begins as the tale of Dalgarth, a human teen on his coming-of-age trip with his “merman” (think large, humanoid otter) friend Ssuri. Humans are not native to this world, having come here centuries before after escaping a tyrannical government on Earth. Lacking what they needed to maintain their civilization, the “colonists” have retrogressed to a roughly Iron Age technology, but they do recall where they came from and why. On their new world, “Astra,” they made friends with the mermen, who communicate largely through telepathy. And, over the course of generations, humans began to develop similar abilities.

Problems arise for Dalgarth from two sources: first, he and Ssuri discover that the cruel “Those Others,” the former humanoid masters of Astra who destroyed their civilization in a global war and who genetically engineered the mermen and other races and used them for sport, have recovered on another continent and come to Dalgarth’s to reclaim their ancient and deadly technology. As Ssuri tells him, this could mean death for everyone else, including the humans.

The other problem comes from the arrival of a ship from Earth. The oppressive government was overthrown over a century before, but the war to do it was so devastating that Earth is only now recovered and re-entering space. The focus character here is the pilot, Raf Kurbi, who becomes our second main character.

The story lies not only in the defeat of “Those Others,” but also in the realization on both Dalgarth and Raf’s part that the humans of Astra and their cousins from Terra are no longer really the same people, that they are along different paths of development, and need to let time pass before they are again ready to meet.

I enjoyed this book, which I would rate for teens and young adults. The tech is by no means up-to-date (It was written in the early-mid 50s), but the themes are evergreen: exploration, friendship, and choices that have consequences. For gamers, Norton’s “Astra” makes a nice change from the standard pseudo-medieval worlds common in fantasy roleplaying games and is closer to the hobby’s actual literary roots.

Recommended as a pleasant diversion.

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Oh, my. This looks like it actually might be good:

“I am the Law!”

Love it.  😀

Courtesy of Duane Lester

 

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The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has (finally!) finished their movie version of Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness,” and the DVDs are almost ready to ship. In fact, you can pre-order and have it arrive in time for Christmas? And what better way to celebrate the holidays than by watching a movie about brain-stealing jumbo shrimp from outer space?

I knew you’d agree.

In the meantime, you can enjoy the trailers.

RELATED: Earlier posts on TWiD.

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I mean, someone has to invade the Earth!

They’re here

Exclusive: NASA Scientist Claims Evidence of Alien Life on Meteorite

We are not alone in the universe — and alien life forms may have a lot more in common with life on Earth than we had previously thought.

That’s the stunning conclusion one NASA scientist has come to, releasing his groundbreaking revelations in a new study in the March edition of the Journal of Cosmology.

Dr. Richard B. Hoover, an astrobiologist with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, has traveled to remote areas in Antarctica, Siberia, and Alaska, amongst others, for over ten years now, collecting and studying meteorites. He gave FoxNews.com early access to the out-of-this-world research, published late Friday evening in the March edition of the Journal of Cosmology. In it, Hoover describes the latest findings in his study of an extremely rare class of meteorites, called CI1 carbonaceous chondrites — only nine such meteorites are known to exist on Earth.

Though it may be hard to swallow, Hoover is convinced that his findings reveal fossil evidence of bacterial life within such meteorites, the remains of living organisms from their parent bodies — comets, moons and other astral bodies. By extension, the findings suggest we are not alone in the universe, he said.

“I interpret it as indicating that life is more broadly distributed than restricted strictly to the planet earth,” Hoover told FoxNews.com. “This field of study has just barely been touched — because quite frankly, a great many scientist would say that this is impossible.”

If this research is borne out, it will also give ammunition to the argument in favor of the “seeding” theory of the origins of life: that life’s building blocks developed somewhere in space and were deposited here as the early Earth was pummeled by comets and meteorites. It could, of course, also be indicative of parallel development — similar processes on Earth and elsewhere leading to similar results.

Or it could all be cold fusion all  over again. That’s why I’m gratified to see Dr. Hoover and his associates using a very open and broad peer-review process to challenge and vet their theories. Hopefully, it will have the integrity lacking in the climate-science peer review scandal.

Mind you, I’m biased. As a guy who grew up reading science fiction, watching movies like Earth vs. The Flying Saucers and TV shows like Star Trek (the original, natch), a universe with aliens  just seems much more fun than one in which we’re alone, in which “we’re it.”

Besides, they have to destroy Los Angeles.

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I’m a great fan of fantasy and science-fiction, much preferring it to “mainstream” fiction. Give me spaceships or wizards any day over the adventures of desperate suburban housewives or men trapped in a job they hate. So it struck me as odd the realize I had never read much of the work of a writer regarded as one of the greats of the Pulp era of “weird fiction,” Clark Ashton Smith. I’d of course seen him referred to in other works, such as Fritz Leiber’s “Our Lady of Darkness,” and knew that he was friends with one of my favorite authors, H.P. Lovecraft, even contributing elements of Lovecraft’s bleak fictional universe, but I don’t recall ever actually reading Smith’s stories.

So it was, after reading several posts and comments full of effusive praise for Smith at James Maliszewski’s Grognardia blog and after mostly enjoying a small folio of three of his stories, that I decided to dive into the deep end and read a collection of what were regarded as his best stories, “The Return of the Sorcerer.”

My one-word review: Ugh.

Okay, okay. That requires some explanation.

The tales contained in Return… come from a time when the barrier between fantasy and science fiction wasn’t as strong as it is today, and so elements of both would often mix in a story, as in “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis” or “The Chain of Aforgomon, both stories in Return… . That’s representative of the period and something I enjoy quite a bit. Burrough’s John Carter stories on Mars do the same and are quite a lot of fun.

However, two things ruin this collection for me: pathetic endings that break the rules of good storytelling and Clark’s language. That last is sure to be the most controversial assertion in this review, so I’ll deal with the question of endings, first.

There was a convention in weird fiction of the time that one could end a story, not with a real conclusion, but with an ending that the reader left wondering at the horror and… weirdness of it all. “Weird,” in the older, more poetic sense of things strange and unnatural, not that which leaves one puzzled and thinking “that’s weird.” Lovecraft often did that, and it mostly works fine. In the stories in Return… however, Smith often crosses over to the latter, ending a story with something that doesn’t leave one with a satisfying sense of wonder, but rather with the urge to throw the book across the room in frustration. Which is exactly how I felt at the end of “The Seven Geases:” the protagonist suffers a mors ex machina that literally had me saying “That’s it?” aloud. This is the worst example in the book, though several others had similarly unsatisfying endings.

But what really killed my enjoyment of Smith’s stories was Smith’s prose. This, I know, will be heresy to some, but it’s true. Smith was a poet and, as James observes in in an appreciation of Smith on the anniversary of his birth:

In particular, CAS reminds us of the power of words to transport us to other places and times and to induce in us feelings and moods. Smith began his literary career as a poet, which is why so many of his stories are better understood as prose poems rather than as narratives in the traditional sense. That’s not say that Smith’s stories are devoid of plot, but plot is often secondary to the evocation of emotion in the reader through the use of exotic language. Critics of Smith’s approach deem his vocabulary unnecessarily ornate and they would be correct if one were to indulge in a steady diet of such language. But, as a “palate cleanser,” such language is both useful and inspirational.

I’ll have to demur, with respect. Even in very small doses, I found Smith’s prose florid and often pretentious, indeed precious. Smith regularly indulges in circumlocutions that had me more than once muttering “Will you please get to the damn point.”  Perhaps that reflects a failing on my part as reader, an impatience that makes me ill-suited to Smith’s writings. It’s worth noting that I don’t often appreciate poetry, either. Others may well enjoy Smith prose — in fact, many do. In my defense, I offer my enjoyment of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, which often engaged in similar “purple prose.” Why I should like Lovecraft while reacting badly to Smith is a mystery to me; perhaps it has to do with discovering Lovecraft in my teen years and having fond memories from that time, whereas I came to Smith only recently and thus I wasn’t willing to “cut him some slack.” Maybe, but I still think Smith’s use of language is inordinately self-indulgent.

So, given I disliked Return… so much, was there anything I liked? Sure. Many of the stories, such as the aforementioned “Vaults of Yoh-Vombis” and the eponymous “The Return of the Sorcerer” contain great ideas for fans of roleplaying games, whether fantasy, science-fiction, or horror. Often I found myself being intrigued by a concept Smith introduced, but wishing it had been written by his contemporary, Robert E. Howard. And, should I ever again gamemaster a RPG campaign, I’ll surely come back to the tales in The Return of the Sorceror as an “idea mine.” But for enjoyable reading? No, not when the first word that comes to mind is “chore.”

Summation: Recommended with strong reservations.

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