Visions of Paradise

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Favorite books and albums

I tend to be a semi-compulsive list maker, so here is my latest list, fairly loose rankings of my 12 favorite f&sf novels and 10 favorite rock albums in my collection. I make no claims that these are “greatest” lists, nor that they are not subject to change at any time.

Favorite Novels:

1 Brittle Innings / Michael Bishop
2 The Fall of Hyperion / Dan Simmons
3 Perdito Street Station / China Mieville
4 Lord of Light / Roger Zelazny
5 Gateway / Frederik Pohl
6 The Stars My Destination / Alfred Bester
7 Nightwings / Robert Silverberg
8 Speaker for the Dead / Orson Scott Card
9 Way Station / Clifford D. Simak
10 The Armageddon Rag / George R.R. Martin
11 Dying Inside / Robert Silverberg
12 No Enemy But Time / Michael Bishop

Favorite Albums:

1 The Dark Side of the Moon / Pink Floyd
2 Born to Run / Bruce Springsteen
3 To Our Children’s Children’s Children / The Moody Blues
4 Man on the Line / Chris de Burgh
5 The Yes Album / Yes
6 The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust / David Bowie
7 The Joshua Tree / U2
8 Bridge Over Troubled Water / Simon and Garfunkel
9 Led Zeppelin 4 / Led Zeppelin
10 Damn the Torpedoes / Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Best Short Novels 2005

There is a right way and a wrong way to read a best-of-the-year volume. The wrong way is to assume the title is actually correct, that the contents are indeed the best stories of the year indicated. The right way is to realize that the editor’s taste is likely very different, if overlapping, from your own, so what he or she considers the “best” stories might differ from how you would feel had you read as many stories as he or she did in making the selection.

So rather than assume a best-of-the-year volume is indeed a distillation of the finest stories a given year has to offer, I tend to approach it as a better- than-average issue of a prozine. Some stories will probably fall into my personal blind spot, but hopefully others will be good enough to make the volume an overall worthwhile reading experience.

But when the volume in question is devoted to novellas, which are my favorite length for science fiction (and undoubtedly a lot of other readers too, or else why the oft-repeated statement that novellas are the best length of f&sf), I cannot help but have a bit extra anticipation of an outstanding reading experience. And since last year’s Best Short Novels 2004, edited by Jonathan Strahan, lived up to those expectations, why shouldn’t Best Short Novels 2005 do so as well?

Fortunately, this volume was a worthwhile reading experience. It began with James Patrick Kelly’s “Men Are Trouble,” a noir detective story set in a future Earth entirely without men. In my opinion, Kelly is somewhat overrated as a writer of short fiction. He’s generally good, but not particularly innovative or groundbreaking at any particular aspect of writing. Rather than a top-rank master, he one of many decent journeymen who have always been the backbone of the genre. There is nothing wrong with that, but I wonder why some journeymen are accepted as such while others automatically creep into the upper ranks through frequent exposure.

In “Men Are Trouble,” all men mysteriously disappeared from Earth when it was invaded by “devils” who now dominate the planet as a cross between alien invaders and unwanted but dominant visitors. Procreation occurs when women are mysteriously “seeded” by the devils, which causes a riff between youngsters who were born as a result of such seeding and old-timers who recall men and old-fashioned sex. One of the “villains” of this story is the Catholic Church which is a bastion of old-timers determined to fight the influence of the devils (and if that is not a set-up of a name, I don’t know what else it could possibly be).

The mystery is a bit confusing: why did a woman abruptly suicide the day she was married, and the same day she joined the Church? And why was the protagonist hired to solve the mystery at all? It was a bit confusing at times, although it all seemed mostly an excuse for Kelly to reveal some of the complications in his man-less world. This was not the finest story in the book.

Stephen Baxter reminds me of Poul Anderson. They both take some hard-science foundation for their stories, but then weave a strong plot around it, never forgetting that people are the center of any good story. Of course, Baxter is not as good overall as Anderson, but nobody else has been as good consistently in the hard-science storytelling corner of the field either, so that is not necessary a put-down of Baxter’s talent. Just being compared to Poul Anderson means he is a damned good writer in my book.

Anyway, “Mayflower II” is the story of a generation ship, but it takes a different approach than most stories of that particular sub-genre usually do. It is the story of the movers and shakers of the ship and how they try to protect the ultimate goal of the ship against the inevitable degeneration of the ship’s populace over the millennia. So we watch the society alter, and the very intellectual level of the people erode, as the near-immortal protagonist himself watches it, knowing he is helpless to do anything about it, yet still make whatever small nudges he can to keep the ship on goal. A good, interesting, thoughtful story, which probably would have benefitted from being longer and somewhat more in-depth.

Other stories in this volume which I have already reviewed here include “The Garden: A Hwarhath Science Fictional Romance” (10/15/05), “The Gorgon in the Cupboard” (10/20/05) and “Sergeant Chip” (10/9/05). I recommend this volume highly.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Prozines, part 2

I’ve talk previously about my love of sf prozines (May 29, 2005), so those of you with long memories should not be surprised that I currently subscribe to three regularly-published zines. None of them are the almost-monthly zines (Asimov’s, F&SF, Analog), largely because I have so many books I want to read that I do not want to commit myself to a large chunk of monthly reading. After all, I have 93 unread books in my collection and another 100 on my “wish list” waiting to be purchased.

But quarterly and semi-annual prozines are another matter, especially when they have nearly the same, or equally the same, as the so-called “leading” prozines. SO the three prozines I currently subscribe to are:

Postscripts, published by PS Publishing, the current issue which was discussed here on Oct 27, 2005, so I won’t repeat myself this time. However, if you have never read anything Peter Crowther has edited, and do not want to jump headlong into a magazine subscription, try one of his novella anthologies first. Each of them contains four stand-alone novellas which he published at PS Publishing. I particularly recommend Futures (featuring novellas by Paul McAuley, Stephen Baxter, and two excellent novellas by Peter F. Hamilton and Ian McDonald) and Cities (novellas by China Mieville, Michael Moorcock, and two outstanding ones by Geoff Ryman and Paul DiFilippo). Or, if shorter fiction is your favorite, try one of his collections of short stories Moon Shots or Mars Probes. Crowther might be the most outstanding editor currently working in the science fiction field.

Paradox, which is devoted about equally to mainstream historical fiction, historical fantasy, and alternate history. This is not as uniformly high quality as Postscripts, but the stories are always interesting, and there is usually at least one superior story every issue. This would probably appeal mostly to fans of historical fiction.

Fantasy Magazine, a new quarterly published by Wildside Press. I have not received the first issue yet, which was introduced at the recent World Fantasy Convention, but I decided to try a four-issue subscription for three reasons: I have always wanted to support Wildside Press in some small way; the magazine will receive a rave review in the next issue of Locus; and the first issue contains fiction by Jeffrey Ford (who is fabulous) and Jeff VanderMeer (whom I have never read, but am anxious to sample), plus an interview with Ford. After I receive the first issue, I’ll let you know here how it is.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


I was predisposed to like Jack McDevitt’s Polaris for several reasons:

1. it is a historical mystery, the type of mystery I much prefer to the detective-solves-crime type, featuring the same characters as his earlier mystery A Talent For War which I enjoyed tremendously;
2. McDevitt’s novels are seeped in future history, probably moreso than any sf writer other than Robert Silverberg;
3. I have grown so tired of all the near-future, contemporary, slipstream, borderline f&sf that have taken over the genre since the Cyberpunk days of the 1980s, while future history has somewhat languished;
4. Jack McDevitt is probably the finest pure storyteller currently writing in the genre.

McDevitt did not disappoint me. Alex Benedict is an antiquities dealer who, along with his associate Chase Kolpath, is trying to obtain artifacts from the famous Polaris mystery of sixty years earlier. That was a small spacecraft whose six passengers were examining the destruction of a star being destroyed as a dwarf passed directly through it. But when the Polaris was supposed to leave the system, it remained behind, totally out of communication with other vessels. When a rescue ship arrived, it found the Polaris totally devoid of life. Its lifeboat and spacesuits were still intact, but it resembled the famous ocean liner Mary Celeste in that its passengers had seemingly vanished in thin air.

In the sixty years since, the Polaris has become a legend, and the fact that many of its relics are being released to the public for the first time drives their potential profits spiraling upward. When a failed assassination attempt of a despotic ruler accidentally destroys nearly all the relics except those already in Benedict’s possession, it seems like a financial windfall to him.

Except somebody starts trying to obtain all those relics, some legally from those who have already bought them from Benedict, others illegally by breaking-and-entering. Naturally this peaks Benedict and Chase’s curiosity, so they begin researching the Polaris. One of the novel’s highlights is Chase’s visit to a Polaris Society convention, which resembles a truly-skewed science fiction convention.

Then McDevitt ups the ante when somebody apparently gets nervous at Benedict and Chase’s activities and tries to kill them, not once but twice. By which time they have gathered enough information that begins to lead them toward a solution to the entire Polaris mystery.

This book is great storytelling that appeals to me even more because it is so seeped in future history. Not only are the events surrounding the disappearance of the Polaris fascinating, but we learn tidbits about McDevitt’s Confederation, including outstations which are relics of the pre-lightspeed space travel, Mutes which are the only alien race encountered so far, and various human cultures such as the Kang who at one time were a galactic power. This combination of future and history is one of the reasons I fell in love with science fiction, and why authors such as Silverberg and McDevitt are among my personal favorite writers.

I already have 5 Jack McDevitt books in my collection, and enjoyed them all because of their combination of storytelling and history. I think the time has come for me to complete my McDevitt collection.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Journey Beyond Tomorrow

Journey Beyond Tomorrow is a terrible title for what is basically a satirical quest novel by Robert Sheckley. Its alternate title The Journey of Joenes is much more fitting and descriptive of the book. But that is my only real complaint with a clever, biting story which takes Joenes from his idyllic Pacific Island to America where he tries both to fit in with American society and also to understand it. This gives Sheckley room to skewer Congressional hearings (not surprisingly, the novel was first published in 1963 when the McCarthy hearings were still fresh in the minds of most Americans), modern psychology, academia, modern science, governmental paranoia, Communism, cartography, and American justice (as practiced toward the rich and famous as opposed to the non-rich and non-famous).

Journey Beyond Tomorrow is as much a collection of satirical stories squeezed into novel format as it is a structured novel, but many of sf’s finest novels fit that description, especially those from the early days when “mosaic” novels originally published as a serious of shorter stories were more common. If you keep that in mind, and enjoy satirical sf, you’ll enjoy this novel as much as I did.

Journey Beyond Tomorrow is the third novel I have read from the collection Dimensions of Sheckley (a review of Dimension of Miracles appeared here on 8/28/04), all three of which are testament to one of the sadly-underrated sf writers of the past fifty years. I recommend the entire collection strongly.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Steam Engine Time

Bruce Gillespie is one of the grand old masters of fanzine publishing, and his Science Fiction Commentary is one of the finest serconzines ever. Unfortunately, it is not published nearly as frequently nowadays as it was in Bruce’s younger days.

So a few years ago he started another zine entitled Steam Engine Time with two English co-editors. Unfortunately, they soon dropped out, and this project seemed doomed to a short lifespan. Enter Janine Stinson, herself a fine editor of the serconzine Peregrine Nation, who offered to co-edit it with Bruce. Based on the most recent issue #4, this collaboration is a good one which hopefully will last for a long time.

Highlights of the issue include:
▸ Greg Benford on his visit with Stephen Hawking in which he discusses the effect of Hawking’s presence at Cambridge and their discussion about the “ultimate theory of physics”;
▸ Andrew M. Butler’s views on the recent British science fiction boom, with Paul Brazier’s “dissenting opinion”;
▸ Bruce’s review of The Best Australian Science Fiction Writing, a fifty year retrospective anthology edited by Rob Gerrand, although the review is as much about Bruce’s view of the history of Australian sf as it is about what seems a very worthwhile book.

This entire zine is enjoyable and thought-provoking reading, the type of stuff I originally entered fanzine fandom for (ok, i admit I like the socializing too). It is available at along with lots of other fine fanzines, including much of Bruce’s and Janine’s other stuff. Go there when you have a chance. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

On the Lighter Side

In the wake of the Exxon/Mobil deal and the AOL/Netscape deal, Hale Business Systems, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Fuller Brush, and W.R.Grace Company have decided to merge and become Hale Mary Fuller Grace.


It is well documented that for every minute that you exercise, you add one minute to your life. This enables you at 85 years old to spend an additional 5 months in a nursing home at $5000 per month.

My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60. Now she’s 97 years old and we don't know where the hell she is.

I joined a health club last year, spent about 400 bucks. Haven't lost a pound. Apparently you have to go there.

I have to exercise early in the morning before my brain figures out what I'm doing.

I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.

I have flabby thighs, but fortunately my stomach covers them.

The advantage of exercising every day is that you die healthier.

If you are going to try cross-country skiing, start with a small country.


The Lone Ranger and Tonto went camping in the desert. After they got their tent all set up, both men fell sound asleep. Some hours later, Tonto wakes the Lone Ranger and says, "Kemo Sabe, look towards sky, what do you see?"

The Lone Ranger replies, "I see millions of stars."

"What does that tell you?" asked Tonto.

The Lone Ranger ponders for a minute then says, "Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, it's evident the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What's it tell you, Tonto?"

Tonto is silent for a moment, then says, "Kemo Sabe, you are dumber than buffalo shit. Somebody stole our tent.


A man and his wife, now in their 60's, were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. On their special day a good fairy came to them and said that because they had been such a devoted couple she would grant each of them a very special wish. The wife wished for a trip around the world with her husband. Whoosh! Immediately she had airline and cruise tickets in her hands.

The man wished for a female companion 30 years younger....... Whoosh....immediately he turned ninety!!!

Gotta love that fairy!