Visions of Paradise

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Robert Sheckley was certainly sf’s finest satirist, and he was often laugh-out-loud funny. Over the past few years I have been slowly reading the novels in the Dimensions of Sheckley collection. I reviewed Dimension of Miracles here on 8/28/04 and Journey Beyond Tomorrow on 11/9/05. Both were outstanding novels, showing Sheckley at his madcap best, combining outrageous moments with his typical biting jabs at the foibles of humans and human society.

Several such moments occurred in Mindswap. Sheckley succeeded in making a comedy out of a poor man who is evicted from his body and doomed to die unless he finds a replacement body for himself in six hours. The first two-thirds was typical Sheckley with some excellent scenes. My favorite was when the main character Flynn, desperate for a body to occupy, accepts a job as a four-legged Melden hunter of ganzer eggs on a totally inhospitable world. While there he encounters a massive adult ganzer who turns out to also be a mindswapped human from upper New York State who has entered its body for the sole purpose of hunting Meldens. The moment when the two adversaries are exchanging hometowns had me laughing out loud.

Unfortunately, the novel could not maintain this level, and shortly afterwards degenerated into a rather tedious sword and sorcery spoof which lacked the cleverness of what preceded it. In fact, I could not avoid feeling that Sheckley grew tired of the novel and quickly wrapped it up in a hasty, somewhat dull conclusion.

But the first two-thirds of Mindswap are joyous indeed, and provide one more reason to read the entire collection Dimensions of Sheckley.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Some brief random comments

I am generally suspicious of the writing talent of offspring who make their living off the ideas of their parent, such as Brian Herbert, Christopher Tolkien, and Todd McCaffrey. Of course, I might feel differently about this if my father had been Robert A. Heinlein.

When he was editor of Galaxy and Worlds of IF, Frederik Pohl was a fabulous editor (consider how those magazines dominated Hugo nominations in the 60s) who was generally considered a mid-rank writer whose best works had been in collaboration with Cyril M. Kornbluth. Shortly after he retired as editor, he published “The Gold at the Starbow’s End” followed soon by the novels Man Plus and Gateway, and almost immediately he was considered one of the major sf writers of his generation, a reputation which has grown considerably in the decades since.

I really enjoy reading Locus each month, and consider it an essential newsletter for serious sf fans and professionals. But like any publication, they have favorites whose every published word is sacred, and nonfavorites whose publications they rarely even recognize. For example, Robert Sawyer and Jack McDevitt novels are regularly nominated for major awards, but when was the last time one of them was reviewed in the pages of Locus? I was surprised at a bookstore last night when I realized how many novels Ben Bova has published in recent years. If I got all my news of the sf field from Locus, I would have thought he had retired years ago.

After reading several best-of-2005 books, I have no doubt my favorite story of last year was Jeffrey Ford’s “A Cosmology of the Wider World.” I hope I am not too far out of the mainstream of sf critics because I believe that story certainly deserve at least one award nomination. I guess next year’s Nebula Awards are still a possibility.

I have not watched a science fiction tv show regularly since Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I am always open to suggestions. In spite of their critical reception, I missed both Babylon 5 and the first season of Doctor Who. I did watch the first season of Battlestar Galactica, which I generally enjoyed, but somehow I never returned for a second season.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


I have always loved lists of books and cds, and enjoy sharing them with other people. Here is a list published by Michael Bishop in a Book of Days published by the Quality Paperback Book Club a half dozen years ago. This was when “best of the 20th century” lists were rampant, and Bishop was asked to produce his own list. He wrote a long introduction disclaiming any “best of” intent in the list, instead naming them 104 Really Cool Works of 20th Century Fiction. I have only read 20 of the works, but generally agree with Bishop’s assessment of them, so I am anticipating some more great reading someday...

The Malacia Tapestry / Brian W. Aldiss
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven /Sherman Alexie
Bastard out of Carolina / Dorothy Allison
Empire of the Sun / J. G. Ballard
Continental Drift / Russell Banks
Timescape / Gregory Benford
Brazzaville Beach / William Boyd
A Medicine for Melancholy / Ray Bradbury
Rubyfruit Jungle / Rita Mae Brown
The Book of Bebb / Frederick Buechner
Jujitsu for Christ / Jack Butler
Wild Seed / Octavia Butler
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain / Robert Olen Butler
Possession / A. S. Byatt
Saints and Strangers / Angela Carter
Where I’m Calling From / Raymond Carver
The Lady in the Lake / Raymond Chandler
Crazy in Alabama / Mark Childress
Childhood’s End / Arthur C. Clarke
Shogun / James Clavell
Crazy Heart / Thomas Cobb
The Public Burning / Robert Coover
Little, Big / John Crowley
Atlantis: Three Tales / Samuel R. Delany
Blackburn / Bradley Denton
Paris Trout / Pete Dexter
The Man in the High Castle / Philip K. Dick
334 / Thomas M. Disch
Geek Love / Katherine Dunn
The Floatplane Notebooks / Clyde Edgerton
Deathbird Stories / Harlan Ellison
The Black Dahlia / James Ellroy
A Fan’s Notes / Frederick Exley
The Siege of Krishnapur / J. G. Ferrell
The Sportswriter / Richard Ford
Sarah Canary / Karen Joy Fowler
Cold Mountain / Charles Frazier
Bad Behavior / Mary Gaitskill
In the Land of Dreamy Dreams / Ellen Gilchrist
Snow Falling on Cedars / David Guterson
Atticus / Ron Hansen
The Silence of the Lambs / Thomas Harris
A Winter’s Tale / Mark Helprin
The Child Buyer John Hershey
The Swimming Pool Library / Alan Hillinghurst
Angels / Denis Johnson
Gaff Topsails / Patrick Kavanagh
Nine Hundred Grandmothers / R.A. Lafferty
Hard Laughter / Anne Lamott
The Left Hand of Darkness / Ursula K. Le Guin
Out of the Silent Planet / C.S. Lewis
Winter Count / Barry Holstun Lopez
Hard Trade / Arthur Lyons
The Drowning Pool / Ross Macdonald
At Play in the Fields of the Lord / Richard Matthiessen
Time Will Darken It / William Maxwell
Boy’s Life / Robert R. McCammon
All The Pretty Horses / Cormac McCarthy
All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers / Larry McMurtry
Such a Long Journey / Rohinton Mistry
Towing Jehovah / James Morrow
Rats in the Trees / Jess Mowry
The Progress of Love / Alice Munro
Unassigned Territory / Kern Nunn
The Things they Carried / Tim O’Brien
The Gospel of Corax / Paul Park
The Dog of the South / Charles Portis
Edisto / Padgett Powell
Kate Vaiden / Reynolds Price
The Shipping News / E. Annie Proulx
V / Thomas Pynchon
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues / Tom Robbins
Call it Sleep / Henry Roth
The Female Man / Joanna Russ
The Sparrow / Mary Doria Russell
Was / Geoff Ryman
What Makes Sammy Run? / Budd Schulberg
The Golden Gate / Vikram Seth
The Jaguar Hunter / Lucius Shepard
Glimpses / Lewis Shiner
The Female of the Species / Lionel Shriver
Dying Inside / Robert Silverberg
Lives of the Dead / Charlie Smith
Stone City / Mitchell Smith
The Man Who Loved Children / Christina Stead
A Flag for Sunrise / Robert Stone
Waterland / Graham Swift
The Old Forest and Other Stories / Peter Taylor
The White Hotel / D. M. Thomas
Pop. 1280 / Jim Thompson
Imagining Argentina / Lawrence Thornton
My Life and Hard Times / James Thurber
Her Smoke Went Up Forever / James Tiptree, Jr.
A Confederacy of Dunces / John Kennedy Toole
The Embedding / Ian Watson
Fields of Fire / James Webb
Fools Crow / James Welch
John Dollar / Marianne Wiggins
Modern Baptists / James Wilcox
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang / Kate Wilhelm
Peace / Gene Wolfe
The Barracks Thief / Tobias Wolff
War and Remembrance / Herman Wouk
Eleven Kinds of Loneliness / Richard Yates