Lois Tilton’s 2015 short fiction reviews from Locus Magazine

Analog

January/February 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

March 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

April 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

May 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

June 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

July/August 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

September 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

October 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

November 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

December 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

 

Apex Magazine

68 January 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

72 May 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

73 June 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

74 July 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

75 August 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

76 September 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

77 October 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

 

Asimov’s

January 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

February 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

March 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

April/May 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

June 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

July 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

August 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

September 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

October/November 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

December 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

 

 

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

164-165 January 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

166-167 February 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

168-169 March 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

170-172 April 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

173-174 May 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

175-176 June 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

177-178 July 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

179-180 August 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

181-182 September 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

183-185 October 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

186-187 November 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

188-189 December 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

 

Clarkesworld

100 January 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

101 February 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

102 March 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

103 April 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

104 May 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

105 June 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

106 July 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

107 August 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

108 September 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

109 October 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

110 November 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

111 December 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

 

F&SF

January/February 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

March/April 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

May/June 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

July/Aug 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

September/October 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

November/December 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

 

Interzone

256 January/February 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

257 Mar-Apr 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

258 May/June 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

259 July/August 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

260 September/October 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

261 November/December 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

 

Lightspeed

56 January 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

57 February 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

58 March 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

59 April 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

60 May 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

61 June 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

62 July 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

63 August 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

64 September 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

65 October 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

66 November 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

67 December 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

 

Shimmer

23 January 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

24 March 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

25 May 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

26 July 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

27 September 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

28 November 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

 

Strange Horizons

January 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

February 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

March 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

April 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

May 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

June 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

July 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

August 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

September 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

October 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

November 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

December 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

 

Tor.com

January 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

February 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

March 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

April 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

May 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

June 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

July 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

August 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

September 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

October 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

November 2015 • Review by Lois Tilton

The William Hartnell Screening Room, Part 2

An occasional series reviewing the screen appearances of William Hartnell, best known as the First Doctor in the long-running BBC series Doctor Who.

The Mouse That Roared (1959)

This may be the most famous movie in which William Hartnell ever appeared.  Considered to be Peter Sellars’ breakout movie, where he plays three different roles (including one as a woman), the story is based on a play that is supposed to be somewhat anti-imperialist political commentary but doesn’t hew too closely to that theme for long.  The smallest country in Europe (not counting Monaco or the Vatican) is going bankrupt, and they decide the best way to get an infusion of foreign aid is to attack the United States and then surrender, thereby becoming recipients of their very own Marshall Plan.

The country is so small that it is implied there was a certain amount of inbreeding, which gives a perfect reason for Sellars to play three different characters. Presumably the original play couldn’t carry this off. One of his roles is that of the hapless Tully, who is chosen to lead the ragtag army on their voyage across the sea to invade Manhattan.  Hartnell is in most of this movie right alongside Sellars, first as the chief butler to the Grand Duchess who then is made Tully’s second in command.  Unfortunately, while he has plenty of lines, Hartnell doesn’t get to do much, and his dialog is mostly of the sidekick variety and fairly uninspiring.  Someone watching this without knowing who Hartnell was would soon forget he was even in the movie, which is a shame considering the size of the role. There’s nothing particularly comedic about what he is asked to do, and unfortunately he ends up mostly back in his usual typecast role as an army sergeant, shouting at the troops to fall in and pay attention.

Even for a comedy, the movie takes a surprisingly cavalier attitude towards a bomb that is supposed to be powerful enough to destroy an entire continent yet gets passed around like a football (and in fact kind of looks like a football).  And while the captured US military people bumble about a little they’re not really being parodied, so in the end it’s a bit of a muddle to determine what the movie is trying to say, beyond the premise that the easiest way to get foreign aid from the US is to attack them.  The Marshall Plan may have seemed to the other Allies like a big handout to the bad guys, but the U.S. was uniquely in a position to do it and probably saved Europe from a lot of further conflict.  The movie doesn’t seem that upset about it, it’s just a jumping off point and the result is perfectly watchable and not too long, it’s only a shame that Hartnell wasn’t given more to work with.

The William Hartnell screening room, part 1

An occasional series reviewing the screen appearances of William Hartnell, best known as the First Doctor in the long-running BBC series Doctor Who.

Ghost Squad episode “High Wire” (1961)

Ghost Squad contains no ghosts, and the episode (either number 4 or 5 of the first season, depending on the source) features no high wire, but William Hartnell is the primary guest star in this installment of the ITC series. Ghost Squad ran for 3 seasons in the early 60s for a total of 52 episodes, of which the first 39 survive (the last season was shot on video and was apparently easier to lose). They’ve been released on DVD but only in the UK at a hefty £50 on 10 disks. YouTube and BitTorrent come up short, you have to go to French alternative Dailymotion, now owned by Vivendi, to find the episode online (in two parts but broken up by commercials every 5 minutes in the second part).

There’s no supernatural element here, the “ghost” part of the title apparently refers to a little-known wing of the British police that does undercover detective work. In this episode most of the story takes place in France and Belgium at a traveling circus. The lead character Nick Craig is an American, which they did fairly often in those days to broaden the market for overseas.

Hartnell plays a World War II vet Fred Rice, who is wanted 20 years after the war for unspecified war crimes but has disappeared. He’s traced fairly easily to the circus in France, and Craig goes undercover to get a job there to keep an eye on him but soon realizes Rice is being blackmailed into using his lock-picking skills to assist in a series of burglaries. This was a couple of years before Doctor Who and Hartnell looks exactly the same as he did in his signature role, although affecting a different accent and playing a much more savvy street-wise type of character. There are a couple of scenes where he’s doing his circus act of escaping from a bunch of locked chains while underwater, and it looks like it’s really him and not a stunt double. Considering his health took a precipitous decline during his time as the Doctor, this couldn’t have been ideal for him, but it is a welcome change from his usual role as an army sergeant.

One thing you notice in this episode is that Hartnell wasn’t very tall, the American star towers over him (making him an odd choice for undercover work in Europe). Hartnell doesn’t have any super-dramatic scenes given the conflict placed on his character, but gives a good dramatic performance, although even in the ’60’s were there really 50-something escape artists working in the circus? The hero signs up to learn enough motorcycle technique to ride the “Wall of Death”, but we only ever see him practicing riding the bike on rollers, which seemingly only exists so it can be sabotaged by the bad guys when they realize he’s on to them. But otherwise it’s a fairly compelling 50 minutes of TV, fairly dense in content and with several supporting characters. Guest stars in other episodes include Roger Delgado and Olaf Pooley, amongst other Doctor Who alumni; it would be worth checking out those too someday.

Nebula nominees 2014 – novelettes

This year’s Nebula nominees include the Machado and Miller stories that weren’t in the Locus list.  Both got a decent number of Hugo nominations but not enough that they would have made the ballot.

“Sleep Walking Now and Then,” Richard Bowes (Tor.com 7/9/14)

“The Magician and Laplace’s Demon,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 12/14)

“A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” Alaya Dawn Johnson (F&SF 7-8/14)

“The Husband Stitch,” Carmen Maria Machado (Granta #129)

“We Are the Cloud,” Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed 9/14)

“The Devil in America,” Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com 4/2/14)

Anthologized novelettes 2014

Of the 3 major year’s best anthologies, 3 stories made it into two of them:

“The Hand Is Quicker”, Elizabeth Bear (The Book of Silverberg) – Horton and Dozois
“Shadow Flock”, Greg Egan (Coming Soon Enough) – Strahan and Dozois
“Collateral”, Peter Watts (Upgraded) – Horton and Strahan

20 stories from the Locus list were included in one of the anthologies:

Horton:

“A Better Way to Die”, Paul Cornell (Rogues)
“The Magician and Laplace’s Demon”, Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 12/14)
“Petard: A Tale of Just Deserts”, Cory Doctorow (Twelve Tomorrows)
“Skull and Hyssop“, Kathleen Jennings (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet 12/14)
“A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i”, Alaya Dawn Johnson (F&SF 7-8/14)
“Schools of Clay”, Derek Künsken (Asimov’s 2/14)
“Wine”, Yoon Ha Lee (Clarkesworld 1/14)
“I Can See Right Through You”, Kelly Link (McSweeney’s #48)
“Heaven Thunders the Truth”, K.J. Parker (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 10/2/14)

Strahan:

“Tough Times All Over”, Joe Abercrombie (Rogues)
“Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (the Successful Kind)”, Holly Black (Monstrous Affections)
“Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No.8)”, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Sirenia Digest)
“Kheldyu”, Karl Schroeder (Reach for Infinity)
“Tawny Petticoats”, Michael Swanwick (Rogues)
“The Insects of Love”, Genevieve Valentine (Tor.com 5/28/14)
“The Devil in America”, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com 4/2/14)

Dozois:

“The Rider”, Jérôme Cigut (F&SF 9-10/14)
“The Fifth Dragon”, Ian McDonald (Reach for Infinity)
“Thing and Sick”, Adam Roberts (Solaris Rising3)
“The Colonel”, Peter Watts (Tor.com 7/29/14)

2014 E Pluribus Hugo nominees – Novelette

The novelettes most likely to have been nominated for the 2014 Hugos in a non-puppy year (based on final nominating statistics) are all available online.  The Crosshill, Emrys and Wilson were on the Locus recommended list, and beat out better known authors who mostly were published in print magazines or anthologies.  The Crosshill story is in Horton’s best of the  year collection, and Wilson’s story made Strahan’s best-of collection.  Dozois didn’t include any of these.

Best Novelette

The Magician and Laplace’s Demon by Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 12/14)
The Litany of Earth by Ruthanna Emrys (Tor.com 5/14/14)
The Day the World Turned Upside Down by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Lightspeed Magazine, Apr 2014)
Each to Each by Seanan McGuire (Lightspeed Magazine, June 2014)
The Devil in America by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com 4/2/14)

2014 SF novel reading list – update

Read:

Work Done for Hire – Joe Haldeman
Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie
The Three Body Problem – Cixin Liu
Lockstep – Karl Schroeder

Reading:

The Memory of Sky – Robert Reed

Will try to read by year end:

Shipstar – Greg Benford & Larry Niven

Read the first in the series, Bowl of Heaven

The Causal Angel – Hannu Rajaniemi

Would need to read first two books

Lock In – John Scalzi
Echopraxia – Peter Watts

Would need to re-read Blindsight first

The Peripheral – William Gibson

Want to read but probably won’t have time before starting in on 2015 books:

War Dogs – Greg Bear
Ultima – Stephen Baxter

Actually a 2015 book in the US

Cibola Burn – James S. A. Corey

Read Leviathan Wakes but have a few others in between to catch up on

Afterparty – Daryl Gregory
All Those Vanished Engines – Paul Park
Annihilation/Authority/Acceptance – Jeff VanderMeer
Dark Lightning – John Varley

Something like the fifth book in a series?

My Real Children – Jo Walton
Revival – Stephen King
Beautiful Blood – Lucius Shepard
The Doubt Factory – Paolo Bacigalupi

Probably go for Water Knife instead

Empress of the Sun – Ian McDonald
A Darkling Sea – James Cambias
The Memory Garden – Mary Rickert

World of Ptavvs, by Larry Niven

My summer reading goal this year is to get through all 11 of the Larry Niven books published by Ballantine in the mid 70’s.  This includes the Hugo-winning Ringworld, plus a few short story collections.  Everything in these books takes place in his “Known Space” series, a loosely connected set of stories written over a period of 10+ years (with many more that came later) recounting the interactions between a number of sentient species that are subjected both to Niven’s droll sense of humor and his sense of scientific rigor.  I’m not sure that up to this time anyone else had attempted this on this scale with such a broad shared universe, but for many years thereafter it was the standard model for SF writing.

Niven’s first novel is “World of Ptavvs” from 1966, an expansion of an earlier story.  The title highlights one of the first things you notice about Niven’s work, his odd naming conventions for alien planets and species.  The reader is routinely introduced to names beginning with consonants that don’t go together (tnuctipun being my favorite, just don’t spell it backwards), or free-associating from literature or folklore (bandersnatchi).  Did he spend days and weeks wrestling with just the right name to call these individual alien races, or did he just use the first word that popped into his head?  I suspect the latter, but I could be wrong.  While the made-up names are jarring, they’re at least consistently pronounceable, which isn’t always the case with other writers.

While the Known Space series spans a reasonably concise timeframe of a thousand years or so, this book has its origins more than a billion years prior to that, when the thrints rule the galaxy, and have an outpost on early Earth where they grow some yeast-based substance they use for food.   Kzanol (more leading consonants) loses control of his spaceship and goes into hibernation expecting to crash into Earth and be revived by the staff of the outpost, but he ends up at the bottom of the ocean until he is discovered and revived by humans long after the thrintun species has died out.   Much of the book deals with the relative telepathic abilities of the various characters, Kzanol can use mind control quite easily, where the first human he encounters (whose name is Larry, an interesting choice for the author) has a modest ability to communicate with dolphins.  In the 50’s and 60’s telepathy was a common trope of science fiction in everything from Sturgeon to Fred Brown to Dune and everything in between, you tend not to see nearly as much use of it in current SF I think as people realized there was no basis for it actually ever coming to pass.

Kzanol uses Larry and one of his co-workers to hijack a spaceship to get him to Neptune, in order to find his own ship and retrieve some equipment that would allow him to take over Earth (having realized he’s the last of his kind so there’s no point in going back home).  It was a bit confusing to me why he takes over Larry’s mind and escapes in one ship while at the same time he himself follows in another ship, I understand why having access to Larry’s knowledge is useful, but it seems they could have all traveled together.  While in transit, which takes a while, Niven doesn’t spend much time on the main characters and instead switches to a number of other characters trying to figure out what’s going on and organizing a pursuit.  Throughout the book, which has no chapter numbers or titles and is just broken into scenes through the use of a squiggle between paragraphs, Niven will introduce a new character with a brief backstory and then put them into some action which may take a while to come round to advancing the main plot.   He does it enough to notice it as a stylistic method, I’m curious to see if it continues into subsequent books.

The Ptavvs are a slave race of the thrints, and since Kzanol’s intent is to enslave humanity that makes Earth the world of the title, which is a nice touch.  The book is reasonably short and very readable, the characters are almost entirely men (for various reasons human population is tightly controlled and women seem to have to focus on their childbearing potential above all else), and Niven does an admirable job of keeping all his ideas at the forefront while still keeping the book entertaining.  A few key points are probably rushed a bit, when Niven stops to wax poetic for a minute its actually an image worth savoring, maybe moreso because it doesn’t happen that often.  But his obvious intent is the story he wants to tell, and with such a potentially large canvas to work from Niven keeps his focus on the necessary details and produces a worthy novel, first or otherwise, and a good introduction to Known Space.

“Memorials”, by Aliette de Bodard

Asimovs SF, January 2014

It’s a shame this story has such a non-descript title, because there is quite a bit going on in here, it probably would have helped if I had read more of her previous stories as I gather many of them take place in the same universe.  As it is we get one corner of a particular planet, where the general populace is called the Rong but they seem to be second class citizens to another group known as the Galactics, who don’t figure much into the plot.  There was some sort of civil war and the Rong ended up exiled to this planet, but this is all backstory to the main character Cam, a young woman who performs shady business deals on behalf of three old women, known as “aunts” but more similar to Macbeth’s three wtiches.  There is a mausoleum called the Memorial, where the uploaded souls of the dead, known as the Perpetuate, live on, able to interact with those still living.  All the characters are women and all have Vietnamese names, and the relationships between them don’t necessarily match what they call one another, so it can be a bit confusing, coupled with so much backstory,  it took me a couple of reads to sort out the main plot, and I’m still not clear on several details.  There’s quite a bit going on here, maybe a few extra pages would have helped explain things better (to me at least), but de Bodard has a deep, varied and richly detailed setting on which to tell a story which perhaps doesn’t quite measure up to it, but is still engaging and potentially thought provoking.  Sort of reminds me of Ian McDonald.  So why call the story “Memorials”?  Other than just the building, she may be looking at how people regard or honor their dead ancestors, and the ways in which that can change once the dead can live forever in a virtual environment.   There’s probably more to explore there than the space the story is given, but I’d definitely like to read more of her stuff and sample more of this universe.

Destination: Void, by Frank Herbert

There’s a big jump from the submarine potboiler of 21st Century Sub to this book roughly ten years later.  Herbert is firmly entrenched in hard SF, with a generation ship full of hibernating clones setting off from Earth to populate a planet of Tau Ceti.  But the plot isn’t the most significant thing that’s been refined in the intervening decade. Bear in mind that Herbert had published Dune by now, with its inner monologs and shifting points of view and altered states of consciousness.  Herbert must have had a lot of notes left over from psychology papers that didn’t make it into Dune, since he dumps it all into this book instead.

After the masterpiece of plot, character, setting and mood that is Dune, this book comes across as a bit padded, or rushed, or both.  The premise mentioned above is solid enough (he went on to co-author a few sequels years later set in the same universe which were relatively well regarded), but the book reads like a play, or an old “base-under-siege” Doctor Who episode, since everything happens within the confines of the spaceship.  Not that much different from 21st Century Sub in that regard, he even has a woman on the crew this time, but while that first novel dealt with a series of mishaps and challenges that its crew had to solve one by one, here the heart of the conflict is laid out relatively quickly.  Previous spaceships have tried to make the same trip and all ended up disappearing.  The protagonists are awakened early from hibernation because the ship’s onboard computers and their backups all go offline, as though they had achieved some form of self-awareness and couldn’t handle either the challenge or the loneliness of such a protracted trip through space.

It’s left to these people, who mostly have goofy names like Timberlake and Flattery, to jury rig some sort of artificial intelligence that has enough of a level of consciousness that it can pilot the ship without suffering the same fate as the others.  Seems like a tall order given they’re already on the ship, and several of them are privy to information the others don’t have regarding their real circumstances and purpose. They can communicate back to Earth on a limited basis also, but that doesn’t seem to be very useful either.

What follows is over a hundred pages of ruminating about what is consciousness, the different forms that consciousness might take if it were developed artificially, and just how “conscious” are we humans in the first place?  Herbert seems to throw out a couple of red herrings only to debunk them immediately, as though he were parodying similar plot scenarios from the sf pulps and how they could be an easy out for the author (i.e. “we’re not really awake ourselves”, or “there aren’t really any other colonists in hibernation, it’s just us”).   Without much of what I could make out as an explanation, the end result is they arrive at their destination, which wasn’t necessarily supposed to have existed, in record time (as though the ship had the ability to “fold space”, like in Dune?), and the last bit about what happens to the ship computer once the colonists have something to colonize is a nice twist that definitely leaves the door open for more stories, which he eventually did.

What you have in the end with this book is Herbert being a little more didactic, writing a book that’s full of ideas about a particular topic but not enough of everything else to make it into a satisfying story.