Phantasmagoria; Collected Essays on the Nature of Fantasy and Horror Literature
Author Roger C. Schlobin
Dr. Roger C. Schlobin is a retired Professor Emeritus of Purdue Universty, among other credits. He has written six scholarly works and edited over fifty, including “The Literature of Fantasy: a Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography of Modern Fantasy Fiction” (1979). The essays in this self-published collection span over thirty years of his career. “The original purpose of this collection”, he says in the Preface, “was to publish it with a prestigious university press as a study of the invaluable place that secondary, archetypal characters hold in literature. However, teaching four classes of first-year writing a semester stalled my research in 2006. The working bibliography is published here in an appendix for someone, hopefully, to build upon. Then, retirement and back surgery made the tedious steps of publishing with a university press superfluous.”
These essays have been published previously in such scholarly reviews and books as “Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature”, “J. R. R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-earth”, and “The Celebration of the Fantastic: Selected Papers from the Tenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts”. Sample titles are “The Irrelevancy of Setting”, “Prototypic Horror: The Book of Job”, and “In Search of Solitude: The Fascination with Evil”.Read More»
Author: Cat Patrick
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (May 7, 2013)
Trust Cat Patrick to write something wild and crazy, told in the most normal of voices. I first came into contact with her work when I read Revived and was completely blown away. When I saw The Originals, I knew I just had to read it. I wasn’t disappointed. The Originals tells the story of three sisters who are not triplets…they are clones. Because their scientist/geneticist mother is on the lam and the FBI is searching for girls of their age masquerading as triplets, they are forced to live a sort of half-life; rather a third of a life. Each girl takes a part of the day and has to be careful in how they wear their hair, clothes, etc. One heads to school in the morning, then rushes home at lunch to switch. The third sister takes over the evening. Occasionally, they switch to accommodate illness or other issues. Needless to say, it’s kind of nuts, but they take it in stride.Read More»
Men Into Space
Author: John C. Fredriksen
Publisher: BearManor Media
The 1950s were, practically speaking, the first decade of television. Popular “everybody knows” knowledge is that the first serious science fiction TV program was Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, from October 1959 to June 1964. Earlier TV science fiction programs like Captain Video, Space Patrol, and Tom Corbett: Space Cadet were for children. Fredriksen, the author of thirty other reference books such as The United States Air Force: A Chronology, points out that earlier TV s-f for adults did exist, such as Science Fiction Theatre (1955-1957). One important but now-forgotten program was Men Into Space, 38 episodes, September 1959 to September 1960.
A major factor that sets Men Into Space apart from all other TV science fiction, then or later, was that it was “hard science” science fiction. Presenting the fictional adventures of astronaut Col. Edward McCauley (played by William Lundigan) in the near future (the 1970s were implied), the program closely forecast the real U.S. space program of the 1960s. Men Into Space built upon the popularization of Lunar and Martian space exploration in the 1950s through books and magazine articles by such experts as Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley, and the “Tomorrowland” episodes of Walt Disney’s TV series. The program consulted closely with the U.S. Air Force as an advisor, and “The Air Force retained supervisory control of scripting and insisted that all episodes depict the American space effort in a strictly realistic vein. No bug-eyed monsters or mad scientists were permissible, so story lines invariably turned on conflict arising from faulty equipment or personality clashes among crewmen.” (pgs. 7-8) Chesley Bonestell, the noted astronautical and astronomical artist who illustrated many popular 1950s articles on space exploration for magazines like Collier’s, designed the space and Lunar sets and the spacecraft for Men Into Space. Guest stars in the 38 episodes, appearing in one episode each, included Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Werner Klemperer, Whit Bissell, James Drury, Gavin MacLeod, and many others who became better-known actors during the 1960s and 1970s.
Fredriksen first presents a general history and overview of the program and its production company, ZIV (Ziv Productions), followed by profiles of the “Cast and Crew”: a lengthy biography of Lundigan, shorter biographies of the actors who played his wife and son, the program’s producer, set designer (Bonestell), and composer, and the real Convair Atlas rocket that was the model for the program’s fictional spaceships. Each profile includes one or more publicity photographs and its own bibliography.
All the foregoing are on pages 1 to 36 of this 314-page book. “Episodes” are the main feature, from page 39 to 291. Each of the 38 episodes is given a usually-seven page profile that includes a still, the episode title, air date, list of actors and their characters, script author, director, technical advisor (a U.S.A.F. officer), and a long (usually five pages) plot synopsis. There are two appendices; a July 2012 interview by Fredriksen of William Lundigan’s daughter, and a photogallery of the program’s few children’s merchandising items. There are six pages of Endnotes and a Name Index.
This is one of those “all you want to know” books about its subject. Men Into Space was a minor program on the list of all the TV science fiction programs there have ever been. But it will always be known for its presentation of “real” or “hard” science astronautics, as distinct from the other programs that featured robots, Earth-conquering aliens, fanciful views of the far future and other planets, cinematic adaptations of prominent literary s-f stories, and the like; including today’s TV s-f which mixes s-f elements with werewolves, vampires, and zombies. Buy wherever there is any interest in Men Into Space itself, in TV science fiction, in TV productions of the late 1950s-early 1960s, or in American history of the 1950s Space Race period.
When Diplomacy Fails …
Author: Michael Z. Williamson
Publisher: Baen Books
This is the seventh novel in Williamson’s Freehold interstellar action-adventure science-fiction series, which started with Freehold in 2003; or the third novel in his Ripple Creek Security subseries, which began with Better to Beg Forgiveness ….
The series is set about two hundred years in the future, in a human interstellar civilization in which most planets of the galaxy are divided among a tyrannical socialistic United Nations union (the villains), the lone-planet freedom-loving Freehold of Grainne (the heroes), and various worlds loosely aligned in a Colonial Alliance. After the first couple of novels, Williamson began concentrating on the exploits of the Freehold-based Ripple Creek Security Service, a commercial company of mercenary bodyguards who hire their services to the president of an independent planet in the throes of civil war (Better to Beg Forgiveness …, 2007), and the Richest Person in the Universe (Do Unto Others …, 2010). In other words, these novels are a s-f extrapolation of the private military companies such as Blackwater Security that contracted their services to the U.S. government in Iraq during the 2000s.
In this third novel, Ripple Creek is hired to guard and protect their traditional enemy! Well, politics has no personal enemies, and Ripple Creek has the reputation of being the best in the business. Ripple Creek is asked to assign its ace team of Alex Marlow, Jason Vaughn, Eleanora Sykora, Bart Weil, Horace Mbuto, and Aramis Anderson to protect the U.N.’s Bureau of State Minister Joy Herman Highland, a bureaucrat with very many enemies, both professional and personal.
There is little padding in Williamson’s prose. His team know each other well and are personal friends, but their conversation is heavy in shop talk; and the third-person narration is heavy in tech talk:
“[Alex] said, ‘We’re protecting a high-ranking UN bureau official out of system.’
Bart asked, ‘Are there specific threats?’
‘Some. We’ll be able to cover those during transport. We’re traveling together.’
Elke asked, ‘What restrictions do we have on weapons and gear, and rules of engagement?”
He understood she was asking if she could have explosives. ‘Unknown yet, but I do know the usual security contingent are armed.’
‘Then why us?’ Bart asked.
‘The threat level is perceived as higher than typical.’
‘So the free market is better at protecting the government than it is at protecting itself.’
‘We’re going to Mtali for the Environmental Summit and some other meetings.’
Bart raised his eyebrows. Yes, if they were up to date on newsloads, that pretty well gave away who the principal was.
‘Perhaps I will like this person,’ Elke said. ‘I respect ruthlessness.’” (p. 11)
“Their quarters were quite comfortable for the field. They had billets on par with officers or other high-end contractors: hard buildings, private rooms where enlisted personnel would have three to five, basic bunks and lockable closets. The problem, of course, was the weapons, which in theory were supposed to be secured whenever they were not on escort, which would mean a lot of back and forth to the armory. In practice, they usually left someone in the billet to watch things, armed. He also knew Aramis concealed a small pistol when out. He was sure Jason did, too, though he’d never seen it. He made do with a knife.” (p. 63)
For interstellar political reasons, the Environmental Summit is on a planet with a lot of factional religious groups fighting each other; so Alex and his teammates do not know whether they are protecting Highland from “incidental” Mtali religious violence, a specific assassination attempt against her by the partisans, an attempt by one of her political enemies back on Earth, or if they are there to guard her as just a publicity stunt. What they quickly find out is that, unlike their previous assignments where they were working with the full cooperation of their principals, Highland seems determined to make their job as hard as possible. Anti-terrorist security depends largely on secrecy and keeping as low a profile as possible. Highland wants maximum publicity for her political career and appearances, and even publicizes the names and portraits of her security team without their knowledge. The Ripple Creek team soon come to despise their current principal, who is clearly prepared to sacrifice some or all of them for her publicity’s sake.
Alex and the others are determined to not let this affect their professionalism. Besides their own self-honor, Ripple Creek’s reputation is at stake. But as the attacks against them increase, three patterns emerge. There are genuine non-deadly factional protests against Highland as a symbol of the U.N., assassination attempts against Highland presumably by her political rivals, and attacks designed to discredit the Ripple Creek Security team by causing civilian casualties that can be blamed on them. Alex and his teammates must become detectives to outwit and expose their adversaries, while protecting Highland despite her attempts to exploit them for political gain. The lengthy climax provides surprises and lots of military violence.
According to the “About the Author”, Williamson is an ex- military veteran of the U.S. Army and Air Force with considerable Middle Eastern experience, and a current weapons tester and reviewer for several firearms manufacturers. His professional expertise shows in this well-written military s-f series.
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tom Dougherty Associates/Tor Books
What used to be called “sacrificial lambs” or “cannon fodder” became institutionalized in s-f as the “redshirt” in the original Star Trek TV series of 1966-69. The Star Trek uniforms consisted of several colors. As the TV Tropes website puts it of the red-shirted uniforms, “The color of shirt worn by the nameless security personnel on the original Star Trek series. Their only job was to get eaten, shot, stabbed, disrupted, temporally-shifted, frozen, desalinated, or crushed into a cube. Their death would give William Shatner and DeForest Kelley a corpse to emote over, and Leonard Nimoy a corpse to, well, “not emote over.” The tradition that a character wearing a red shirt would die became so widespread that subsequent TV series with no connection to Star Trek such as Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Lost dressed characters fated to die in red shirts, and reviewers began to refer to characters who exist only to meet dire fates as “redshirts”.
What if a story’s low-ranking characters became aware that anyone dressed in a red shirt is fated to die? That is the premise, handled both humorously and seriously, of Redshirts by John Scalzi.
In the late 2460s, young Ensign Junior Rank Andrew Dahl requests assignment to the Universal Union flagship Intreped, specifically to the Xenobiology Department which specializes in exploring new planets. Dahl is proud of his prestige posting, which will give him a chance to ‘get out into the field’. “‘Yes, sir,’ Dahl said. ‘It’s that front line science that appeals to me. The exploration.’” (p. 30)
But when he discusses his assignment with some other friendly new crewmen, Andy learns that they are all replacing recent fatalities.
“‘People here have away missions on the brain.’ [Dahl said]
‘It’s because someone always dies on them,’ Hanson said.
Duvall arched an eyebrow at this. ‘What makes you say that, Jimmy?’
‘Well, we’re all replacing former crew members,’ Hanson said, and then pointed at Duvall. ‘What happened to the one you replaced. Transferred out?’’
‘No,’ Duvall said. ‘He was the death by vaporization one.’
‘And mine got sucked out of the shuttle,’ Hanson said. ‘And Andy’s got eaten by a shark. Maybe. You have to admit there’s something going on there. I bet if we tracked down Finn and Hester, they’d tell us the same thing.’” (p. 36)
When Andy investigates further, he learns that the Intrepid’s explorational ‘away missions’ usually consist of Captain Lucius Abernathy and Chief Science Officer Q’eeng as observers, and Astrogation Lieutenant Kerensky as the mission leader of several non-coms; and that in 100% of past missions, they have encountered a deadly threat that the three officers have survived (Kerensky barely), but the redshirted minions have always fallen victim to. Naturally, none of the Intrepid’s more experienced non-coms, including Andy’s Xenobiology teammates, want to be assigned to an away mission.
Andy decides that this is more than coincidence. Since when does a large ship’s captain personally accompany an exploration mission, especially after experience shows that these missions are highly dangerous?
“‘Dahl, tell me,’ Collins said. ‘When Q’eeng and Abernathy were here, how were they talking to you?’
‘What do you mean?’ Dahl asked.
‘Did they come in and quickly tell you what you needed?’
Collins said. ‘Or did they go on and on about a bunch of crap you didn’t need to know?’
‘They went on a bit, yes,’ Dahl said.
‘Was the captain particularly dramatic?’ Cassaway asked.
‘What is ‘particularly dramatic’ in this context?’ Dahl asked.
‘Like this,’ Mbeke said, and then grabbed both of Dahl’s shoulders and shook them. ‘Damn it, man! There is no try! Only do!’
Dahl set down the vial so it was not accidentally shaken out of his grip. ‘He said pretty much exactly those words,’ he said to Mbeke.” (pgs. 41-42)
Why is Kerensky always chosen to lead the away mission, and why is he the only one of the low-ranking explorers to barely survive? Why is an Astrogator chosen for planetary exploration, anyway?
‘Why did you want Lieutenant Kerensky’s medical records?’ Hanson asked.
‘Kerensky was the victim of a plague a week ago,’ Dahl said. ‘He recovered quickly enough to lead an away mission, where he lost consciousness because of a machine attack. He recovered quickly enough from that to hit on Maia sometime today.’
‘To be fair, he still looked like hell,’ Duvall said.
‘To be fair, he should probably be dead,’ Dahl said. ‘The Merovian Plague melts people’s flesh right off their bones. Kerensky was about fifteen minutes away from death before he got cured, and he’s heading an away mission a week later? It takes that long to get over a bad cold, much less a flesh-eating bacteria.’
‘So he’s got an awesome immune system,’ Duvall said.
Dahl fixed her with a look and flipped Finn’s phone to her. ‘In the past three years, Kerensky’s been shot three times, caught a deadly disease four times, has been crushed under a rock pile, injured in a shuttle crash, suffered burns when his bridge control panel blew up in his face, experienced partial atmospheric decompression, suffered from induced mental instability, been bitten by two venomous animals and had the control of his body taken over by an alien parasite. That’s before the recent plague and this mission.’” (pgs. 67-68)
Andy and his four buddies learn that this is just the beginning of the weird stuff. Kerensky is going psycho wondering why he is always the leader of the away missions that go to hell, and that he is the only survivor. Barely. Andy discovers discrepancies between the Intrepid’s blueprints and the shipboard reality. They aren’t the only ones to notice things. Andy suddenly finds himself and some of his official Xenobiology teammates assigned to a special away mission by Q’eeng. When Andy is the only survivor, he is ostracized by the rest of the Xenobiology Department and transferred to the bridge crew:
“‘Someone once told me to stay off the bridge,’ Dahl said, and then nodded over at Trin. ‘Two people did, actually. But one of them was more forceful about it.’
‘Nonsense,’ Collins said. ‘The bridge is the perfect place for someone like you. You’ll be in contact with senior officers on a daily basis. They’ll get to know you very well. And there will be lots of opportunities for adventure. You’ll be going on away missions weekly. Sometimes even more often then that.’ She smiled thinly.” (p. 91)
Dahl and his friends find Jenkins, an older crewman who has a theory about what is going on that is so far-fetched, so incredible that none of them can take it seriously – except that it is the only theory that fits all the facts. After one of the friends is killed, the others are forced to discuss it seriously.
“‘I hate it that we now have discussions like this,’ Hester said.
‘I don’t think any of us like it,’ Dahl said.
‘I don’t know. I think it’s interesting,’ Duvall said.
‘It would be interesting if we were sitting in a dorm room, getting stoned,’ Hester said. ‘Talking about it seriously after our friend has died sort of takes the fun out of it.’” (p. 138)
Redshirts is a masterpiece of deadpan humor mixed with suspense. For all the ridiculous implausibility of their situation, people are dying painfully and messily. Can Dahl and his friends figure out the secret of survival?
And then, after the story ends, there are three codas in which Scalzi drops the humor and gets intimately serious.
Redshirts is not only an in-depth dramatization of an increasingly frequent TV trope, it is also a very funny parody of the TV series that started it all. Commander Q’eeng is emotionless and, by his strange name, probably partially inhuman. Captain Abernathy dramatically overemotes whenever he is at center stage. Chief Engineer West stays in the engine room. Lieutenant Kerensky lives only to fall into near-death situations. Everyone runs about breathlessly delivering messages in person that could just as easily be delivered by phone or intercom.
For all its seeming originality and uniqueness, Redshirts’ basic plot is very similar to a previous s-f classic novel – but if I told you which one, then I’d have to kill you! Two novels with similar plots in a hundred years? That’s not too many.
Read Redshirts! I’ll bet that you don’t guess the solution.
Is ‘sphagettify’ a real word?
Publisher: Tor (a division of Macmillian)
The backstory behind the classic, popular ENDER’S GAME series by Orson Scott Card is brought to life in this series of novels describing the two Formic Wars that make up the history leading up to the world in which Ender Wiggin will later come to exist. Yet it is a passionate rich story in its own right, with a young hero named Victor who works as a free miner whose family in the wake of tragedy must entrust this young man to get to Luna with evidence of the coming alien invasion. More than just simply an adaptation of the Marvel Comics release of the same storyline, these novels include characters and subplots originally cut from the comic book making for an even richer experience. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the ENDER’S GAME universe, or completely new to it, EARTH UNAWARE is a great place to jump in… or jump in again.
Disclosure: A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review via the publisher, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.
Judgement at Proteus
Author: Timothy Zahn
Publisher: Tom Dougherty Associates/Tor Books
“The climactic novel of the star-spanning Quadrail space opera!” (blurb) In the first four Quadrail novels (Night Train to Rigel, 2005; The Third Lynx, 2007; Odd Girl Out, 2008, and The Domino Pattern, 2010), galaxy-traveler-by-alien-superscientific-railroad hero Frank Compton (conveniently a top human secret agent) and his mysterious woman companion, Bayta, have unmasked a plot by the extraterrestrial Modhri group mind to take over the bodies of all the “peoples” of the galaxy, including the humans of Earth and its space colonies. There is much hugger-mugger in the style of the 1930s Orient Express spy thrillers, skillfully updated into the far future. (Does a galactic railroad train sound ridiculous to you? Zahn pulls off enough pseudo-technological legerdemain to make it seem plausible.)
But in the climax of The Domino Pattern, Compton learns that he and everyone else during their almost-two-years secret war have been deceived! The real villains are the believed-long-extinct Shonkla-raa, who have been secretly manipulating the strongest races (species?) of the galaxy to kill each other off – and they have been successful enough that the hidden Shonkla-raa armies are about to pour forth and complete their conquest.
In Judgment at Proteus, the fifth and final Quadrail novel, Compton and Bayta are closing in on the Modhri at the headquarters of the horselike Filiaelians at the Proteus super-space-station. (Other non-Humans of the Twelve Empires galactic government are the Shorshians, the Nemut, the Homshil, the Halkans, the Jurskala, the Bellidos, and the Tra’ho. The Humans are the newest and most junior of the Twelve Empires.) Compton has not decided yet what to do about the revelation about the Shonkla-raa.
The second paragraph of the opening page is: “The [Filiaelian’s] expression, and the face, shook briefly as the hand gripping my throat slammed my head and back hard against the display window of my first-class Quadrail compartment.” (p. 9) Judgment at Proteus begins with a bang and never slows down. The reader who is beginning at this point will be plunged into a trainload of a few Humans and many exotic aliens. “‘What an odd question,’ I said, hiding my mild surprise. It had been over four weeks since Muzzfor died his violent death aboard the super-express Quadrail traveling from the other end of the galaxy, and nearly two weeks since Emikai [a bipedal horselike alien] and I had begun these occasional sparring sessions. Not once in all that time had the Filly asked me for details on exactly how Muzzfor had died.” (pgs. 11-12)
In addition to all the aliens, there is the colorful but vague tech of the Quadrail itself. “Our train pulled into the Ilat Dumar Covrey station exactly on time, which was the way things always worked with the Quadrail system. The Spiders, creatures encased in metal globes carried around on seven spindly legs, kept the trains running perfectly as they facilitated the transfer of passengers, cargo, and information across the galaxy with a calm and understated efficiency.
“And as Bayta and I headed across the platform, making our way past Fillies, Shorshians, and assorted other non-Humans, I thought about truth.
“Did they really want to know about the Modhri, the group mind that had started out based in exotic Modhran coral and was now also embedded in thousands, perhaps even millions, of unsuspecting beings? Did they want to know that any of their friends might have a Modhran polyp colony inside him or her, linked telepathically to all the other nearby colonies and coral outposts to form a group-mind segment? Did they want to know that their same friend’s words or actions might actually be inspired by subtle suggestions whispered to him or her by that mind segment?” (p. 13)
At Proteus, the Shonkla-raa strike first by trying to eliminate Compton by framing him for murder. Multiple murders. Compton and Bayta are surrounded by rival horselike Filiaelian police, and civilian friends who have come to know them during their Quadrail travels and do not believe that Compton could be a murderer, including a volunteer defense attorney. The secret-agent action is augmented by courtroom drama. More than one, since Compton is no sooner temporarily freed on one charge then he is framed for another murder – and after being found innocent of one murder, being assigned as a detective to investigate it. This leads to one-on-one martial-arts duels against deadly Shonkla-raa assassins. Compton believes that the police are innocent pawns, while some of the friendly aliens are disguised Shonkla-raa agents; but which?
Eventually, the Shonkla-raa seem so unstoppable that the Modhri reveal themselves/itself and, on the old theory that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, propose a Human-Modhri teamup against them. Compton is forced to agree, playing for time to figure out how to outwit and defeat both of the would-be galactic conquerors.
“I keyed the driving thrusters, and the desk took off like a carved wooden bat out of hell. It shot across the room and with a thunderous crash slammed into the door, bending and then shattering the panel as it was itself bent and shattered. Thumbing off the Beretta’s safety, I charged.”
For those who like shoot ‘em up, blow ‘em up, smash ‘em up, blast ‘em to atoms space opera, Judgment at Proteus by Hugo-winning Timothy Zahn, who has written plenty of authorized Star Wars novels, can’t be beaten.
A Confusion of Princes
Author: Garth Nix
This is Young Adult interstellar science-fiction, in the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein and Andre Norton, two classic YA s-f authors to whom this book is dedicated. I grew up devouring the YA s-f of Heinlein and Norton in my teens. How close does A Confusion of Princes come? Very – and current to the 2010s, not the 1950s, too!
“I have died three times, and three times been reborn, though I am not yet twenty in the old Earth years by which it is still the fashion to measure time.” (p. 1)
Khemri is a Prince of the galaxy-spanning Empire. This is not as much a biological title as a political and technological one. The Empire, with tens of thousands of worlds and a population of multi-quintillions, has ten million Princes (male and female) to help run it. To serve efficiently, the Princes are educated from infancy to rule and are turned into cyborgs; biologically and psychically enhanced, including a connection to the Imperial Mind so that, if killed, they can be reborn.
But technologically enhanced ruling abilities (“techno-wizardry”) do not preclude personal ambition. By tradition, the Emperor abdicates every twenty years, naming one of the ten million Princes as his heir. Some, if not most, of the Princes are jockeying for position to become that heir. Young and naïve Prince Khemri quickly discovers that one or more of his fellow Princes is out to assassinate him – nothing personal; just eliminating one more competitor.
This is a novel of character development. Unfortunately, to develop into an admirably complex and self-assured character, Khemri has to start out as shallow and superficial, arrogant about his lofty status. Nix keeps his readers through Khemri’s unpleasant beginnings by painting his colorful background, a galaxy of a glittering upper class of seemingly-perfect supermen and a lower class of benevolently-ruled peasants, plus exotic alien enemies; and by presenting the story as a flashback, with Khemri wryly acknowledging his original naïvete.
The education to rule is based on a thorough understanding of the Imperial technology, which is divided into three classes, the mechanical Mektek, the biological Bitek, and the mental Psytek, each of which is managed and controlled by a priesthood that worships different Aspects of the divine Emperor – which the reader will recognize is a cadre of scientific bureaucrats disguised as a religion. The reality is shown by the fact that the first of his/her court that a Prince meets, upon becoming a Prince on his eighteenth birthday, is his Master of Assassins. The main duty of a Master of Assassins is not to assassinate anyone, but to keep his brand-new Prince from being assassinated by his nine-plus million peers.
A Confusion of Princes follows Khemri from his eighteenth-birthday investiture, expecting to become an all-powerful and all-important Prince of the Empire, through his introduction to Haddad, his Master of Assassins; Haddad’s immediate saving him from an assassination attempt; their flight to the Naval Academy of the Imperial Navy on the world of Kwanantil Nine where Khemri can connect to the Imperial Mind; Khemri’s year as a Naval cadet, and more. His experiences are fast-paced, colorful, and humbling as he learns more about what life in the Empire is really like. At the same time, he gradually realizes that his experiences are more than those of an average Prince. “So Haddad was a very senior Master of Assassins indeed. Why had he been assigned to me? And why had I been sponsored to join the Imperial Mind by an arch-priest, the head of an Aspect I’d never even heard about, read about, or suspected existed?” (p. 49)
Spoiler alert: it later turns out that the Empire has a secret service of “Adjustors” within the ten million Princes, to secretly police them and keep them from getting out of control. This “seventh service” is what Khemri is being groomed for. But the rigorous testing includes surviving for a year as an ordinary human, without any Princely powers.
During that time, disguised as Khem, a Fringe trader, he meets Raine Gryphon, a communication specialist in an interstellar wartime situation, and her family. She is the first woman that he comes to know other than a Prince’s sex servant or a fellow Prince. “It was an inexplicable, emotional response, one I had never felt before. I didn’t like it, because it felt weak, but somehow I couldn’t stop it. I tried to tell myself that she was just like a mind-programmed servant of my household, but she wasn’t. They were all the same. She was … different. More interesting … and she was different from all the humans I’d met in my training. I’d gotten on well enough with some of them, but I’d certainly never felt like I needed to protect them.” (p. 211)
At the end of the year, Khemri has passed his test and becomes an Adjustor, which he learns puts him on an inside track to become the next Emperor. But after a year as an ordinary human, with the freedom from the rigidly stratified life of a Prince, full of ultimate power and pleasure but having to always fear assassination, Khemri must decide whether he prefers the perquisites of Princedom or the liberty of a commoner. A Confusion of Princes is a swiftly-moving, vividly exotic adventure of the far future for adolescents (especially boys) and adults.
Author: David Brin
Publisher: Tor (part of Macmillan)
Gerald works salvaging what appears to be interstellar junk for unusual finds, and makes an unexpected discovery of an object that appears to be a communication device with alien races. Meanwhile, a poor Chinese man named Peng Xiang Bin does similar reclamation from under the sea, and discovers a rival object; not knowing what it is, he inquires publicly about it and finds many people on his tail interested in the artifact, which ultimately forces him to flee his wife and child. Add in a determined media journalist, a man curious about blackmail in politics, a mother scientist and her estranged son, and you have many voices searching out our reason for Existence. The novel is highly complicated, and on a big picture thought level as futurist David Brin is known for, and in the the end is more about the subject than the characters – some of which seemed to disappear with tons of loose ends behind. A long book at approximately 550 pages, this is not a fast read. However, Brin also puts forward a lot to think about in terms of what defines human existence both in the perspective of comparing to other races and other humans. If you like books that make you consider things in new ways, Existence may just be your cup of tea.
Disclosure: A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review via NetGalley, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.
The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.’
~ from Fahrenheit 451
I woke up to the news that Ray Bradbury, one of the hugest icons in Science Fiction, had died. This has been a horrible year for book lovers. We have lost Maurice Sendak, Carlos Fuentes, Lee Dillon, Jean Craighead George and others. While these authors and illustrators have lived long and full lives, bringing wonder, enjoyment and beauty to millions of people, they are deeply missed and their passing felt keenly.
A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?
~ From Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury was a huge influence on me and to all AmoXcalli’s writers. One of the first books I read of his was Fahrenheit 451 and it made me think. It was my first experience with dystopia and was one of the reasons I took television away from my own children years later (they still grumble about it 20 years later but they are prodigious readers). After Fahrenheit, I fell in love with Dandelion Wine, The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I can’t imagine a life without those well worn covers on my shelves or a life without his gift for words and language or his flair for styling a story.
We’re nothing more than dust jackets for books, of no significance otherwise.” — Granger from Fahrenheit 451
Others from AmoXcalli will be posting their own thoughts and, as is our custom, we will be collecting links about him here. Rest in peace Ray Bradbury and thank you for a lifetime of beautiful words. I like to think that he followed the Transit of Venus and left this world piloting the planet as it crossed the sun.
The first book I read by Ray Bradbury was Something Wicked This Way Comes. I remembered liking the book, but didn’t retain remembering who wrote it. I saw it mainly as “just one of those books I was assigned”. It wouldn’t be until years later when another book – again assigned as reading, but this time in high school – would make an impact forever.
This would be the first time I ever read a required book in school that made me cry. Ever since sixth grade I knew with conviction I wanted to be a writer. So now I found myself reading a book proposing a world in which the written word is destroyed. The thought that anyone might even want to do that was devastating enough; the fact Bradbury created such a world where it seemed possible with such believability amazed me. It also changed my definitions of what I perceived as “science fiction” – another fact for which I am forever grateful. Also, when I was reminded that he’d written Something Wicked This Way Comes, this also impressed me. I’ve now never forgotten that book.
My exposure to Ray Bradbury’s worked increased greatly once I moved to Los Angeles. It turns out that my longtime friend and now fiance’ Kevin Paul Shaw Broden considers Mr. Bradbury to be one of his most favorite authors. Through Kevin, I finally gained exposure to The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, The Toynbee Convector… and more I can’t think of right now. I still can’t believe Ray Bradbury’s gone.
Every year, Kevin and I made sure that on our list of things to do at Comic-Con, we always went to the Ray Bradbury panel. This year we’ll be fitting in the tribute panel, I suspect. It better be Standing Room Only. Mr. Bradbury deserved no less.
A few years back when Worldcon was in Anaheim, I also went to Mr. Bradbury’s panel there. Afterwards as we all filed out, he came out the door near where I was and some people approached him and started crowding around. Part of me wanted to go up to him – he was so very close – but for some reason I didn’t want to crowd him there in the Convention Center hall. I think part of me will always regret that.
Farewell, Ray Bradbury.
— Shannon Muir, Writer/Reviewer for AmoXcalli
Watch this wonderful little documentary, Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer by David L. Wolper.