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.
636: The Kremlin Games
Author: Eric Flint, with Gorg Huff & Paula Goodlett
Publisher: Baen Books
It’s wonderful for an author when a novel is not only successful, it can be turned into an industry.
Eric Flint wrote 1632, the first in his Ring of Fire series, in 2000. In it, a modern small West Virginia town of about 3,000 people and its surrounding six miles are transported by “a cosmic accident” back to 1631 northern Germany, in the midst of the Thirty Years War. The inhabitants of Grantville are hard-pressed to remain out of the fighting, and unannexed by the duke of Saxe-Weimar. Although the West Virginians soon run out of the gasoline and electricity to power their 20th-century marvels, there is enough to convince the 17th century heads of state that they really are from the future. The Americans try to introduce 20th-century democracy three centuries early, while the 17th-century rulers – King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, Christian IV of Denmark, Cardinal Richelieu, umpteen petty German dukes and electors and margraves, the Holy Roman Emperor, the Pope, etc. – try to figure out how to take advantage of futuristic technology without losing their thrones. Within months, events are so changed that what the Americans know about future world history is no longer valid.
1632 was not only popular, it brought lots of fan mail to Flint suggesting how the future might be changed this way or that way. Flint has swept all of his fans under his wings, encouraging them to suggest sequels and to write their own Ring of Fire short fiction. Flint has taken the best ideas and turned them into novels, written in collaboration with his readers who suggested them. 1636: The Kremlin Games is the 14th novel co-written by Flint and others in the series, while the best of the short stories and novelettes have been collected into Ring of Fire (three volumes) and The Grantville Gazette (six volumes so far.)
1636: The Kremlin Games introduces a new protagonist and locale. Bernie Zeppi is an average guy from the 20th century, not one of the politicians who are trying to set up a United States of Europe, or a skilled mechanic who can maybe recreate some piece of 20th century technology out of what the 17th century has available. But he is available when a delegation comes from far-off Muscovy in late 1631 to offer great pay for one of the American wizards to drag the feudal Russian court kicking and screaming into the future. Even updating to the standards of 17th century Western Europe would be an improvement. Bernie figures that he can accomplish at least that much, so he blithely accompanies the envoys to Moscow.
What he does not count on are the Byzantine plottings of the boyars of the court of Mikhail I. It is impossible to please one nobleman without making several political enemies. Bernie is horrified by the state of public health in 1630s Russia. Even if he knows nothing about how to recreate 20th century technology, he can introduce modern sanitation.
Despite the 1636 title, this novel also begins in 1632. Bernie settles into life in 17th-century Russia. He gradually makes friends with one fairly powerful family, the Gorchakovs. Since Czar Mikhail officially approved bringing Bernie to Moscow to modernize Russia, nobody openly opposes him, but the Gorchakovs’ influential enemies have their knives’ out to sabotage Bernie’s improvements, or to try to take credit for them themselves. Prince Vladimir Gorchakov, the Russian nobleman who led the delegation to Grantville that recruited Bernie, stays in Grantville to send what 20th-century books and technology he can copy back to Moscow. Vladimir gradually makes social ties with the American community and marries into it.
As much as 1636 is a novel about its cast, it is a sugar-coated education for modern readers into the culture and sociology of 17th-century Russia. There are also concentrated glimpses of the technological improvements that Bernie tries to introduce. Sanitation is pretty obvious with all of the uptime medical textbooks agreeing on its importance, so he has little trouble getting that adopted. The czar’s court wants the 20th-century airplanes that they have heard about. Bernie hasn’t the slightest idea how to build an airplane, and 17th-century Russian technology would not be up to it in any case; but what about dirigibles? They’re just big gasbags filled with hydrogen, aren’t they? Bernie doesn’t know much about firearms, either, but he can kibitz what the Russian gunsmiths are making. He makes converts:
“Daniil Kinski set the butt of the AK3 on the ground and the tip of its barrel came not quite to his shoulder and Daniil Kinski was a short man. If any of them had been familiar with the up-time weaponry, they would have thought of the AK3 as the illegitimate child of a Kentucky long-rifle and a Winchester 73. Like the long-rifle, the AK3 was a flintlock, and like the Winchester it had a lever action. But the AK3 had a removable firing chamber. Daniil lifted the AK3 and showed them how the chamber was removed. He opened the lever action chamber lock and pulled out the chamber.” (p. 269) The demonstration’s tech-talk goes on for another page, and the Russian military is indeed impressed.
In 1634 Poland invades Russia. (Not in our history.) This puts Bernie and his supporters into a put-up-or-shut-up position. For the fans of military fiction, the story follows a small cast of fictional soldiers in detailed maneuvering through 17th-century sieges and battles. Military events lead to political influences. Soon Bernie and his friends realize that they are no longer controlling Russia’s modernization, they are being controlled by it. The modernization, rather the changes brought about by the attempts at modernization, have gotten out of anyone’s control. The year 1636 does not come into the novel until page 327, just in time for a slam-bang climax that has Bernie and his closest Russian friends fleeing from Moscow in a 1972 Dodge Charger! Flint and his co-authors clearly know their 17th-century Eastern European history in detail, and make believable guesses at how the knowledge of 20th-century sociology and technology might affect the rigid Russian aristocracy, in a lively alternate-history novel.
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.
“#9 in the national best selling RCN space adventure series.
Captain Daniel Leary with his friend–and spy–Officer Adele Mundy are sent to a quiet sector to carry out an easy task: helping the local admiral put down a coup before it takes place. But then the jealous admiral gets rid of them by sending them off on a wild goose chase to a sector where commerce is king and business is carried out by extortion and gunfights.
With anarchy and rebellion in the air, a rogue intelligence officer plots the war that will destroy civilization and enlists the help of a brute whom even torturers couldn’t stomach.
And, of course, it’s up to Leary and Mundy to put a stop to the madness.” (publisher’s synopsis)
Each of David Drake’s Republic of Cinnabar Navy interstellar adventures begins with an Author’s Note explaining where he got his idea. This novel is a space opera expansion of a brief mention in Livy’s history of Rome from its beginning to the death of Augustus in 14 A.D., about the chaos in Northern Italy following the end of the Second Punic War in 201 B.C. “Northern Italy at the end of the third century BC was a patchwork of Roman colonies and allies, Celtic tribes recently conquered by Rome, and independent tribes, mostly Celtic. A man calling himself Hamilcar and claiming to be a Carthaginian raised a rebellion against Rome. In the course of it he sacked cities and destroyed a Roman army sent against him. Nobody was really sure where Hamilcar came from. […] The point that particularly interested me was that the Roman Senate reacted by sending an embassy to Carthage, demanding that the Carthaginians withdraw their citizen under the terms of the peace treaty. […] Livy’s account got me thinking about the problems that the envoys would have had. […]” (pgs. ix-x).
The Road of Danger is a direct sequel to Drake’s What Distant Deeps. In it, the Republic of Cinnabar (Rome) and the Alliance of Free Stars (Carthage) have finally declared a truce to their long-running war; or more exactly, both sides are exhausted. But unlike the historic Rome and Carthage, Cinnabar and the Alliance are still equal in power. “Neither superpower could resume the conflict without collapse: forty years of nearly constant warfare had strained both societies to the breaking point.” (p. 1) Captain Daniel Leary and his subordinate, Communications Officer Adele Mundy, of the sometimes-RCN Princess Cecile (a space yacht that Leary has heavily armed) and their loyal crew, are sent to deliver an important message to a Cinnabar admiral in a backwater space region on the Cinnabar-Alliance border, and then place themselves under his orders. The admiral, jealous of Leary’s past successes, sends him on what is meant to be a potentially-fatal wild-goose mission. The Macotta Region of the galaxy is a hodgepodge of Cinnabar and Alliance planets, independent planets loosely allied to one or the other superpowers, and truly independent planets (that the superpowers do not consider worth annexing). The Funnel Cluster in the Macotta Region is mostly Alliance-controlled. When a revolt breaks out on Sunbright in the Funnel Cluster, it would normally be considered an Alliance internal affair, except that the Alliance charges that the rebel leader claims to be a Cinnabar citizen with backing from the Cinnabar government. The Alliance has formally protested and demanded that Cinnabar stop the four-year-old rebellion. The Cinnabar admiral commanding the Macotta Region sends Leary in the Princess Cecile, without any backup, to “solve” the problem. Leary recognizes that if it is genuine, it could force the Alliance for its interstellar prestige into resuming the war against Cinnabar that neither wants.
This is the background for another space opera adventure of interstellar derring-do and political intrigue. Instead of going to Sunbright openly as a Cinnabar government representative, Leary and his crew disguise the “Sissie” as a neutral Kostroman space yacht owned by a Kostroman noblewoman (Mundy in disguise), rich but of dubious morality, touring the stars; while Leary, also in disguise, joins the crew of an Alliance civilian blockade runner chartered to deliver a cargo of weapons to the Sunbright rebels. Leary and Mundy discover separately that Everybody Is No Damn Good: both sides of the “rebellion” are corrupt local politicians and merchants hoping to line their own pockets, or petty warlords building their own personal armies, or perverts out to destabilize society so they can practice their own perversion without any local government to stop them. The only honest party in the whole affair is the Sunbright rebel leader, a naïve young idealist who has gotten disgusted after realizing that the “oppressed peasants” are as brutal as their oppressors, and who has become a helpless figurehead of his corrupt subordinates. He is more than ready to return to Cinnabar with Leary, if the latter can figure out how to get them out of the hellhole and end the “rebellion” in a manner that will defuse the Cinnnabar-Alliance tensions. There is lots of bluffing, macho face-offs, outright murders and assassinations, deals and betrayals, and space naval action when Leary and the Princess Cecile confront a more powerful gunboat of one of their enemies.
The main complaint is endemic to this series: Drake does not convincingly dress up the various primitive tribes of pre-civilized Europe, or the Scandinavian viking societies, into futuristic interstellar nations. It is hard to swallow that a space-traveling multiplanet government would be controlled by so many independent trigger-happy local despots and ungovernable guerrilla warlords. But the action is non-stop, and Leary and Mundy and their crew are charismatic underdogs who always satisfyingly confound (or kill) their adversaries. The Road of Danger is #9 in a series that will probably go on for some time to come.
The Company of the Dead
Author: David J. Kowalski
Publisher: Titan Books
This massive (751 pages) alternate-history novel is a masterpiece of the genre. It starts with a seemingly minor change in history – the RMS Titanic still strikes an iceberg in 1912 and sinks, but different passengers drown – and shows plausibly how this might lead to a 2012 United States divided by a re-seceded Confederacy based around Texas, with the United States portion occupied by Imperial Japan, and the Confederacy subservient to a non-Nazi but super-powerful Imperial Greater Germany (there is a detailed, three-page map); and all on the verge of a thermonuclear holocaust that would destroy all life on Earth.
What if the 1912 sinking of the Titanic were not entirely an accident? “‘The death of all those men [Astor, Guggenheim, Rothschild, Thayer, Widener, President Taft’s representative Major Archibald Butt, others] created a powerful vacuum in turn-of-the-century America. A vacuum that could be exploited by someone privy to the knowledge contained in this journal. The author of this text had enough information at his fingertips to engineer any number of events. He also clearly documented his intention to intervene on the ship. We don’t know the details of what happened on the night of the sinking. We don’t know how he figures into what happened at Sarajevo, or the years that followed. We just know where it starts.’” (p. 150).
In this alternate 2012, the world is at the brink of an apocalyptic war with both sides possessing nuclear weapons. Both Germany and Japan are maneuvering to increase their spheres of influence in North America, while agents of the U.S. and the Confederacy each plot to throw out their controllers and reunite the old U.S., but led by their government. But this is a minor sideshow compared to the border conflicts in Asia that are leading to the impending war. A team of Confederate secret agents led by Joseph Kennedy (our John F. Kennedy’s grand-nephew), despondent at the feeling of futility over whether the South succeeds or not, comes upon this journal from the safe of the sunken Titanic which contains accurate notes on the future, which could not have been written in 1912 – unless the author were a time-traveler.
Hidden within larger conspiracies to reunite the old United States under Confederate dominance, and between German and Japanese global hegemony, Major Joseph Kennedy of the Confederate Bureau of Investigation and his tiny group of agents, aided at first unwillingly by Captain J. J. Lightholler of a ceremonially rebuilt Titanic, work to rediscover the secret of time travel and – no matter what the goal of the original time-traveler was – change history again to prevent the destruction of all life on Earth. But Kennedy is betrayed by his superior within the CBI who, discovering that Kennedy is working toward a goal of his own, assumes that Kennedy’s team has sold out to either the Germans or the Japanese, and maneuvers to have Kennedy’s rogue CBI team annihilated by either the Confederate or Union or Japanese or German secret services, or by American criminal gangs or the Japanese yakuza – whoever can be misled into believing that Kennedy is working against them. As the final nuclear war between Japan and Germany begins, and both world powers openly fight to increase their dominance over a battle-torn North America, Kennedy and his barely half-dozen men desperately race from one side of America to the other to avoid being captured or killed by any of their powerfully deadly enemies, and complete their mission: to go back to 1912, board the Titanic, and – what!?
Company of the Dead is an awesomely complex thriller. Its picture of a 2012 totally unlike ours is awesome in scope and detail, as are Kowalski’s speculations on how this might come about. Kennedy’s mission to (re)change history and save the world – even if he does not know what it will lead to – despite opposition from seemingly every government’s secret assassins, is awesomely desperate. This alternate 2012’s rush to thermonuclear destruction seems awesomely unstoppable.
And this first novel has some awesome problems. It is much too long. Even though it is excellently written (it begins with Kennedy in a seemingly hopeless situation, and impossibly grows ever more hopeless), Kennedy and his men’s constant hairbreadth escapes ultimately numb the reader, who wonders if there will ever be an end to them. It is overly macho. Even though the world of espionage is overwhelmingly masculine, especially in this other 2012’s male-dominated society, the constant intrigue of male political and military leaders, domestic and foreign secret agents, and police and gangsters becomes too one-sided. When a major female character does enter the story – Patricia Malcolm of the CBI – it is not until page 95, and then it is as another secret agent, one of the team, more as another buddy than as a relief from all the masculinity.
But despite these flaws, The Company of the Dead remains an alternate-history novel, and a politico-military thriller, that no fan of those genres dare to miss. First published in Australia, it has already won that country’s 2007 Aurealis Award for the Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year.