March 8, 2009
The fourth installment in Farmer’s Riverworld series, wherein the source of the alien power that has resurrected all of humanity (we’re like the stock market – one minute we’re down, then we’re up!) on a distant planet is finally discovered. SPOILER ALERT: it was aliens with a resurrection machine. They wanted to test Earthlings’ morality, and we failed said test, scoring just above an immoral species of flatworm from Antares IV which befriends you only so it can bang your sister. Also, the clocks go ahead this weekend, so remember to change the batteries in your spoiler-alerter.
On a scale of famous labyrinths ranging from the Pac Man board to Minotaur’s hideout, this book is: the hedge maze from ‘The Shining’.
October 14, 2008
A medieval village is transported to a technologically-advanced planet, where 12th century weaponry and terrestrial cunning miraculously defeat hoards of laser-toting aliens. This book proves that Earth is the USA of the galaxy – EARTH! EARTH! EARTH! – because we kick ass and take names. And that ain’t easy, because alien names are hard to spell, and our limited knowledge of xenobiology often makes finding their asses difficult. Recommended.
On a scale of medieval weapons ranging from the misericorde to the scramaseax, this book is: the zweihander.
October 11, 2008
I can sum up this anthology of Russian scifi stories in one word: дрянной. With a capital ‘д’. Most of them are written by and told from the point of view of scientists who, despite their depiction on NBC’s Scientists In The City as promiscuous, self-narrating singles who sip cosmopolitans from Erlenmeyer flasks and wear $30 Manolo Blahnik arch-support loafers, aren’t as thrilling and sexy as you may think. This makes for what I call a ‘burnt toast book’: edible but dry. Pass the butter.
On a scale of guys ranging from to Aiden to Big, this book is: Berger.
October 3, 2008
I’m reading my way through the science fiction and fantasy of the twentieth century. Here’s why:
Like you, I have a homemade time machine in my basement. But, to me, time travel is like surfing the Internet. Unless I’m looking for something specific, I tend to wander aimlessly, lost, confused and barred by Niven’s Law* from altering history in any way. Jaunt after pointless jaunt into the past got me wondering about which time was truly the best to visit.
For answers, I decided to hunker down and do a little reading.
Specifically, I have decided to read one work of science fiction published in each year of the twentieth century, beginning with 1900**. The books will be chosen at random and read non-chronologically, their merit carefully considered and then given a grade on a scale relevant to their content.
Some reviews will be pithy and insightful. Others will be uninspired. One will contain the word ‘falanaka’and will leave the reader wondering if it has been used correctly.
With each year of C20 represented by a book, the best book will ergo determine the best year, and I can set the coordinates of my time machine accordingly. And that’s when I’ll live, happy at last.
*During his Oscar acceptance speech for Best Actor in 1958’s Separate Tables, actor David Niven wittily surmised that “If the universe of discourse permits the possibility of time travel and changing the past, then no time machine will be invented in that universe.”
**I know, I know. But it seems like a good place to start. A nice, round year.
September 28, 2008
Before H.G. Wells became morbidly obese and started doing wine commercials, he wrote this book, in which two 19th century Londoners journey to our nearest celestial neighbor. A celestial neighbor, by the way, is good to have when you leave Earth on vacation and need someone to water your plants. Anywho, they discover a highly complex society living beneath the barren lunar surface, like we all kinda knew they would. With its blend of spirited adventure and heady social commentary, The First Men In The Moon is a story everyone can enjoy. Well, almost everyone; conspiracy theorists believe this entire book was a hoax staged by the Nixon administration to draw attention away from the war in Vietnam. Recommended.
On a scale of people mentioned in the Neil Diamond song ‘Done Too Soon’ ranging from Genghis Khan to Ho Chi Minh, this book is: H.G. Wells.
September 23, 2008
A group of people discover a dimensional portal which leads them to a dimension peopled by people from another dimension. And that previous sentence is better written and more interesting than this entire novel. Damon Knight once said The Blind Spot has ‘no recognizable vestige of merit’, so I too denounce it. Not that I do everything Damon Knight tells me to, I just happen to agree. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to pick up Damon Knight’s dry cleaning and vacuum his car, which is weird, because he’s dead.
On a scale of how traffic accidents happen ranging from talking on your cell phone while you’re driving to icy roads, this book is: not checking your blind spot.
September 7, 2008
James Tiptree writes like a girl, because he was one. Alice Bradley Sheldon assumed a male nom de plume to avoid the discrimination faced by female writers in the early days of scifi (it was not uncommon, for example, to see a leering Isaac Asimov chasing a busty, short-skirted Ursula K. Leguin repeatedly around a desk while imploring her to ‘prove you’re not a robot, sugar pie’). But as this excellent anthology shows, any fear Tiptree had about not being taken seriously was unfounded; her scifi hammer hangs lower than most male writers’. Highly recommended.
On a scale of famous men who were really women ranging from Pope Joan to Billy Tipton, this book is: Samus Aran.
August 17, 2008
Funny story: I read a lot of Vonnegut in high school, and in the back of one of his books was an authour bio that described him as ‘America’s foremost black humourist’. But when I saw a picture of him looking decidedly Caucasian, I was totally confused, and thought for awhile that there must be two famous authours named Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., one black and one white. It wasn’t until I submitted an essay about Player Piano in which I claimed that ‘Vonnegut’s pessimism about the place of humanity in the new industrial age is told in a distinctly African American voice.’ that I discovered my error. Anyway, this book is pretty good. Recommended.
August 14, 2008
Bradbury pulls the ol’ good cop/bad cop routine with this book. First, he scares you. Then he makes you feel like everything’s going to be okay. Then he scares you again. Then he offers you a cigarette. Then he slaps it out of your hand and talks about the horrible things that happen to readers like you in the joint. But the only thing I’ll confess to is loving this classic tale of small-town horror as seen through the eyes of children. Recommended.
On a scale of coming wickedness ranging from summer gas gouging to Ragnarok, this book is: New Memories Of TuscanyTM Soylent Green (With 33% More Italians!)
July 19, 2008
Fritzy L. hauls out the ol’ ‘cyclical history’ trope for this novel of the far-flung future where a nuke war has seen a return to Dark Age theocracy. A ‘theocracy’, for those of you who aren’t edumacated, is a government run by Cliff Huxtable’s son. The catch is that religion is actually powered by long-lost science; ‘miracles’ are performed by machines and computers and used to keep ignorant peasants frightened and in line. Toast land buttered side up? Don’t thank God – thank the engineers in IBM’s Toast Research Division. Eventually, the peasants revolt and establish a less oppressive, cuter Rudyocracy. And when that fails to entertain, an Olivaocracy.
On a scale of fashion designers ranging from Tommy Hilfiger to Calvin Klein, this book is: Gordon Gartrelle.
July 11, 2008
Pooker the Betelgeusian clown teams up with H0W-D the cyborg cowboy and a wise-cracking gelding to stop the wicked Space Sheriff from closing the ol’ theme park. But will Sally’s first period prevent her from winning the roping competition and reveal her true identity to the dreamy Venusian ranch hand? Such is the synopsis of my tween coming-of-age novella The Star Rodeo. And if it’s anything like this book, I’ll sue.
On a scale of things found on the side of the road ranging from an empty can of grape soda to a single shoe, this book is: a hitchhiker who just got out of jail.
July 7, 2008
This book takes place during a time when fairy-folk, or sidhe, still walk the earth. The sidhe are a noble people who eschew iron and despise the evil that men do, but, strangely, love the song ‘The Evil That Men Do’ by Iron Maiden. They speak their own secret language, ‘French’, have their own laws and hold a seat in the Mythical U.N. next to the manticore. If you’ve got a big presentation on the sidhe due at work tomorrow that you haven’t started, consider passing off this hauntingly beautiful fantasy masterpiece as your own.
On a scale of strange dreams ranging from being naked in school to building a go-cart with your ex-landlord, this book is: you’re rolling a big donut, and there’s this snake wearing a vest.
For some reason, this anthology’s index abbreviates the sources it culled its stories from, and the magazine Analog Science Fact & Fiction is abbreviated as Anal. I’m not joking. Now, a lot of guys are embarrassed to purchase Anal at the store, or worried their wives will find their copies of Anal at home. Personally, I buy Anal for the articles and have been a dedicated Anal subscriber for years, and this book pounded my imagination raw with blistering, white-hot stories by some of the most hardcore writers in the biz. Perfect for consenting adults looking to spice up their reading routine.
On a scale of puerile innuendo ranging from April Wine’s ‘If You See Kay’ to ZZ Top’s ‘Tube Snake Boogie’, this book is: David Wilcox’s ‘Layin’ Pipe’.
April 11, 2008
A time traveler named Scop tries to thwart the JFK assassination and prevent America from turning into a horrific dystopia by 2045. And a dystopia is worst kind of topia, except for Fruitopia, which is like fruit stomping on a human face, forever. Anyway, he fails and humankind goes down the ol’ crapper. As an avid JFK assaniation fan, this book blew me away. I found it on a shelf at the local library and read it in one sitting, then I put it back and left. Back and left. Back and left.
On a scale of Presidential assassins ranging from Charles Guiteau to Leon F. Czolgosz, this book is: John Schrank.
March 25, 2008
In this play by the authour of Peter Pan (the title of which he stole from a jar of peanut butter) a sorcerer gives five regretful characters the chance to relive their lives over again. A cosmic mulligan, if you will. They hope they will be able to avoid the mistakes that made them miserable in the first place, but, like the (insert currently underperforming sports franchise here), they’re destined to be losers forever. Just goes to show you that a tiger can’t change its stripes. I mean, even if it could get them to run horizontally instead of vertically, that would be a start. But it can’t.
On a scale of movies about repeating life over again ranging from The Butterfly Effect to Groundhog Day, this book is: Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas.
March 11, 2008
This is the third installment in Farmer’s Riverworld series, in which an all-star cast of both real people (Hermann Goring) and imaginary (Jesus) are resurrected on a mysterious planet and join forces to discover its secrets. Kinda makes you think about what you’d do if you met Herman Goring and Jesus. Personally, I’d say ‘Your life’s work is inspiring to me,’ and walk away, leaving the two of them to figure out who I was talking to. Anywho, the Dark Design is engaging, entertaining and (dare I say it?) illuminating. No. I’d better not. That’s just what they’ll be expecting me to say.
On a scale of third installments of things ranging from Return Of The Jedi to Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, this book is: Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, Volume 3.
January 28, 2008
A meteor made of gold and worth billions careens towards Earth, sending everyone into a panic. Alas, they are helpless to prevent it, and can only stare, open-mouthed, at the magnificent golden shower about to rain down on them. This novel uses the anarchic profanity ‘zounds’ more than 23 times, making it the Scarface of its day, which explains why it is the most quoted Jules Verne book in hip-hop. Recommended.
On a scale of things Goldfinger does ranging from beckoning you to enter his web of sin to pouring golden words in your ear, this book is: telling you lies that can’t disguise what you fear.
January 7, 2008
I’m a huge fan of B.W.A., but many of the stories in this fantasy anthology are altogether incomprehensible, narrative-wise. Overall, this book is like a hot girl with a stutter: beautiful, well put-together, but very difficult to understand. The book says, ‘C-c-can I come out with y-y-you and your f-f-friends tonight?’, to which you reply, ‘Only if you undo a couple buttons on your blouse and keep quiet.’ Eventually you come to resent the book so much you wait until its birthday to break up with it, just so you’ll hurt the book’s feelings that much more. God, I hated it. Great body, though.
On a scale of imaginary lines ringing the globe ranging from the Tropic Of Cancer to the Tropic Of Capricorn, this book is: the Antimeridian.
January 4, 2008
A book is always more exciting when exclamation points are added to the title: The Old Man And The Sea! To Kill A Mockingbird! Absalom, Absalom!!!!!!! This book is no exception. It’s a series of stories set in S.M. Stirling’s Domination timeline, where British South Africans who call themselves ‘the Draka’ have enslaved humankind (you don’t have to have your body and spirit broken under the yoke of servitude to work there, but it helps). While interesting, the premise itself is far-fetched: only in science fiction could South Africa be an intolerant dystopia where an elite few withhold basic human rights from the masses. Recommended for fans of the Domination series.
On a scale of spin-offs ranging from The Golden Palace to Archie Bunker’s Place, this book is: Frasier.