Some New Books: April – August 2014

This month marks the first anniversary of the first post to this blog, which has chugged along with at least one post per month, each month, since the blog began. Considering the fact that I believed that this might just be a short-lived offshoot of my main blog, and that it most likely would be folded back into that blog relatively quickly, I’m quite pleased that it has made it to the year mark. 🙂

Anyway, here’s an update on the books that I’ve picked up from Ebay UK, Amazon UK and elsewhere, over the period roughly April – August of this year:

Novels:

  • RAINBOW MARS by Larry Niven (hardback)
  • THE MEMORY OF SKY: A GREAT SHIP TRILOGY by Robert Reed (trade paperback)
  • FIRE WITH FIRE by Charles E. Gannon (paperback)

Collections:

  • THE COLLECTED STORIES OF VERNOR VINGE by Vernor Vinge (trade paperback)
  • THE FLIGHT OF THE HORSE by Larry Niven (paperback)

Anthologies:

  • YEAR’S BEST SF 11 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (paperback)
  • YEAR’S BEST SF 12 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (paperback)
  • THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY 2014 edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback)
  • SPACE OPERA edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback)
  • THRILLING WONDER STORIES Volume 1 edited by Winston Engle (trade paperback)
  • THRILLING WONDER STORIES Volume 2 edited by Winston Engle (trade paperback)
  • AMAZING STORIES – GIANT 35TH ANNIVERSARY ISSUE – APRIL 1961 (2014 REISSUE) edited by Steve Davidson & Jean Marie Stine (trade paperback)
  • THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF MINDBLOWING SF edited by Mike Ashley (trade paperback)
  • THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF EXTREME SCIENCE FICTION edited by Mike Ashley (trade paperback)
  • THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF GOLDEN AGE SCIENCE FICTION edited by Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg (trade paperback)
  • ALIEN’S: RECENT ENCOUNTERS edited by Alex Dally MacFarlane (trade paperback)
  • FUTURE LOVECRAFT edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles (trade paperback)
  • DEVILS AND DEMONS – A TREASURY OF FIENDISH TALES OLD & NEW edited by Marvin Kaye (hardback)
  • MASTERPIECES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL – A TREASURY OF SPELLBINDING TALES OLD & NEW edited by Marvin Kaye (hardback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 1 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 4 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 5 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 7 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 9 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 10 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 15 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 16 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)

Non-Fiction:

  • THE FORREST J. ACKERMAN OEUVRE by Christopher M. O’Brien (trade paperback)

Aside from two novels, Chuck Gannon’s excellent FIRE WITH FIRE and Larry Niven’s equally excellent RAINBOW MARS, one omnibus of three novels, Robert Reed’s “Great Ship” Trilogy THE MEMORY OF SKY, two author short story collections, Larry Niven’s THE FLIGHT OF THE HORSE and THE COLLECTED STORIES OF VERNOR VINGE, plus one non-fiction book, THE FORREST J. ACKERMAN OEUVRE, it’s all anthologies this time around.

An interesting trend seems to be running right now, with anthologies of material from classic SF magazines being republished. Here we have two volumes of THRILLING WONDER STORIES and the 2014 reissue of the classic April 1961 35th Anniversary issue of AMAZING STORIES. Lovely stuff.

I’ve also picked up several horror anthologies, DEVILS AND DEMONS, MASTERPIECES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL and FUTURE LOVECRAFT, which is unusual for me, as ninety-nine percent of my fiction reading is SF. But I’ve always had a soft spot for anything Lovecraft, so FUTURE LOVECRAFT should be right up my street. I’m not fussed on modern horror & supernatural stuff, but DEVILS AND DEMONS is made up of all older, classic horror stories, which I really like, as is its sister anthology, MASTERPIECES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL. These should both be great reads.

There are three more anthologies of MAMMOTH books in among this lot, which are very nice indeed. I love those MAMMOTH anthologies. There are also two more anthologies from the ever-reliable Rich Horton – his most recent (2014) edition of THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, and SPACE OPERA, a nice fat anthology of excellent space opera tales culled from more recent years. And to round off the newer books, there’s Alex Dally MacFarlane’s ALIEN’S: RECENT ENCOUNTERS, collecting some of the best recent SF stories covering that subject.

Finally, I’ve been on a bit of a roll tracking down Asimov’s classic THE GREAT SF STORIES series, which covers a massive 25 volumes of SF paperback goodness. Last time out, I’d only managed to procure one of them, Volume 19. But sheer determination will always win through, and this time around, I’ve picked up another eight volumes in the series, and just a few days ago I nabbed another three volumes, which haven’t arrived yet. That’s 12 out of the 25 volumes so far in only 3-4 months, so a pretty good start. I intend to keep going until I get all 25 volumes, as the OCD/obsessive collector in me will not allow anything else (I go nuts until I fill in any gaps in my collection).

So even more anthologies than usual. But I can’t complain, as I love my short fiction. 🙂

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Doctor Who, Season 8 – “Deep Breath”

I know it’s hard to believe, but we’re already half-way through the new season of Doctor Who. So I thought that it’s about time that I started posting a few brief opinions on each episode, hoping that I’ll be able to catch up before we get to the end of the season.

The season opener, Deep Breath, was a longer than usual 75-minute episode. It’s a typical regeneration debut story, much more about introducing the new Doctor than anything else, and, as such, it did that very well. Here are what I regarded as the plus and negative points:

The Good Stuff:
The most important thing first. I loved the new Doctor. Peter Capaldi is a fine actor, and I think he’s going to be excellent in the role. He’s totally different to the previous incarnation, and that’s how it should be. He’s a grumpy, sarcastic Scotsman (and very funny, in a totally different way to the manic Matt Smith), with a strong streak of “alienness”, which any good Doctor needs to offset his humanity. He pushed all the right buttons for me in his debut story, and I’m looking forward to watching him grow into the role.

I also really liked seeing Lady Vastra, Jenny and Strax again. I always enjoy the appearances of the Paternoster Gang, and I think that Strax is absolutely hilarious. Lots of humourous moments and good character scenes in this story.

The Bad Stuff:
The story itself was okay but wasn’t exactly amazing either. The plot was a bit on the thin side, and if you take out Peter Capaldi and the Paternoster Gang, the episode would barely have rated a C. Also, Steven Moffat’s seeming obsession with having the Doctor constantly revisit the Victorian era is starting to wear a bit thin, as much as I might like the Victorian era.

I also had a couple of major plot and character quibbles with this story:

Number One is Clara’s totally out of character reaction to the new Doctor. Yes, I know that Steven Moffat was using it as a strong dig at the type of fan who was reacting negatively to Matt Smith leaving, and all of the stupid, irrational hating on Peter Capaldi before they’d even seen him in the role. But it was a completely wrong reboot of Clara’s character. Any other companion reacting like this, yes, maybe, just maybe it might’ve been a bit more realistic, but not the Impossible Girl.

She’s met all of the Doctors, and a new one shouldn’t even phase her, older or not. Hell, she’s even been in an adventure with three different Doctors, Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt, in The Day of the Doctor, so she’s pretty familiar with regeneration and other Doctors. I know that some people are of the opinion that Clara doesn’t remember any of her other lives (or the Doctor’s she met), but I’m firmly in the “yes she does” camp. But even if she doesn’t, she would never, EVER have reacted in this way.

Her overly-negative, almost hysterical overreaction to the Peter Capaldi Doctor being “older” is also way out of character, and totally immature and unrealistic. She’s already met an older Doctor (Hurt), and got on really well with him. The Clara that we all know simply would NOT have behaved like this towards the new Doctor.

Number Two is a major plot/continuity cock-up by Moffat: the phone call from the Matt Smith Doctor on Trenzalore to Clara. He says to Clara that the time is getting close, and “it’s going to be a real whopper” (obviously referring to the upcoming regeneration). This scene was quite poignant and well-acted, until you actually stop and remember back to what happened at the end of The Time of the Doctor. The Doctor, as far as he was concerned for the ENTIRE episode, wasn’t going to regenerate. He was going to die.

That was the whole damned point of the story. He’d run out of regenerations, and, right up until the climax of the episode, when the Time Lords popped up and gave the Doctor a new cycle of regenerations (after Clara pleading with them, of course), he was resigned to meeting his end while fighting to save the people of Trenzalore from the Daleks. He didn’t know he was going to regenerate UNTIL IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. So Matt Smith’s Doctor wouldn’t/couldn’t have made that phone call to Clara. As beautiful and emotional as the scene undoubtedly was, it was also a stupid continuity error and very sloppy writing on Moffat’s part.

So overall, a couple of major issues, and a fairly average, unremarkable story. That said, there were quite a few nice character pieces, sad bits, and slices of humour. The performances of Lady Vastra, Strax and Jenny were excellent, as usual. And Peter Capaldi’s performance (which is, after all, the most important thing) as the new Doctor was A-rated. So Deep Breath was a success, both as a regeneration story and an introduction to the new Doctor.

Remembering Frederik Pohl (1919-2013)

Back in June, this blog marked the first anniversary of the sad and untimely death of one of my favourite SF authors, Iain M. Banks, who we lost to cancer last year at the age of only 59. This month marks the first anniversary of the death of yet another of my favourite SF authors, this time one of the old greats, Science Fiction Grand Master and one of the true titans of the genre Frederik Pohl, who died on September 2nd last year, at the age of 93.

Fred Pohl had been with us seemingly forever, since the dawn of time, or, more accurately, since before the Golden Age of Science Fiction began, way back at the end of the 1930s – his first published work was the poem “Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna” (under the pseudonym “Elton Andrews”), in the October 1937 issue of Amazing Stories. I’m one of those many people who felt almost as though he was always going to be with us, although that was sadly obviously never going to happen.

The previous year or two had been very unkind to the world of SF, with the loss of a number of great authors. Ray Bradbury (91) died in June 2012, and Harry Harrison (87) in August 2012. Jack Vance (96) and movie special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen (91) both passed away in May 2013. And then Banks (59) in June 2013 and Pohl (93) in September 2013. True, with the exception of Banks, all of these authors were “greats” from an earlier era, and all lived to a grand old age (Harrison was the youngest to pass on, at “only” 87). But they were all giants of the genre, and their passing was a great loss to all of SF.

I’ve been a huge fan of Pohl’s writing since I first encountered him in my early teens (way back in the early-to-mid 1970s), and he was a huge figure in my formative years as an SF reader. His SF novels were some of my favourites, among them GATEWAY and the other Heechee books, MAN PLUS, THE SPACE MERCHANTS (with Cyril M. Kornbluth), SEARCH THE SKY (with Kornbluth), GLADIATOR-AT-LAW (with Kornbluth), WOLFBANE (with Kornbluth), MINING THE OORT, JEM, SYZYGY, STARBURST, THE AGE OF THE PUSSYFOOT, DRUNKARD’S WALK and many, many other classics. These still grace my bookshelves to this day, although most of them are long overdue for a re-read.

But as much as I like his novels, I’m an even bigger fan of his short fiction. As a matter of fact, the irony is very first Pohl story that I recall reading, “Wings of the Lightning Land”, was one that I didn’t even know was written by Pohl, as it came from that period during the Golden Age of SF the 1940s, when he wrote much of his short stories under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”. I still remember “Wings of the Lightning Land” with great fondness, and it’s one of those old stories which hit me between the eyes at an early age, and has stayed with me ever since.

It’s now amusing for me to recall that, for quite a while after I read that story, I had absolutely no idea that this “James MacCreigh” dude and Frederik Pohl were one and the same person. And it’s even more amusing to recall that the classic old anthology, in which I first read “Wings of the Lightning Land”, was SCIENCE FICTION: THE GREAT YEARS, edited by none other than a certain Carol & Frederik Pohl! It was ironic (and very creepy) that, last year, after not having read that story for many, many years, I just happened to come upon that old anthology again, and re-read “Wings of the Lightning Land”, the very week before Frederik Pohl died. How weird is that? 🙂

So this year, to mark the first anniversary of his death, I once again opened up SCIENCE FICTION: THE GREAT YEARS, and re-read “Wings of the Lightning Land”, in memory of Frederik Pohl and his alter ego, “James MacCreigh”. And to add another one for good measure, I also dug out a really good collection of Pohl’s earliest short fiction, THE EARLY POHL (1976), which contains a bunch of his Golden Age stories, all written under his “James MacCreigh” pseudonym. Great stuff!

Of the short fiction that Pohl wrote under his own name, I think that the first one that I read (and one that has also stuck in my mind all these years) is “Let the Ants Try” (1949). Fantastic tale, and the ending of that story still sends chills up my spine, even now, forty years after I first read it. But he also wrote so many other memorable short stories. “Day Million”, “The Tunnel under the World”, “The Midas Plague”, “The Man Who Ate the World”, “Critical Mass”, “The Abominable Earthman”, “The Gold at the Starbow’s End”, “In the Problem Pit” and so, so many others.

Fred Pohl was an awesome, awesome writer. But he was also hugely influential in SF as an editor throughout the 1960s, on classic SF magazines Galaxy and its sister publication If. And over the decades he has also edited far too many great SF anthologies to even start listing them here.

I’ve also been following his blog, The Way the Future Blogs, assiduously over the past couple of years. I’ve been really loving his recollections about the past history of SF, and I’m going to miss the writings of this great man, but he’s left a huge body of work out there for all of us to enjoy. He should be compulsory reading for all SF fans, old and young.

In Memory of Frederik Pohl, Science Fiction Grand Master.