Book log – Ellen Kushner, editor — Basilisk

Intended to do a full review, but still too sore from the fall. Here’s what I’d already written. Note — contents include Alan Garner’s short “Feel Free”, which covers some of the same themes as “Red Shift”, and the Earthsea short “The Word of Unbinding”

Ellen Kushner, editor — Basilisk

Anthology of fantasy short stories, first published in 1980. Going by the copyright page, this is a mix of reprints and new stories, originally published from 1956 to 1980. There’s a good mix of styles here. A couple of the pieces didn’t work for me, but this anthology had a very high hit rate for me.

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Book review: Martin H Greenberg and John Helfers — Future Crimes

Anthology of sf crime short stories from the prolific book packager Martin H Greenberg. I normally like the anthologies Greenberg puts together, in both sf and mystery, but I’ve got a bad case of “it’s not you, it’s me” with this one. I can see why other people might like it, but it doesn’t quite work for me, and I think it’s because I’m not quite keyed in to the relevant genre conventions. Half way through, and I still haven’t encountered a story I’d regret not having read, and have read one or two that left me feeling I’d just wasted a small piece of my life — even though I know and like the work of several of the authors (and indeed, bought the anthology specifically because it included a short by one of my favourite authors). I’ve finally learnt that I don’t have to finish a book just because I’ve started it, so I’m bailing at this point — but even so, I think this one could work for a reader with slightly different tastes to me.

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

Book review: John Carnell — New Writings in SF 12

One of the 1968 volumes in the long-running sf anthology series. The highlights for me were a Sector General story from James White , and a novella from Colin Kapp that was definitely not an Unorthodox Engineers story, but which pressed some of the same buttons (at least for me). As usual with this series, I personally didn’t like everything in the collection, but thought it was all well-written.

Vertigo — James White

A Galactic Survey ship comes across a decidedly peculiar planet which the crew promptly name Meatball. While they debate how to recognise any intelligent lifeforms, the lifeform solves the problem for them by sending up a primitive rocketship. It appears to be in difficulty, so the survey ship rescues ship and pilot, and carts it off to Sector General for the pilot to receive medical treatment. It’s up to Conway and friends to work out why the rescue seems to have made things worse…

It is in general a fun and interesting story, but I did find it rather implausible that the medics took so long to realise what the basic problem was, especially given the Great Big Clue in the initial encounter.

(Later included in the Sector General fix-up novel “Major Operation”, which is where I first read it.)

Visions of Monad — M John Harrison

Psychological study of a man who has been the subject of a sensory deprivation experiment. Well-written, but didn’t work for me.

Worm in the bud — John Rankine

Short story in the Dag Fletcher space opera series. Fletcher’s on a diplomatic mission to a hostile planet. Part of that mission is a one-man geological survey with limited supplies in a remote part of the planet — so why are the natives finding all sorts of ways to delay pick-up of the geologist past the safe time limit?

They Shall Reap — David Rome

A young family give up everything to make a fresh start in a new community of farms founded by wealthy philanthropists. The valley is even more isolated than they realise, and with reason. While I liked the writing, John Wyndham had covered this territory a decade earlier, and to better effect.

The Last Time Around — Arthur Sellings

Poignant exploration of the social and emotional effects of being a pilot on a relativistic ship, with your subjective time decoupled from the objective time of your society. This theme has been covered by many writers, but this is one of the best ones I’ve read.

The Cloudbuilders — Colin Kapp

In a low-tech world, hot air balloons are the main form of long-distance travel. Jacobi the Journeyman joins Timor the master Cloudbuilder, bringing personal experience of new techniques developed by their Guild. But that’s not all he brings.

LibraryThing entry

at Amazon UK

Book Review: Larry Niven — Neutron Star

I much prefer Niven’s shorter, earlier, and solo efforts, and his first short story collection demonstrates why. This is a wonderful collection of short stories from Niven’s Known Space universe, with stories ranging from the readable to the superb. There is an astonishing breadth of imagination displayed here, with not one but several alien races who are *alien*, in appearance, psychology and culture. And it’s not just the aliens; Niven shows how human cultures have diverged during periods of colonial isolation, developing different moral codes.

They’re all hard sf, but Niven is one of the authors who can populate his hard sf setting with plausible characters who feel like real people. There’s also some thoughtful discussion of moral problems in a couple of the stories.

This collection is nearly forty years old as I write this, and it shows–there have been advances in technology that Niven didn’t forsee, making for some oddly backwards technology in the stories. But science fiction isn’t about predicting the future; it’s speculation about possible futures and the people living in them. Good sf lasts even when it’s overtaken by events in real life, and these stories haven’t been harmed by the passage of time since they were written.

All in all, a well-rounded collection that shows what can be achieved with the short form in science fiction.


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