The official website of the new encyclopedia is here. There is also a working website here with sample entries and the contact form by which the editors can be contacted.
The encyclopedia blog, which Graham mentions in the interview, can be found here.
The new encyclopedia is part of the Gollancz SF Gateway project, which is online here.
The podcast is also available here, or you can download the mp3 from this link.]]>
This is issue #9 of Salon Futura. As noted last month, this will be our last issue for a while as we need to secure new funding if we are to stay in business. The website will remain up in the meantime. See the Editorial for more details.
In the meantime we have plenty of good material for you. Alex Preston looks at Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes in the light of the recent “nihilism” controversy. Sam Jordison examines one of this year’s Orange Prize nominees, from Serbian writer Téa Obreht. Our podcast looks at the often controversial subject of book covers.
Here is the full contents list:
To purchase this and other issues in ebook format, visit the Wizard’s Tower Bookstore.]]>
This is an early version of a cover that John designed for Lou Anders’ anthology, Futureshocks. The publishers asked for something slightly different. Listen to our podcast this month to hear John, Irene Gallo and Joe Monti talk about some of the issues that go into creating a book cover.
Here’s the final version of the Futureshocks cover.
Not wishing to render myself more foolish in the public eye than my over-large glasses and absurd hairline already do, I thought I’d decline the opportunity to stick my oar in. But then I started reading. Firstly Grin’s blog itself. On the sidebar of the article I noticed a link to an interview with Joel Surnow, rabidly right-wing creator of torture-justifying-propaganda-dressed-as-entertainment 24 and vile mini-series The Kennedys — Surnow’s attempt to poison the last liberal hero the year before his current incarnation seeks re-election. Some deeper digging revealed that Big Hollywood, the website that published Grin’s blog, is owned by Tea Party cheerleader and all-round bad egg Andrew Breitbart.
It used to be the case that you could leave something like Grin’s blog be. Stand firmly on the higher ground as these bitter shades expired in the valleys of their own ignorance. Trust in the levelling hand of history to make your case. But so much that is wrong these days is taken for truth, so many lives are lived based on the lies that drip from poison-tongued politicians and rhetoricians. Grin’s blog is intellectually meagre, the cry of a Luddite railing vainly against progress, a conservative trotting out the same tired reactionary line against all that is new and different. But it has struck a chord within, at least, the fantasy community. And as I’ve been researching this piece, it’s extraordinary how many are aware of the frisson caused by Grin’s blog and the responses from Abercrombie, R. Scott Bakker and others. It is, perhaps, because the themes at play here — a conservative love of the status quo, longing for a (fictitious) literary golden age, for a time when things made sense — are somehow timeless. This is the divide that Virginia Woolf famously drew in her essay “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” between those authors happy to continue plodding in the well-worn furrows of literary convention and those whose work attempts to “make it new”.
Salon Futura asked me to contribute this piece because I write on violence in modern literary fiction, I have a wonkish love of literary theory and know my Kant from my Kierkegaard. And, thinking about it — and despite the fact I’ve never even tried to read The Lord of the Rings — I have a kind of back-door knowledge of fantasy. Two novels that I’m addressing in my PhD thesis — J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road — are clearly much indebted to fantasy’s ability to bring new perspectives to our current concerns by locating them in imagined worlds. Coetzee deals more directly with the politics of torture elsewhere in his books; nowhere does he deal with it as memorably, and I think it’s precisely because Waiting for the Barbarians takes the torture outside of the specific South African context that spawned it: he extracts it without abstracting it.
Now we come to Abercrombie’s novel. I must be careful here not to be patronising, but it’s rather wonderful. I don’t mean to sound surprised. I had been told that it was a fine example of the genre, that he was doing interesting things. But The Heroes [Purchase] is magnificent. My mother used to damn her holiday reading with “War and Peace it ain’t” but I couldn’t help think of Tolstoy as I read Abercrombie. The skilful intercutting of battle scenes with the politicking that sits behind them, the exploration of war — not only what happens but why it happens, the way we manage to hold a vast array of characters in our head and feel something for all of them. It’s a lie that you need the character cheat-sheet at the beginning of War and Peace. If you’re reading the novel correctly, you know those characters better than you know your own family. I found the same with The Heroes.
I was also much taken by the story of the Northmen against the Union. David Peace said his Red Riding Quartet, ostensibly about the Yorkshire Ripper, was “not really about him, but about the general harrowing of the North.” Peace presents the repeated, violent murder of prostitutes in the deprived cities of Northern England as an indictment not only of the drunk, racist police, but also of the manner in which the north had been left behind in the growth and prosperity of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. The Ripper is a metaphor for the violent currents that run through society, what the philosopher Slavoj Zizek calls “dark matter”. Abercrombie was born and brought up in Lancaster in the far north of England during the Thatcher era and it’s hard not read his novel as in part allegorical — the politically corrupt and bureaucratized Union in the south imposing its worldview on the culturally and linguistically other northerners.
If you were skipping forward to where I know what I’m talking about, then you can start reading here. The big slip Grin makes is a category error — a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of nihilism, and, particularly, the way violence operates in literature as a teleological tool, a way of constructing meaning out of a degraded world. I will set out below a brief summary of my argument and, I hope, persuade you that Abercrombie’s novel should be seen as part of this drive to use the violence of the twentieth century as a means of understanding what makes us human, something far from the “emptying of the world” that was (one of) Nietzsche’s figuration(s) of nihilism.
The first thing to say is that there is a strong argument that literature is per se anti-nihilist. For Jacques Derrida, Nazism represents the apotheosis of the “bad violence” of nihilism, and literature, with all its “otherness” is the ultimate challenge to this “bad violence”. Derrida took from Theodor Adorno a view of literature as a privileged art form and an interest in what it can “critically decentre in the field of universal philosophy.” Literature represents the “coming of the other”. It stands as the language of the other in its singularity and in opposition to “those other machines, bringers of death.” The Heroes is rich, full of complex ideas, linguistically and thematically heterogeneous — it is full of just the sort of “otherness” that sets it apart from the monochromatic “bad violence” of nihilism.
The Heroes is a violent novel, but not a novel of “bad violence”. There are severed heads, gored bodies, bloody executions — what Grin calls “endless scene of torture, treachery and bloodshed.” But this is not the distanced, cold violence of nihilism. In her long essay On Violence, Hannah Arendt suggests a method of redeeming violence from the evil that spawns it by viewing it as something inherently human, and thus in opposition to the dehumanizing tactics of evil in the twentieth century. “It is no doubt possible to create conditions under which men are dehumanized,” she writes, “such as concentration camps, torture, famine… under such conditions, not rage and violence, but their conspicuous absence is the clearest sign of dehumanization.” She goes on to present violence as something which is lamentable in the case of the individual, but both necessary and, indeed, laudable when viewed through a wider lens, across humankind: “It is as though life itself, the immortal life of the species, nourished, as it were, by the sempiternal dying of its individual members, is ‘surging upward’, is actualized in the practice of violence.”
The violence in Abercrombie’s novel can be seen as the expression of something that is very human, very real, the punch that is also the caress. It can also be read as a metaphor for the way things are now. It’s easy to think of fantasy literature as somehow outside the currents of the world in which it was written. This is to do it a disservice. The clash of cultures, the bloody, visceral presentation of war, the idiocy of the high command in The Heroes necessarily reflects as much on Iraq and Afghanistan as it does on Mordor. In a world of drones carrying out airborne raids, a world marked by the abstract evil of the gas chamber, a world of genetic and chemical warfare, there is something almost nostalgic in the sound of a battleaxe tearing through a collarbone, but there is also something relevant. The Heroes tells us a lot about the place of the individual within a world at war.
As we look back on the twentieth century, we see it as Walter Benjamin’s angel of history perceived it, as a Jetztzeit of violence piled upon violence, a chaotic constellation of man’s brutality against man whereby the violent acts of war, torture and terrorism are viewed not as linear events in a sequential history but as a unified whole. Benjamin’s angel of history, blown towards the future by the winds of progress, perceives these events piled upon one another, a chaotic rendering of this most bloody century. Benjamin’s idea of the constellation is a kind of montage whereby diverse elements are brought together by the act of writing, “blast[ing] open the continuum of history”. The constellation is “filled with the presence of the now”, challenging the periodizing discourse of modern history.
In his essay Terrorism and Modern Drama, John Orr states that “tragic art reminds us of what we cherish in the act of seeing it destroyed.” This comment recalls the passage in Holderlin’s The Grounds for Empedocles which speaks of “the whole being able to feel itself only through the suffering and splitting-off of one of its constituent parts. As long as reality remains undifferentiated, we cannot be sensible of it with any intensity.” This idea of the ability of negative experiences to emphasise the positive develops into the recognition that violence and pain can be in and of themselves beneficial — not the pointless gore that Grin so deplores. The sense of there having once been a better time, the closeness and fidelity of many of the marriages and relationships, the bonds of friendship that sustain the “Twelves” — these elements of the good, the noble, are not destroyed by the violence that surround them, but enhanced.
Abercrombie’s novel, however, is most interesting where it carries out precisely the iconoclasm that Grin despises. This formal violence against the tradition that spawned the work is a mirror of the violence that is its subject matter. Violence creates a fissure in the way we experience the world. Culture and tradition from before the violence are rendered unusable and memory becomes tainted by the fracture. Adorno said that writing poetry after the holocaust was “barbaric”: it is barbaric because it denies writers the civilizing tools of cultural memory. Creative imagination is fundamentally changed when it experiences fissures of this type and, particularly in the bloody history of the twentieth century, novelists developed a number of very clear strategies to access the tradition, culture and memory that lay the other side of the wreckage.
If we think about the wandering, ghostly, fact/fiction mash-up prose of W.G. Sebald, or Coetzee’s self-conscious, distant, metafictive novels, we can see that they attack the form of the novel as no longer able to handle the experience of what it’s like to be human. Violence is done to the novel form because it can’t capture the violence of life. This, again, is where Grin falls down. Tolkien’s novel is (as I understand it) partly a metaphor for the First World War. But war has changed and our way of thinking about war has changed. Abercrombie’s ironical, “realistic” presentation of warfare is a reflection of the many layers of bodies that have piled up on top of the corpses of the Somme. Abercrombie is tearing apart his literary forebears because their model is no longer appropriate to recording modern warfare.
It seems that at the heart of Grin’s attack on The Heroes is anger at the book’s post-religious stance. I think this is what he means by nihilism. The gods in the novel are dead. Indeed “by the dead” is a form of blasphemy in the book — the dead are the closest to gods that these guys have. The accusation of “blasphemy” and the treatment of Tolkein’s ur-fantasy as a kind of sacred text echo another debate going on in the States. This is about fundamentalism, about the fear of exegesis compared with strict literalism. Grin’s lamentation at the post-heroic status of the novel (and, by the way, I thought the novel was full of heroes, just heroes with a sense of irony) is a lamentation of a world in which, for many, the saints and Jesus and his angels dwell with Gandalf and Aragorn in the world of myth.
“If you want to tell a war story, why not tell a story about a real war? What is gained in moving the participants of your tale into interstellar space? The dangers are obvious enough – that such treatment removes us from the intensity of actual experience into a kind of fantastical escapism. What are the advantages? One way of answering would be to point the questioner at Joe Haldeman’s Forever War…”
Swap interstellar space for bizzarro fantasy about immortals with magic coffee cups, and about tigers, and you could ask the same questions – and give the same answer about Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife [Purchase]. Like Haldeman, Obreht knows that stepping outside reality, and reflecting back on it metaphorically, can sometimes give the clearest, brightest image. Haldeman wrote one of the defining novels about the Vietnam war. There’s every chance that Obreht’s much-feted debut will earn a similar reputation as a psychological record of the conflagration that tore through the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995.
The novel opens, as it means to go on, with a superstitious story. This time it’s about the “forty days of the soul” — the time the soul spends rummaging around “the places of its past” after death forces it to leave the body. The issue has come up because Natalia, the narrator, learns that her grandfather has died in mysterious circumstances “alone, on a trip away from home”. Her grandmother heard about the death two days after it happened and feels she has been “robbed of his full forty days.” Natalia is a doctor, currently “across the border”, taking medicine to an orphanage in old “enemy” territory. Natalia’s grandfather told his wife that he was on the way to visit Natalia when he died, since he was worried about the trip she was making. But Natalia isn’t sure about that. And since she doesn’t even know where the location of the clinic he died in, or if it is even nearby, she begins to weave a different narrative about his final journey.
This narrative relates to the story of the deathless man. He is Gavran Gailé, whom Natalia’s grandfather claimed to have first met in “late summer ’54” under unusual circumstances. Gailé emerged from the coffin he was nailed in, politely requesting that he might be given a glass of water. The grandfather, Dr. Leandro, who was a rationalist, refused to believe Gavran’s subsequent stories, particularly those relating to his immortality and ability to predict the time other people were due to die by looking at the grounds in his special coffee cup. So the deathless man offered him a wager: he pledged his coffee cup that he would not die when Leandro threw him in a nearby lake, weighted down with chains. Natalia’s grandfather accepted and offered his most prized possession in return — the copy of The Jungle Book that he carried everywhere in his coat pocket. True to his monicker, the deathless man did not die, but Dr. Leandro did not honour the debt.
Leandro claimed to have met Gavran Gailé a few times — and to have gradually pieced together his strange story. How he had annoyed his Uncle, Death, by breaking the coffee cup after seeing in it that the love of his life was about to die (since breaking the cup allowed her to go on living). How Death cursed him to live forever as a result, and how he now dedicated his time to trying to get back on to Death’s good side by gathering up the souls of the recently deceased and carrying them to crossroads to make it easier for Death to carry them off.
As the strangeness of that summary might suggest, Obreht laces an appealing streak of mordant humour throughout this story and Gailé is an intriguing, teasing character, delightfully cheerful whenever he meets his doctor friend, but imbued with sadness. The deathless man pines for his lost love, he longs to die — and surrounds himself with death as a result.
The last meeting of the two men takes place in a thinly disguised version of Mostar. Dr. Leandro is there to enjoy a last meal in the lovely old Muslim quarter. He visits his favourite restaurant — the place where he enjoyed lobsters on his honeymoon; a place which for him is filled with love and delight, but which an accident of war has placed in enemy territory. The waiter is on the “enemy” side, separated from Leandro by an accident of what? Religion? Superstition? Fate? He knows that grandfather’s people are likely to blow the restaurant to smithereens the next morning — but he takes scrupulous care to serve him and Gail‚ (who is there by chance) the best meal he possibly can. More than that, he delights in doing so. The meal that Leandro and Gailé enjoy on a ledge, overlooking a river, is sumptuously described; described so well that you long to be there — but for the horrifying knowledge that this is a war zone. Yet more pathos is added when Gailé reveals he is there to gather up the hundreds of souls that he knows are coming his way when Leandro’s people attack the town. And that one of those souls belongs to the old waiter.
It is a scene so good that by itself it almost justifies the hype surrounding Obreht. It helps us understand why Obreht, who is only 25, was the youngest person on The New Yorker‘s most recent list of the 20 best fiction writers under 40; and explains why the New York Times‘ famous attack journalist Michiko Kakutani (whom Norman Mailer described as a “one woman kamikaze”) larded the book with praise, calling it: “a hugely ambitious, audaciously written work” and “a richly textured and searing novel.”
As well as evoking such bittersweet joy as the two men chow down on their spectacular last supper, Obreht also leaves a tantalising problem in this wonderful scene. Dr. Leandro still doesn’t give the deathless man his copy of The Jungle Book. That — and the fact that this book he carried everywhere wasn’t amongst his clothes and final remains — leads Natalia to think that her grandfather wasn’t on the way to see her at all when he died. She decides that he was actually looking for Gailé, so that he could finally honour his wager. Or perhaps cheat death. I won’t give away the answer to the puzzle here, except to say that as she gradually traces through the story we realise she is using it as a way to come to terms with her grief, with death and with the madness of war — and the effect is very touching.
Stories and strange beliefs might help Natalia to make sense of a baffling world — but the story of the tiger’s wife also shows how tall tales and superstitions are equally able make the world more crazy. Gradually, the various interleaved stories that run through the book begin to reveal a single bigger truth:
“Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between two stories,” says Natalia, “the story of the tiger’s wife, and the story of the deathless man. These stories run like secret rivers through all the other stories of his life….”
What is a secret river, I wonder? Never mind. Obreht hits quite a few similar bum notes in her constant striving for mystery and portent, but that’s not to detract from the ingenuity with which she plays out her stories — or the profundities she plumbs.
That “story of the tiger’s wife” shows the flip side of superstition and the shadows in the world of Natalia’s grandfather. It mainly takes in the isolated mountain village where Dr. Leandro was born. The woman known as “the tiger’s wife” (and also as “the deaf-mute girl” — Obreht never gives her a name) is actually married to the local butcher, who is a disappointed, angry man. That’s another story — and another one that Obreht lays out wonderfully — but the important thing to know is that he takes out his frustrations on his spouse. He beats her even though she is unable to talk, or even cry out in pain, thanks to a congenital disability. The villagers pity the tiger’s wife, but they also come to fear her. She is foreign — a “Mohammedan” to whom they attribute special powers and malice. She earns her name when a tiger — escaped from a city zoo thanks to World War II bombing – comes to the village, and they start to believe it visits her specifically, taking off its skin and lying with her. They also believe that she somehow persuades the tiger to get rid of her husband.
These are foolish “village stories”, the local apothecary tells a visiting outsider who is interested in the story of the tiger’s wife. “What are they besides superstitions? How could listening to this nonsense have helped you?” The answer is moot, but the implications are clear. It isn’t giving too much away to say that the villagers’ beliefs do little to help the tiger’s wife. And so Obreht shows how the explanations people give for the things they don’t understand lead to disaster. Our human capacity to rationalise can also lead us into madness. Wars can break out between neighbours, thanks to next to nothing, to something as intangible as misplaced belief and superstitious paranoia. The people who commit genocide live in a fantasy world — subject to strange irrational fears, a bizarre sense of justice and mad ideas. Obreht’s gift is to show that these ideas can have apparently innocent beginnings in storytelling and the need when “confounded by the extremes” of war to “stitch together unconnected events in order to understand.”
As if all that weren’t enough, this theme is also given another refraction in a present day narrative focussing on Natalia and the gothic goings on around the orphanage she is visiting. There, a family are working day and night to dig up an olive grove, in spite of the fact that many of them are children and clearly suffering from a fever. Natalia attempts to persuade the father to accept a scientific medical cure. He is determined to exhume his cousin’s corpse, which he left there during the war, and whose inappropriate burial he thinks has caused all his problems. She believes he will never find the body and kill his children in the attempt. He thinks she is an ignorant, interfering fool. They are proved right and wrong in all sorts of interesting ways and with the characteristic interweaving of black humour and dark tragedy that makes this book such fun to read as well as so effective.
Not everything in the book is quite so wonderful. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Obreht said:
“I didn’t write it linearly at all. Very early on it became clear there were three story lines that needed to be interwoven. I wrote the parts that interested me the most first, then tried to develop the parts that were necessary but I was not as emotionally invested in later.”
Sometimes, this lack of investment shows. Sometimes too, the bright tapestry of interwoven stories shows up gaudy colours. The folklore, the hyperbole, the picaresque adventures occasionally seem twee. More often, however, they are dazzling and the effect is positively enlightening. It’s rare that fantasy is used so well to reveal reality. You can believe the hype about Obreht — even if that involves nurturing a healthy mistrust of the stories she tells.
In his introduction to the fourth volume of Eclipse [Purchase], his original un-themed anthology series, editor Jonathan Strahan writes: “…each volume has had its own personality… In some ways [this] is the strangest and most eldritch volume yet.” I heartily agree. These stories often take a turn for the unsettling. When the stories about dead people aren’t the horror stories, you know you’re in for a bit of an unpredictable experience.
The odd feeling creeps up on you slowly. After all, the first story is Andy Duncan’s American-Southern tall tale, “Slow as a Bullet.” A guy named Clifford lets his mouth run off and bets his friends that he can outrun a bullet. So he spends all his free time for a year painstakingly developing the slowest bullet possible. It’s a fun story told in Duncan’s inimitable style. I want to come clean here and admit that I heard Andy read this live in 2010, so I’m hard pressed now to read it without hearing his distinctively accented voice and delivery — he’s one of the most talented live readers I know. So I’m not quite sure how the story will come across to someone who hasn’t heard Andy telling the tale. Still, there is a moment at the end that gestures towards a classic American spook tale of things lurking silently in the woods… but in this rather cheerful beginning it seems no more than an eerie afterthought.
Things quickly turn more weird in Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “Tidal Forces.” A woman’s partner seems to have trapped something like a black hole in her body, and it’s devouring her. They’re slow to come to terms with what that might mean: for her and for their relationship. The story is told in a rather abstract and distancing way, with the first-person narrator jumping between days in the timeline, tarot card references, Alice in Wonderland, and physics; all the while not quite able to face the situation squarely. When she does, the story takes a sharp turn into horror. But through all of it we remain aware that the women’s relationship is the focus of the story. This story is about as interstitial as it comes, drawing on elements and techniques from mainstream literary stories, horror, SF, and fantasy, all united to tell a single story.
This is not the only story that focuses on more intimate settings and characters. “Old Habits” by Nalo Hopkinson and “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky could both be described as “slice of death” stories. In the former, a group of the dead are trapped in a “ghost mall,” forced to re-live their deaths once a day — the only time they can feel any physical sensation. They become addicted to the idea of tasting, touching, and smelling things, anything. The main character, killed in a freak escalator accident while his husband and their son watch in horror, begins to wonder if it might not be time to free himself from this banal limbo. I usually dislike stories that take a character up to a decision point… and then end. However, Hopkinson uses the technique perfectly in this story, leaving the reader in a limbo similar to the narrator’s. In Swirsky’s “Fields of Gold,” death is a big party in which a complete loser, Dennis, learns unpleasant things about himself and his wife. He reunites with his cousin, a girl who rebelled and lost her way until she died even younger than Dennis did. Together the fucked-up pair head off into the afterlife to make something at least a little better for themselves. These two are the only stories dealing specifically with dead people, and there’s barely a drop of horror between them — in this volume we save that for the living!
To be fair, Kij Johnson’s “Story Kit” isn’t so much horrific as it is unflinching. In a series of vignettes she weaves together several threads: the craft of writing, an author’s personal relationship trauma, and the tragedy of Dido and Aeneas. With what I think of as her unique and unsettling style, in a series of short passages Johnson reminds us of intense suffering and how it echoes through art to life and back again. Disturbing as it is, this is the story that stuck with me the most from this anthology, and the one I’d deem most likely to grace awards ballots this year.
Emma Bull also reminds us of tragedy in short vignettes, with her story “Nine Oracles,” which gives us nine variations on Cassandra’s tragic story. It includes two great closing lines: “Being right isn’t the same as being an asshole.” and “The light turns green. She goes forward, because she has to.” In a rare straight-SF story, “Panda Coin,” Jo Walton also uses short scenes to follow a single coin as it changes hands on a space station, through the black market and into the official economy. Along the way we meet laborers, black-market dealers, and self-aware underground androids. We learn how the habitat is socially constructed. My only complaint with this story, which I consider high praise, is that it’s too short. In part, I would have liked to learn more about the various briefly-met characters. But mainly Walton does a great job of opening up her plot and the world-building at the end, and I’m intrigued to see where else the story could lead.
Back to the more unsettling realms, Jeffrey Ford puts his narrator through a bit of surreal nightmare in “The Double of my Double is not my Double,” in which the narrator’s previously unthreatening doppleganger enlists him to help messily dispatch an usurping fantasma-gris — all of which leads the narrator, almost subconsciously, to face some unpleasant questions about himself. In Gwyneth Jones’ “The Vicar of Mars,” an alien “High Priest of the Mighty Void” goes to visit a possible congregant on Mars. In return he is treated to a faith-shattering sequence of nightmares, both dreaming and waking.
In a tale of more subtle existential horror, Michael Swanwick gives us an inside-view to a solipsistic universe with “Men in Grey.” A stage-hand for the universe has to reveal himself when he saves a girl from tripping in front of a train that she had decided to avoid. As he explains to her, there are only perhaps 40,000-50,000 real people in the world. At any given moment, the men in grey run around and make sure that the world in the immediate vicinity of these actors (“The talent”) is adequately defined and staffed with extras. The rest of the time the world dissolves into the formless ‘grey.’ The girl, who previously had mundane problems such as an unwanted pregnancy by a boy she doesn’t much like, suddenly has to confront a universe entirely different from what she’s known. This is a small story about very Big Ideas, a nicely faceted stand-alone gem.
Amidst all these stories that balance their genres delicately and paint them with a light wash of horror, I began to wonder about the impact of reading collections as a whole, as opposed to reading individual stories. Specifically, I thought back to Eclipse 2. I admit with chagrin that I never read that whole anthology cover to cover. Instead I read Ted Chiang’s story “Exhalation” when it was nominated for the Hugo that year. Read on its own, it is an amazing story that opens up both its universe and our own at the end. And there’s one scene that’s always stayed with me, when the robotic researcher sets up an elaborate series of mirrors in such a way that he can dissect his own head. I wonder, if I were to read that story in Eclipse 4 rather than 2, that instead that scene might have filled me with unease instead of wonder, and perhaps even been tinged with the faint smoke of horror. Basically, I suspect that I read each successive story here in a way that highlighted any element of horror, whether or not the author intended it, simply because of the cumulative effect.
Amongst all the interstitiality, two stories mash-up their genres to little effect. Damien Broderick contributes “The Beancounter’s Cat,” which is a sufficiently-advanced-tech-looks-like-magic story in which people in orbit around Saturn have forgotten the origins of their world and powers. The eponymous beancounter is guided by a cat to her mother, thought to be deceased, and to a god-like figure who asks her to make a huge decision. Even though it specifically says: “But it must be an informed choice,” there is no way that the two and a half pages of dialogue that follow can possibly give someone raised entirely in ignorance enough context to come even a fraction of the way towards being “informed.” Yet choose she does, bravely and boldly. She has enough sense at the end to think of the millions of people her choice will affect and ask: “Who are we to make such a choice for a whole world?” but the cat guide quips “And hey, if not you, who?” And they set off. I’m glad she at least asked the question (a pet peeve of mine is that so often the heroes of stories make unilateral decisions without ever asking, or thinking to ask, any of the huddled masses whose lives and livelihoods hang in the balance), but the ending feels almost trite after the cat dismisses the concern so lightly.
In contrast, the problem with Peter M. Ball’s story “Dying Young” is that its beginning feels light compared to where it ends up. It begins when a dragon walks into a saloon, with cyborgs and clones watching its every move. This has all the hallmarks of a multi-genre parody, but instead it develops into an earnest space Western. The narrator has some precognitive ability, and the rival factions in town seek to make use of it. He finds himself caught between the doctor (unscrupulous but helpful to the town), the sheriff (a good man, but somewhat weak), and the dragon (bent on revenge on the doctor). The young man steps up, makes his choice and lives with the consequences. Which is good, but it doesn’t feel like it pays off the genre-mashup world building or the slightly tortured Western-style dialect in which the story is told.
Overall, this anthology is full of good stories that are both effective and affecting. Any story that gets under one’s skin and makes you feel something has done at least something right, and that description applies to many stories here. Eclipse 4 shows off a lot of potential in the fluidity of genre walls, the possibilities inherent in focusing on questions both philosophical and personal, and the pleasures to be found in following brilliant and literate authors wherever they choose to take us.
Abraham, however, is a professional writer, and knows he needs to sell books to stay in business. When not writing epic fantasy he produces urban fantasy under the name of M.L.N. Hanover and, in collaboration with Ty Frank, is embarking on a third career under the name of James S. A. Corey. The Hanover books have not, as far as I’m aware, received the same level of critical acclaim, though that may be because they are seen as “for women readers”. I’m as culpable as anyone else here as I haven’t read them.
A new epic fantasy series from Abraham, on the other hand, was high on my list of books to buy. I got a copy of the first volume, The Dragon’s Path [Purchase], at Eastercon, but by that time I had already started to see rumblings of discontent in the blogosphere. Then I started reading the book, and saw why. I was so disturbed by what I was reading that I took the unusual step of seeking outside opinion before finishing the book. Fortunately the May Locus arrived just when I needed it, and included a review by the perceptive Paul Witcover. This served only to confirm my fears.
Like me, Witcover is a fan of the Long Price books. He describes them as, “a quiet marvel of gesture and implication all the more powerful for its restraint and understatement.” His opinion of The Dragon’s Path is far less complimentary:
This is a sprawling, muscular fantasy, with many viewpoint characters, set in a complicated, messy world that seems stitched together from a number of sources both literary and extra-literary. […] The stew resulting from the combination of these diverse ingredients is sometimes surprisingly savory, sometimes disappointingly bland.
Oh dear. That’s exactly what I was thinking.
To start with there is the setting, a cookie-cutter mediaeval fantasy continent whose map, if you squint at it, is a bit like Europe. It is populated by true men (“Firstbloods”) and various races of hybrids: dog-men, bug-men, lizard-men and so on. Abraham livens it up a little by suggesting that we are looking at a post-technological world — there is one character who is able to do “magic” thanks to what are clearly nanobots in his blood. Overall, however, it feels like the sort of world I might have created for a role-playing campaign when I was 18.
Then there are the characters. Most of my favorite books contain characters who are very recognizably real people. Successful genre literature (and for the meaning of my use of the word “genre”, please see here), on the other hand, tends to contain characters who are more over-written; the sort of stereotypes you tend to see in television drama.
Elsewhere you may see this described as “good characterization”; the characters perhaps described as “vivid” or even “larger than life”. It is something that many readers (and viewers) like, and there’s probably a paper to be written on George R.R. Martin’s approach to the issue. Real people, however, are not often larger than life. That’s a statistical truth if nothing else.
Anyway, The Dragon’s Path is full of such people. Take Marcus Wester, for example. He is the gruff, competent mercenary captain with a heart of gold. Such characters often have a dead woman “in the freezer” to give them motivation. Wester has two: his wife and daughter, both killed before the book starts. He also has a trusty, loyal second in command, who very obviously is one of the Tralgu dog-men.
Witcover notes that the book shows influences from Dorothy Dunnett’s excellent House of Niccolò series, and indeed it does. Nicholas de Fleury, being a banker, was never quite as sexy as Francis Lymond, and consequently his series has not become so famous. Abraham chooses to replace Nicholas with a teenage girl, Cithrin Bel Sarcour. It is clever, in that it gives female readers a character to identify with and gives Wester someone to protect.
Elsewhere we have Baron Dawson Kalliam who is a stereotypical right-wing nutjob. He’s deeply racist, he despises the lower classes, and is always wanting someone disciplined to safeguard Tradition. Abraham does a reasonable job of trying to make him understandable, but it is hard to treat him as anything other than a dangerous joke, especially when his wife, Clara, is so much smarter than he is.
Finally amongst our major viewpoint characters we have Sir Geder Palliako, an overweight young nobleman with a passion for books and “speculative essay”. He’s a geek, and as such is the victim of many pranks played by the other young noblemen. Also, despite his considerable learning, he has no idea how the world works, and consequently makes a very convenient fall guy in court politics.
On the back page of the book there is a blub by Brandon Sanderson in which he says, simply, “Daniel Abraham knows what he is doing!” Sanderson, of course, is someone who has been very successful at giving epic fantasy fans what they want, regardless of what stuck-up critics like me might think of his books. It is hard not to read that quote as Abraham’s publishers saying, “this time our boy is going to deliver something commercial.”
And well he might. If he does I shall be very pleased, as he deserves commercial success. But will I still want to read it?
Well, as Witcover says, some parts of The Dragon’s Path are surprisingly savory. Good commercial fantasy, for example, needs to be leavened by wit, and occasionally Abraham comes up with dialog that is both amusing and perceptive. Here’s Marcus Wester being interrogated about his religious beliefs:
“And what about you, Captain?” he asked. “Stories are you were a pious man once.”
“I choose not to believe in any gods as an act of charity,” Marcus said.
“Charity towards whom?”
“Toward the gods. Seems rude to think they couldn’t make a world better than this,” Marcus said. “Do we have any food left?”
Then there is our geek boy hero, Geder Palliako. Clearly he is someone whom geek boy readers are supposed to identify with. But he’s no plough-boy-to-prince character, at least not yet. Abraham is keen to show that the world is a much more complicated place than it might seem from reading “speculative essays”. Dawson Kalliam might have a pretty simplistic view of politics, but even he can see that Palliako is hopelessly wet behind the ears. Here’s how Baron Kalliam explains that Palliako is just the sort of useful idiot that his plans need:
“Worse than dim, one of those men who only knows what he’s read in books. He’s the kind who reads an account of a sailing voyage and thinks he’s a captain.”
I get the feeling that, in Kalliam and Palliako, Abraham is talking directly to some of his readers: the Leo Grins of this world with Kalliam, and equally earnest if less authoritarian readers with Palliako. I want to see where he’s going with this.
Finally I’d like to come back to our friend with the nanobots in his blood. He’s not the only one. There’s a whole religious cult of them. For most of the book they are hidden far away — in the world’s equivalent of the Middle East, naturally — but, as Witcover notes, Abraham is echoing ideas from R. Scott Bakker’s excellent Prince of Nothing series, so it will not be long before people with actual power cause havoc in the mediaeval world that most of the characters inhabit. One of the things the priests can do is tell for certain whether someone is lying or not. It is a useful power, but as the high priest explains it can’t be used on the written word. If you read a passage from a book he can’t analyze it:
“Is that true?” the priest asked him. “Is it untrue?” Do you mean what you say? No, old friend. It’s neither. Your voice carries nothing. They are only words you repeat emptily. To write a thing down is to kill it. Only in the living voice can the truth be known.”
And that is a comment that could have come straight out of Embassytown.
Now I’m intrigued.
Abraham’s book is about war and finance. The series title — The Dagger and the Coin — makes that very clear. My next book this month, Power and Majesty [Purchase] by Tansy Rayner Roberts, has rather different preoccupations. One of them is needlework. Don’t let that put you off.
It took me a while to get around to reading this book. I bought it when I was in Sydney last year (the nice people at Galaxy Bookshop always find me good Aussie books that are hard to find elsewhere). The cover doesn’t help. As you can see, it shows a teenage girl in a flimsy dress against a background of a dark, brooding palace. It gives the impression of Princess Pink meets Emily Brontë. Don’t let that put you off.
In chapter 1 we meet our heroine, Velody, a fresh-faced, mousy teenager off to the big city of Aufleur in the hope of landing a job as an apprentice dressmaker. The evening before her big day she is unable to sleep and goes out onto a balcony, at which point a naked boy falls from the sky. He’s handsome and wild, and tells her she has magical powers. This is not what Velody wants, and she allows him to take them from her with a kiss. In chapter 5 Velody gets engaged to a nice young man — the brother of one of her best friends — who wants to be a bookbinder. You can see where this is going, can’t you? And you’d be wrong.
In chapter 6 Roberts kills off the homely fiancé, the whole of Velody’s family, and indeed her entire home town. This is the point where you realize that you are hooked, and you have to read the whole thing. Because if she is brave enough to do that, what else might she do?
Power and Majesty is the first volume of the Creature Court series. Somewhat reminiscent of Steph Swainston, it tells of a group of powerful people, several with superhero-style names, who fight to protect their world from an implacable enemy. Unlike Swainston’s Insects, however, the menace facing Aufleur is not living creatures, it is the sky itself. As in Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels, deadly stuff falls from the night sky, or rather falls through it, as it appears that cracks open in reality to let it through. (Wisely Roberts has not explained this at all — she has two more books to go yet.) Unlike thread, the material that the sky throws at Aufleur cannot be burned, or hacked apart, it can only be destroyed by magic. And because this is a purely magical battle, the daylight world is unaware of what is happening.
There are other echoes in the book as well. With their magical powers and high-risk lifestyle the members of the Creature Court acquire strong libidos. Roberts has written erotica, and is not afraid to put real sex, hot and steamy, into her books. Fans of Storm Constantine might find a lot to interest them in this collection of fashionable, sexy, dangerous misfits.
Velody, of course, does not fit in at all. But we all know that she will have to take up the responsibility that comes with her power eventually. She just needs a little persuasion.
Rage surged through her, a burning anger. “No more games,” she said as heat prickled across her skin. “No more games, Ducomte! Tell me what I am!”
She felt her body shifting explosively within her skin, as if it were not quite hers any more. She was breaking apart, tearing into a thousand separate pieces.
Macready threw himself aside, shielding his eyes as Velody burst open, her body flying apart and finding new, small shapes to climb into. Suddenly she was everywhere, inside hundreds of tiny warm bodies with tiny unblinking eyes.
Little brown mice, she thought hysterically. Saints and angels, I’m little brown mice.
Now you know why the series is called the Creature Court.
If I have given you the impression that the book is derivative, that’s unfair. All writers have influences. Their job is to remake those ideas anew, and Roberts does so enthusiastically. Despite the promised trilogy format, this is not formula epic fantasy. It is closer to urban fantasy, but it is not a present-day story. Aufleur is based on Rome, complete with a Roman calendar (Roberts’ doctorate is in Roman history). And the setting is early 20th Century, with steam trains, sewing machines, jazz clubs and flapper fashions. It feels very different and new.
As fans of the Galactic Suburbia podcast might expect, it is also a feminist book. One of the themes of the story is leadership. Prior to Velody’s arrival, the Creature Court has been led by men, and exemplifies the “management by bullying” style of the worst of male-dominated cultures. Velody changes all that
“This is how you should win over the Court,” he said, half-serious. “They’ve been bullied and ruled and kinged over for so long. I don’t think anyone ever thought of mothering them to death.”
Her struggle is paralleled in the daylight world by that of Duchessa Isangell who has recently come to rule over Aufleur. In addition, as Roberts explains in this podcast interview, the book is about female friendship. Velody’s friends — wild, flirty Delphine who is disowned by her rich family for going into business, and vulnerable Rhian, the victim of a gang rape early in the book — are as central to the book as the exotic members of the Creature Court.
It is in some ways a hard trick to pull off. Roberts has to convince us that her queen mouse can talk a wild gang of cats, rats, foxes and so on into submission. I don’t think that she always succeeds, but it is still a marvelous effort. Other people seem to like her writing as well. Last year a short story of hers (not in the Creature Court universe) won the Washington Science Fiction Association’s Small Press Award. That’s quite an achievement for someone who lives in Tasmania and is only published in Australia. This year Power and Majesty won the Ditmar for Best Novel. The book is published by HarperCollins, who have a multi-national operation. Publishers are always complaining that they can’t find anything new, fresh and interesting to offer their audiences, and yet this book is not available in the UK or USA. I cannot for the life of me understand why.
A second volume, The Shattered City [Purchase], was released in Australia in April. Sadly rights restrictions appear to make the books difficult to buy from outside Australia. Perhaps if enough people ask for them Roberts’ agent will be able to secure wider publication.
Finally this month I’d like to make brief mention of a fairly short (less than 200 page) book, Resurrection Code [Purchase] by Lyda Morehouse. I reviewed her AngelLINK series (Archangel Protocol, Fallen Host, Messiah Node and Apocalypse Array) for Emerald City and very much enjoyed reading them. Since that series finished, Morehouse has mainly focused on the career of her alter-ego, Tate Hallaway, who writes paranormal romance, but Resurrection Code is set in the AngelLINK universe.
The new book centers on the character Mouse, the renegade hacker whose mouse.net system plays a crucial role in the story. Mouse is a true Cory Doctorow hero, a talented Egyptian programmer who takes it upon himself to provide an internet for poor people as the original has become dominated by commercial interests. In Resurrection Code he is on his way to Mecca for the hajj (at the prompting, of course, of his devout AI, Page), but he stops off in Cairo along the way to look for an old friend.
The story is told partly in the “present” and partly in flashbacks to Mouse’s life in Cairo shortly after the city was devastated by the collapse of the Aswan dams. Mouse and his young friend, Mohammad, are making a business catching American military drones and selling the tech. But Mohammad gets injured, and getting medical help is risky, especially when the patient happens to be transgender.
In the “present day” sections we learn that Mohammad has become both a trans activist and a religious leader. God, who has difficulty with gender issues, doesn’t approve, and sends Satan to temp him. The Morningstar, however, is nothing if not a rebel.
The book is full of gender themes, including an Egyptian nationalist cult of Osiris whose members castrate themselves in honor of their god’s unfortunate treatment at the hand of Set. There’s not much in the way of gender theory here, but Morehouse exudes warmth and support for gender non-conformant people. Along the way she also tells the story of how Mouse came to be Mouse. If you enjoy books that play with gender roles, or remember the AngelLINK series fondly, you should get Resurrection Code.]]>
Here are some of the covers discussed during the show.
The original US cover for A Game of Thrones.
The original UK cover for A Game of Thrones, by Jim Burns.
A more traditional fantasy cover for the US edition of A Game of Thrones, by Stephen Youll.
A more mainstream Game of Thrones cover, used once the series had become popular.
Back to a more traditional fantasy image with the arrival of the Game of Thrones TV series.
Iconic – the cover of Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible.
The cover of The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan.
The same basic art used for a different book.
A fantasy cover for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
A more mainstream cover for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
John Piacacio’s cover for A Canticle for Liebowitz.
John’s original art for the A Canticle for Liebowitz cover.
The original cover for Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451.
Lev Grossman’s The Magicians — no sign of a school for magic.
Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl — too SFnal for such a successful book?.
John Piacacio’s cover for L.E. Modesitt’s The Ghosts of Columbia.
The final cover for James Dashner’s The Journal of Curious Letters.
John Picacio’s original artwork for The Journal of Curious Letters.
Joey Hi-Fi’s BSFA Award winning cover for Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City.
John Picacio’s US cover for Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City.
Earthsea – Ged with fair hair and blue eyes.
Leo and Diane Dillon do a better job of depicting Ged.
The UK cover for Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief.
The US cover for Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief.
Edward Miller’s cover for the original UK edition of Perdido Street Station.
The US cover for Perdido Street Station.
The new UK “design” cover for Perdido Street Station.
Edward Miller’s UK cover for The Scar, perhaps hinting of Turner.
The US cover for The Scar also has a Turner-ish feel.
The new UK “design” cover for The Scar.
About the Guests
John Picacio is a 2011 Hugo Award finalist for Best Professional Artist.
His 2010 published cover artwork credits include Michael Moorcock’s Elric: Swords And Roses (plus over 20 interior illustrations), Lauren Beukes’ Clarke Award-winning novel Zoo City, Mark Chadbourn’s Dark Age trilogy, as well as several more major works.
He won the 2005 World Fantasy Award and is best known as one of the most prolific American cover artists for science fiction, fantasy, and horror of the last ten years. His artwork is noted for its diversity and range, often combining traditional drawing and painting with digital finishes, as well as exploring methods such as hand-made assemblages. He’s cover illustrated books by a who’s who of major genre authors including Michael Moorcock, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Dan Simmons, Joe R. Lansdale, Jeffrey Ford, Frederik Pohl, James Tiptree, Jr., and many more.
Amongst his forthcoming published works will be the much-anticipated 2012 calendar for George R. R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire as well as covers for Ian McDonald’s YA novel debut Planesrunner and new hardcover editions of Dan Simmons’ classic The Hyperion Cantos.
Irene Gallo has been the art director for Tor Books since 1994 and the creative director/webproducer for Tor.com since the spring of 2010. She is on the advisory board of Spectrum and the Society of Illustrators.
Joe Monti has had a few roles in his publishing career, from working in the trenches as a bookseller and book store manager, to the children’s fiction buyer at Barnes & Noble for over a decade. This is where he often became involved in book cover discussions, and where his taste and experience with book covers developed. Joe was then a sales executive at Houghton Mifflin, then an editorial director at Little, Brown before becoming a literary agent at Barry Goldblatt Literary.
Here are some links arising from the interview.
The books mentioned in the interview are:
The Inspector Chen novels are now available from Morrigan Books.
More information about Liz’s forthcoming Worldsoul series can be found here.
Cheryl reviewed Catherynne M. Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed here.
The website of Liz’s witchcraft shop (and her other businesses) is here.
About the Interviewee
Liz Williams is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in Glastonbury, England, where she is co-director of a witchcraft supply business. She is the secretary of the Milford SF Writers’ Workshop, and also teaches creative writing and the history of Science Fiction.
Her novels, The Ghost Sister, Empire of Bones and Banner of Souls have all been short listed for the Philip K. Dick Award. Banner of Souls was also a finalists for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, while Darkland was nominated for the British Science Fiction Association Award.
Here are some links arising from the interview.
The website for the British Library exhibition is here.
The books mentioned during the interview are:
The authors mentioned are:
Many of John Clute’s books (and those of Gary K. Wolfe) are published by Beccon Publications.
A placeholder site for the new online edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction can be found here.
About the Interviewee
John Clute was born in Canada but has lived in London, with his partner Judith, since 1968. His many books include the science fiction novel, Appleseed, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (with Peter Nichols), Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (with John Grant). The latter three works all won Hugo Awards. Clute has also received the Pilgrim Award from the Science Fiction Research Association and a Distinguished Scholarship Award from the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts. His reviews column, Scores, currently resides at Strange Horizons.
Welcome to Bordertown, Holly Black & Ellen Kushner (eds.) (Random House) [Purchase] — Long, long ago, before even there was Buffy, there was still urban fantasy. It existed in a place called Bordertown, and in the form of a legendary series of shared-world anthologies edited by Terri Windling. With the current popularity of urban fantasy showing no sign of abating, Holly Black and Ellen Kushner have decided it is time for Bordertown to return. The result is a star-studded anthology featuring Bordertown veterans such as Emma Bull and Charles de Lint; big names such as Patricia A. McKillip, Neil Gaiman and Jane Yolen; and more recent favorites such as Catherynne M. Valente, Cory Doctorow and Nalo Hopkinson. This should be one of the best anthologies of the year. — Cheryl Morgan
An anthology with an impressive ToC and an interesting urban fantasy premise. — Karen Burnham
Deadline, Mira Grant (Orbit) [Purchase] — With Feed on the ballot for both the Shirley Jackson and Hugo Awards, the sequel must be an eagerly anticipated book. Just how is Grant going to carry this off when she … well, that would be telling. But if you have read Feed, you probably want this book very badly. — Cheryl Morgan
Titus Awakes, Mervyn Peake & Maeve Gilmore (Overlook Press) [Purchase] — Yes, you did read that correctly. There is a new Gormenghast book due out. Peake, of course, died in 1968, but he left notes for a fourth book and his wife, Maeve Gilmore, took them and turned them into a novel. However, she did nothing with it, and she died in 1983. The book was only rediscovered last year when the couple’s granddaughter was cleaning out an attic. The publication of the book is timed to more or less coincide with the centenary of Peake’s birth, though the US publisher is jumping the gun a little. — Cheryl Morgan
Sightings, Gary K. Wolfe (Beccon Publications) [Purchase] — Possibly the most successful small press in the world, at least in award terms, Beccon Publications, is continuing to produce fine collections of criticism. The previous volume in Gary K. Wolfe’s collected reviews, Bearings, is a Hugo nominee this year. Sightings covers the years 2002-2006. — Cheryl Morgan
Dead of Veridon, Tim Aker (Rebellion) [Purchase] This is set in the same universe as Aker’s Heart of Veridon, which I found to be an action-packed, steampunk, new-weird really fun book to read. Looking forward to seeing how the writer and universe mature. — Karen Burnham
Good Luck, Yukikaze, Chohei Kanbayashi (Haikasoru) [Purchase] — After thirty years of war with alien invaders, a sentient war plane turns on its human masters. Or does it…? A rare Anglophone outing for one of Japan’s most popular science fiction authors. — Jonathan Clements
The Door to Lost Pages, Claude Lalumière (ChiZine Publications) [Purchase ebook] — If you’ve read Lalumière’s collection, Objects of Worship [ebook], you’ll want to pick up this novella too, since it promises to be equally unpredictable and thought-provoking. If you haven’t read the collection, you’ll want to check out both. — Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Dancing With Bears, Michael Swanwick (Night Shade Books) [Purchase] — The return of con-men Darger and Surplus. Jeff VanderMeer called this novel “flat-out brilliant, edgy, kick-ass,” saving me the job of having to look for adjectives. — Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Hunt the Space-witch!: Seven Adventures in Time and Space, Robert Silverberg (Paizo Publishing) [Purchase] — In a year bountiful with Silverberg re-prints, this collection of early action-centered stories promises to offer perhaps the most unadulterated fun. — Alvaro Zinos-Amaro