Book Reviews, Novels

Frederik Pohl’s the Annals of the Heechee (1987), or, How to Kill a Classic, Pt. 29

What an execrable finale to the Heechee quartet.

The worst part of Pohl’s Heechee series is that there’s more than one book. Gateway (1977) is one of the finest sci-fi novels of the 20th century, bristling with creativity the childish sense of wonder. Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980), Heechee Rendezvous, and Annals of the Heechee (1987), on the other hand, utterly fail to live up to the original novel; they fail to even understand what made Gateway so dang good in the first place, making me hate them all the more, and hate that I felt obligated to push through the continuing, bland, repetitive, illogical adventures of Robinette Broadhead, S. Ya, and their obnoxious AI, Albert Einstein.

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Book Reviews, Novels

Cyberpunk Roots: P.K.D. & the Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965)

Philip K. Dick’s best-known stories are teaming with creativity, implementing psychedelia and paranoia into the narratives years before Robert Anton Wilson dared. Of his stories I’ve read, including the Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, the stories’ ideas and outlines have left a lasting impression, but the writing itself often feels turgid and dry, his characterization marred by dated misogyny and fantasies for young boys.

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Book Reviews, Novels, Short Stories

The Tiptree Awards: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990)

I won’t call her “James Tiptree, Jr.,” a name that tolls off the tongue like mud. Her name was Alice Sheldon. Alice Bradley Sheldon. She’s no longer hiding in a genre ruled by masculinity, so we could and should forego the dated sexism, and celebrate her work and her ideas and her mind as they were.

I rarely fall for short stories, so I approached this collection with trepidation, digging through lists of classic sci-fi authors associated with the cyberpunk movement. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever wasn’t just a pleasant surprise, but a constant state of shock and awe. With a fraction of the word count, Sheldon consistently put her peers to shame, creating believable characters of every gender and background, characters that oozed complexities, insecurities, prejudices, and all the signs of wonderful fiction.

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Book Reviews, Short Stories

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream about how absolutely terrible Harlan Ellison’s stories are

It’s not possible to read Harlan Ellison’s stories without thinking about Harlan Ellison the personality — he’s made a reputation marketing that personality as an unstoppable mixture of pretension and insincerity.

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Book Reviews, Novels

The Hugo (& Nebula) Awards: Frederik Pohl’s Gateway (1977)

Rockets soaring across the sky, lasers blasting indiscriminately, aliens with names like Ubuntu and Fnord, humanoid robots with joints going kzzt!-bzzt!: The Golden Age of Sci-Fi has aged itself into the ground by 2017, its future technology nothing more than magic with a metallic sheen, its important social messages sexist diatribes or naive Libertarian fantasies.

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Book Reviews, Novels, Video Games

Game Write: N.K. Jemisin & Mac Walters’ Mass Effect: Initiation (2017)

Game Write is a recurring series dedicated to the fiction of game industry veterans. From the best-selling titles of Drew Karpyshyn and Austin Grossman, to the obscure classics of Jane Jensen and Sheldon Pacotti, this series hopes to unearth both the gems and the trash we tend to leave buried in the credits. In this entry, we review N.K. Jemisin & Mac Walters’ Mass Effect: Initiation, a tie-in novel to the newest — and possibly last — Mass Effect game set in the Andromeda galaxy. A welcome, exciting addition to the series, it provides some valuable background information on the mysterious Andromeda Initiative, as well Cora Harper, one of Andromeda‘s more underdeveloped heroes.

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Random, Stories

Yoshi & Gon — a picture book by me, age 8

“Yoshi & Gon” is my first and only piece of fanfiction. It blends aspects from Super Mario Bros., Gon (obvs.), the Toho Godzilla series, Sonic the Hedgehog, Flipper, and two ’90s PC games: Quake and Diablo.

It’s pretty darn wild. See if you can spot all the references!

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Book Reviews, Novels

Joe Haldeman’s Forever Free (1999), or, How to Kill a Classic, Pt. 37

The last quarter of Forever Free ruins all the good qualities of this otherwise enjoyable sequel. The Forever War — not quite my cup of tea — is a classic of ’70s sci-fi; a hard anti-war response to America’s involvement in Vietnam. It’s a novel of brilliant ideas stilted by the simple progression of time — hippie naivete / sexuality does not look good in 20XX.

From the outset, Forever Free is not really needed, but creates a thick, addictive atmosphere on the planet Middle Finger — one honestly lacking from even the classic prequel. Man (with a capital M) and the Taurans, both hive-mind species of the future, have pushed the surviving remnants of humanity to the planet of Middle Finger, where they live in relative isolation and freedom. Some of the surviving soldiers, including William Mandella, decide to hijack an FTL ship and escape 40,000 years into the future.

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Book Reviews, Novels, Short Stories

Stephen King’s Four Past Midnight (1990)

Four Past Midnight is a wonderful collection of four ‘short’ novels Stephen King wrote in the late ’80s. They include the Langoliers, a light-hearted adventure romp that revels in its own ridiculousness; Secret Window, Secret Garden, the closing of a thematic trilogy King wrote about the power of storytelling; the Library Policeman, in which a man is haunted by his childhood fears, traumas, and a monster feeding on the emotional turmoil of children; and the Sun Dog, a lead-in to Castle Rock’s final moments in Needful Things, and in which a demonic monster works its way across dimensions through a Polaroid camera.

Most of the four novels are wonderful, among my favorite work from Stephen King even under the weight of their own cheesiness and fluff, particularly…

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Book Reviews, Novels, Short Stories

Cyberpunk Roots: S.P. Somtow’s Mallworld (1981)

Mallworld is a brilliant playground for stories. Between 1979 and ’81, S.P. Somtow published a slew of seven stories set in the titular Malllworld, a mall 30 kilometers long situated near Jupiter,  floating in the void. Somtow’s vision of consumerism gone amok was simultaneously ahead of its time and forgettable. His ideas helped lay the groundwork for what would become cyberpunk (and the Mall of America): A grimy marriage of technology and class division, with extensive corporate intrigue and rebellious no-care attitude.

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