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 fluff we tend to leave buried in the credits. In this entry, we review Jason M. Hough & K.C. Alexander’s Mass Effect: Nexus Uprising, a tie-in novel to the newest — and possibly last — Mass Effect game set in the Andromeda galaxy. An immediate prequel to the game, it’s meant to shed light on the near-destruction of the Nexus and its crew, which almost put quashed the Andromeda Initiative’s utopian vision before it could start.
There’s a lot to admire with Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night. Published in 1937, she foresaw WWII, the holocaust, the endgame of nationalism, and even the entire plot of George Orwell’s 1984. I didn’t enjoy Swastika Night much, despite that — despite how much I can admire the writer of this story and the ideas it presents.
Set 700 years after ’37, our experience of WWII was instead the Twenty-Year War — a war survived only by Germany and Japan’s diseased nationalism. Hitler won. Minorities have been extirpated except where otherwise desired for slave labor. The German people are heralded as the master race for their pure Blood (with a B). But — even Hitler’s warped, stupid philosophy couldn’t survive forever, and the world of Swastika Night isn’t just a static continuation of Hitler’s racist obsessions. His philosophy was perverted further by subsequent leaders, most notably by an overbearing misogyny.
Jirel of Joiry, an honorable, red-haired, female clone of Conan the Barbarian, could be considered the foundation for all ‘strong female characters’ in genre fiction today, but only in the most shallow sense of the term.
I appreciate that C.L. Moore broke ground in 1930s sword and sorcery, a hyper-masculine genre full of hyper-masculine (read: shitty) men, but any attempt to combat the intense sexism of the genre only goes as far: C.L. Moore was objectively a woman, and Jirel objectively a female character who sometimes swung a sword and killed things.
Star Songs of an Old Primate was the first collection of short stories published by James Tiptree, Jr. after the unmasking of Alice B. Sheldon in 1978. It remains out of print today, but five of its seven stories — “And So On, and So On” (1971), “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” (1974), “A Momentary Taste of Being” (1975), “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” (1976), and “She Waits for All Men Born” (1976) — are currently available in the best-of anthology, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.
I just want to focus on the two unique stories to this collection. For my responses to the five other stories, see my review of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.
Dr. Adder is as trashy, stupid and fun as you’d expect from a book deemed too controversial to publish for 12 years.
On one hand, Dr. Adder‘s importance as an early cyberpunk dystopia exceeds its entertainment value. K.W. Jeter wrote it in 1972 while attending college, but it wouldn’t be published until the cyberpunk explosion in ’84. Because of this, the obsession with technology, the casual violence, the Interface-as-Sprawl et al., are all prescient forebears of some of the themes dominating contemporary sci-fi.
But is it a great novel? Not really.
The Chronicles of Narnia, outside of the Last Battle, never quite sacrifices its plot for religious didacticism. Despite my own atheism, I adore the Narnia series as one of the most important pieces of my childhood. Out of the Silent Planet is, unfortunately, more on par with the Last Battle than with the rest of the Narnia series: Its plot nonexistent next to its dated, shallow, stupid, and hateful didacticism.
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.
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.
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.
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.