In recent weeks, I’ve been on a biography reading jag, first tearing through The Hidden Library of Tanith Lee, then James Tiptree, Jr., the Double Life of Alice Sheldon, and This is Me, Jack Vance! The Hidden Library of Tanith Lee by Mavis Haut begins with a heavy academic tone, delving into the mythopoeic layers of meaning in Lee’s writing. Although this is perhaps a necessary piece of work, since Lee’s writing is so dense with mythology, metaphor, and explorations of the subconscious, it doesn’t exactly flow off the pages. Fortunately, for all those pages which made me feel like I was treading in molasses, there were an equal number of more conversational sections, in which Lee’s many books in many genres are summarized. There is also a long and valuable interview with the author which I have not seen elsewhere. Not a book for everyone, but a must read for all of you Tanith Lee addicts out there, and I know you are legion! It has taken me years to get up the nerve to read Julie Phillips book on James Tiptree, Jr., one of the unique voices in sf literature. Perhaps other readers of sf in the 1970s had the same introduction to Tiptree that I did: reading through 800 pages of Again Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison, only to be shocked with 50 amp jolt of electricity in the concluding story, Milk of Paradise, which opens: “She was flowing hot and naked as she straddled his belly in the cuddle-cube and fed him her hard little tits. And he convulsed up under her and then was headlong on the waster, vomiting.“ This was clearly a writer who could grab anyone by the scruff of the neck and rattle them around like a rag doll.
Pleasantly surprised to discover Indoctrinaire, the first novel by Christopher Priest, a tale of strange foreboding and paranoia, wrapped up in altered states of consciousness and alternate realities. The protagonist, Dr. Wentik, finds himself forcibly recruited from his scientific research post beneath the South Pole, and whisked away to the Planalto District of Mato Grosso in Brazil. Both of these places are so far off the beaten track and outside of the ordinary world of human affairs that the novel begins with an eerie sense of dislocation, which is only accelerated into total disorientation as soon as Wentik begins to trek into the strangely deforested zone of Planalto. His guide, a tight-lipped man named Musgrove, shows signs of mental illness as the story progresses and Wentik finds himself an occupant of “the jail,” under interrogation by an equally opaque antagonist named Astourde.
How is it that my brother, Po, marooned out in the wilds of the high desert at Canyon Blanco is first one to tell me about the synthetic brain news? Here I am, wired up to the ears with wireless routers zapping me and servers buzzing underfoot…only a beer cap toss from a major data center…and as far as I knew I had a unique and unreplaceable hunk of gray matter floating in my skull. Sure it’s a little frayed around the edges, has its foibles, is a beast when it comes to cold starts on a winter morning, but still - after all it’s been through - it seemed a right decent old brain, as far as I was concerned. But now we know that these dweebs over at Blue Brain Project have already concocted a rat’s brain, and are madly tuning their skills to create a human brain within ten years. BBC Story Is it just me, or does that seem like it might not work out according to plan?
Although the armatures and servo-controlled eyeballs beneath the skin may be fascinating, Beware the Ides of March, and robot teachers with scary rubber lips! With all the press surrounding the schoolteacher robot named Saya (developed by Hiroshi Kobayashi), you would think that the Singularity is upon us, but upon closer examination it looks like we will be loping along in the Uncanny Valley for a long time to come. In the photo series that appeared in the Boston Globe recently, it was apparent to me that loose rubber lips do not a rose make.
Browsing for a cheap paperback at Goodwill in Davis Square, I just happened to find a beat up first edition hardcover copy of The Fifty Minute Hour, by Robert Lindner. I grabbed this for the collecti