Tag: science fiction

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A Mirror Full of Noir: Tyador Borlú Gets Lost

Just finished China Miéville’s _The City and the City_, a very satisfying, even inspiring, book, rich with metaphor and symbolism. It is like a film noir, set in a mythical Eastern European city — I’m convinced it is partly based on Prague — where populations living in mutually incompatible paradlgms “unsee“ each other. The beauty of this idea is that, (quite beyond the metaphor,) it could be almost any *real* city; with populations that are utterly invisible to one another. Old and young, rich and poor, leftist and fascist, black and white: there are, in fact, far too many axes of unseeing in our everyday lives…

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Readercon 24, Where did we go from here?

Last year at Readercon, there was an emotional dust-up over a sordid harassment incident, in addition to a scary and unexpected medical emergency for one of our favorite editors. At this year’s Readercon, we were spared this additional drama, and found ourselves sailing through a very mellow and enjoyable con. Of course, it was great to catch up with other fans and pros, like Alan Hanscomb, who finished his novel _Sharon of Two Salems_, and Mark Borok, Dianne Weinstein, and the whole Readercon gang; and also great to make some new acquaintances, like some writer named Seamus who was wearing a little black straw fedora, and a couple of mathematics and linguistics-loving commedia dell’arte performers. Most surprising for me perhaps, was to hijack a moment of Name Your LinkJohn Shirley’s time, reminiscing about his gigs at CBGBs back in 1980, where I saw him stripped to the waist and flailing around like a maniac singing “_I am electricity!“   Now that was a memorable night.  Probably Shirley will scratch his head and wonder just who the heck I am and how I knew him well enough to be on the guest list… but I was gracious enough not to mention in public some of the other crazy shit that we both witnessed in Greenwich Village back then.    Like Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice, those were some nutty times…   _ So where did we go from here?    Yes, the panel sessions.

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The warm stream conquers the cold

Харийс Брантс (Harris Brants) illustration for Picnic on Paradise in Издательский дом Дейч — Коллекция «Фантастика» Аркадий и Борис Стругацкие 2008 Reading “The Second Marxian Invasion“ about the Strugatski Brothers by Stephen W. Potts. Apparently this was Potts’ thesis at UC Berkeley and it is fascinating reading indeed. Tracing the utopian, socialist, and totalitarian themes in Russian fantastika literature from it’s earliest origins in the late 18th Century, the author describes how various Russian writers reacted to events such as the failed revolution in 1905, and the victory of the communists in 1917. For every utopian vision of the early Russian SF, there were dystopias, horrors, and complexities. Zamaytin’s _We_, published in 1921, is considered the classic tale of dystopia under totalitarianism, but according to Potts, it was not a counter-revolutionary work so much as a complaint that the Bolshevik utopia had not gone far enough towards the total liberation and union of personal and political interests. The modernist craze of the Leninist years eventually was constricted by Stalin’s paranoia, resulting in a number of science fiction authors vanishing to the gulags. Only writers like Belyaev, who could “reduce their technological miracles to the level of fairy tales, and inject their work with starkly ideological plots” were able to survive. When the “thaw” finally took place in 1956, the subsequent launch of Sputnik propelled Soviet SF into a new hard science phase that eventually was characterized as “cold stream” SF. This cold stream was one in which SF was narrowly conceived of as optimistic, science-oriented, and upbeat; similar to our sense-of-wonder space opera days, but one emerging from the constraints of Stalinist censorship and therefore self-consciously regulating itself and focused on a sort of vanguard of hard science futurism. The Strugatsky brothers, whose themes were more diffuse, more challenging, and informed by anthropology, psychology and the “soft” sciences, as well as the nascent New Wave, were seen as “warm stream” writers. In the 60s there was an ideological battle between the cold stream and warm stream, which was conceptually decided when the warm stream became more popular and when important critics advocated for science fiction with a purpose that transcended mere prediction and imagining of future technological advances. Here Potts quotes some criticism from 1968 about SF, but which raises some interesting thoughts about the purpose of writing in general: …we take as a criterion in assessing the value of a work everything that promotes the development of the human personality, extends its horizon, inspires it with lofty ideals, ennobles it morally and intellectually, improves its aesthetic preception [sic] of the environment, helps to gain an insight into the good and evil of this world, and to respond to them more keenly — in short, it is everything that promotes the truly human in man. ** (E. Brandis, V. Dmitrevsky, “In the Land of SF,” Soviet Literature (no. 5, 1968): 148) This strikes me as just a brilliant way to write anything!

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Happy Halloween, Strange Universe!

After the blasting winds and rain of Sandy, the streets are wet and plastered with green, orange and brown leaves. On all hallow’s eve, the kids came tromping along — one was dressed as a slic

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Biographies of Tanith Lee, James Tiptree Jr, and Jack Vance

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.

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Are you a werewolf, or not? Who can say...

   Having just finished a riveting gothic fantasy novel about werewolves by Tanith Lee, it occurs to me that moral ambiguity is the core theme of the books I have been reading lately.  In _Lycanthia_, Lee portrays the vagueries of a consumptive city-dweller, a self-involved pianist, who comes into a large country manor in the “old country” by way of an inheritance.   His reluctant arrival to take possession of the family manor house, and his petulant mood swings in dealing with the superstitious locals, provide the perfect backdrop for his eventual crisis. The appearance of large wolf-like dogs, and warnings about a nefarious family, the de Lagenay’s, hiding in the forest, draw the unwitting anti-hero, perhaps fittingly named Christian, into a web of conflicts that quickly begins to resonate with emotional depth.  The ambiguity of all the surface facts -   are the de Lagenays really werewolves?  are the superstitious villagers good or evil?  is the doctor saving his life or condemning him to fate worse than death? is the upright piano an instrument of beauty or torture?  — serve to heighten the tension as Christian becomes ever-more-tightly entwined with the de Lagenays, whom he variously insults, assaults, loves, worships, honors and betrays.

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Solaris Soundtrack Artwork

The haunting soundtrack by Eduard Artemyev for the masterpiece SF film Solaris has been floating around the inter-tubes. I didn’t really care for any of the existing DVD or CD cover artwork, so I c

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Three Gems of Metahistorical Science Fiction

It is rather hard to believe, but by pure chance the last three novels I read in sequence were all Metahistorical narratives - not in the sense of Hayden White or Gaian ecology… What I am referring to in the case of these three books is a Metahistory as a condition, or perhaps even a technique, for examining the inter-locking possible “worlds” which are branching off from one another at pivotal moments, like fractals in space-time. This may seem like a rather typical science fiction trope - that of parallel universes or multiple simultaneous dimensions - but strangely enough, the device was used in all three of these books in a particular way, which was to provide a narrative arc for the characters to experience another world the way things might have been, but weren’t, in their own worlds. Let me take them in the order that I read them, to explain.

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Boskone 48 Art Exhibit - Audio-Visual Reconstruction

At Boskone 48, not only were there great works of Greg Manchess, Omar Rayyan, and Bob Eggleton, among others, taking up several rows of panels, but there was also an entire wall dedicated to an exhibit of original SF and Fantasy paintings! Curated by Joe Siclari and Edie Stern, the exhibit featured dozens of works from their collection, as well as many more loaned by other major collectors. Now that I have a decent mini voice recorder, I decided to do a long walk through the exhibit and comment on the paintings. Fortunately, I remembered to mention most of the dates and the sources where the paintings were published, so now I can reconstruct a major part of the exhibit from the recording for this post. In fact, it would probably make the most sense to just listen to the MP3 (below) as you browse down the images of the works being discussed. Hope you enjoy the virtual exhibit!

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Science Fiction Paintings of Milton Luros

The first paintings by Milton Luros that I remember seeing featured beautiful women, rendered with a soft, almost flat touch. For some reason the image of a green-skinned Amazon, struggling in bondage as two human spacemen try to drag her into a cage always sticks in my mind. With a light touch, the artist shaped her glamorous lipstick into a snarl of defiance that would make Betty & Veronica proud, and he framed her pointed ears and antennae with a wild mane of red hair. Plus, you’ve got to give those wild alien women credit for their fashion sense - who wouldn’t kill for that strapless red shag mini-dress! Then there was the cracking good composition of a woman fainting in the embrace of a blue-skinned alien man, framed against a vivid red planet. Unlike the previous image, this is very much a loving embrace, the woman’s hand is delicately twined around our blue-skinned superman’s bicep, while his figure is framed by a simple white backlight for dramatic effect. This image is iconic, like some sort of Gone With the Wind in outer space. Years later, when I read Earl Kemp’s article, Cherry Pink and Uncle Milty Time, I was amazed by the number of covers Luros had painted during the 40s and 50s, before his career as a porno publisher took off.