" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Saturday, February 29, 2020

"The Great Economy of the Saurian Mode" by Michaelene Pendleton (For Shaun)

 "The Great Economy of the Saurian Mode" by Michaelene Pendleton. Published in Asimov's Science Fiction, July 2000. I have been collecting notes for posts for some time. But I decided to finish this one, for two reasons. I enjoyed this story; it features a strong female protagonist and reptilian aliens that reminded me of the dinosaur Deinonychus publicized by the work of John Ostrom. 

Also, my thoughts about this story lead me to think a lot about animal-human and alien-human partnerships. Sadly yesterday, we had to say goodbye to Shaun, the oldest of our three dogs, and so as you might expect, this dynamic has been foremost in my mind as his health declined in the last week. 

I have provided a link to my other blog with some photos and remembrances of Shaun should you be interested. 

Pendleton's story takes place on Earth. Based on the technology, I would think it was set in the near future. The Earth has become part of the Dyarchy. We are told very little about the Dyarchy or how humans currently live within it. There is an indication that some level of out-migration is taking place.  Pendleton tells us that Earth's position within the Dyarchy is as a frontier world where they can drop riff-raff. The story begins at the Iron Thing Triathlon. Sonia Vasilyeva is running a team of three Sorsh, the reptilian aliens I mentioned earlier. Kharkh, Selin, and Yhss are all males of the warrior class. The four of them have worked together for years capturing criminals and terrorists. Now having bought out their contract, they hope to win big and buy their own property. The Sorsh work with Sonia because, "by some kink in galactic chemistry, I have the right combination of pheromones and emotional stability to run Sorsh, to bind to me so that my well-being is their first concern." The Sorsh are sentient beings, Sonia notes they do not read or write either language, I assume she means her's and their's not because they cannot but because it is beneath their warrior status. As the story proceeds, it is clear that Sonia is as devoted to the well being of the Sorsh as they are to her. At the triathlon Sonia is approached by a government security agent, Nick OCallan. He wishes to hire the team to capture a Navajo gunrunner who is hiding in the Dark Canyon Primitive Area in Utah.  Sonia initially refuses, but after some bargaining, she not only gets more money that the event prize, but also Dyarchic Freespace Passports which she receives immediately. The team insists on completing one more event so we see them in action against another reptilian team Wasash Reds; the Ferroven Blues armoured hairless bears from a heavy gravity planet and the Hurove Greens aliens that combine aspects of insect, mammal and cephalopod traits and are hard to focus on when they more. Then accompanied only be OCallan the team heads out.

I quite enjoyed the story. It seemed to have a lot of elements that have appeared in science fiction for decades. The triathlon had a bit of the gladiator/arena aspect common in science fiction. There were aliens modelled on dinosaurs, which I have discussed on my other blog. See the link to Dr Dale Russell below.There was the anti-government sentiment reflected in Sonia's limited interactions with the female park ranger. I did wonder if these interactions between the only women in the story also reflected a bit of a sisterhood. Because one way this story did differ from a great deal of the science fiction stories I read back in the day was in having a strong female lead.  

As I said earlier, one element that interests me in science fiction, as one might expect from someone who started by reading works of Andre Norton, is animal-human and alien-human partnerships. Pendleton works hard to make us understand that the Sorsh are sentients, not animals. Sonia mentions that around the fire at night, they ask the same questions that earth philosophers ask but couched in terms of their hunter-warrior culture. Every morning they conduct the religious rites specific to the warrior class. The element that causes me to link human partnerships whether it is with aliens or animals is communication. Communication in these partnerships, unless you postulate universal translators or telepathy is always complex. Sonia states verbal communication is difficult and seems to rely on voice, scent and hand signs. It is the hand signs that are of particular interest to OCallan. Pendleton does avoid telepathy, a common mechanism in science fiction, as seen in Andre Norton's works, Anne McCaffrey's Pern series or James H. Schmitz's Telzey Amberdon stories with the crest-cat Tick-Tock. This story did remind me of the Schmitz Hub stories "Trouble Tide" and "The Demon Breed" in which a female protagonist, Nile Etland works with her giant mutated otters, Sweeting and Tikkos using human language and hand signs. 

I have devoted some time to this story because I quite enjoyed it. She worked with a number of the tropes of the genre to create a good action story. It was not overly complicated but with enough there, for me at least, to mull over. Sadly she did not seem to have left a large body of work as seen on ISFDB website and she passed away last year. There are more details here.

I do wonder if the animal-human and alien-human partnerships we often see are an out growth of the YA origins of  much science fiction? I would enjoy hearing your thoughts. 

I will leave you with some Jim Kjelgaard covers while you ponder this, Swamp Cat was included, because having only dogs would hardly be fair, would it Max. Yes there are a lot of guns, sigh. 

"The Great Economy of the Saurian Mode", Asimov cover by Michael Carroll, interior illustrations Darryl Elliott.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

And take the hidden paths that run Towards the Moon or to the Sun.

  My two favourite fantasy trilogies are The Riddle Master by Patricia A. McKillip  and The Lord Of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien's work has been a big part of my life and imagination since my teens. I have a a couple of books concerning Tolkien's experiences in World War One and how they may have influenced his writing currently waiting on my Kindle. I also loved his illustrations and recently used Christmas Gift cards to purchase the book Tolkien:The Maker of Middle-Earth by Catherine McIlwaine, about a 2018 exhibition covering the life and worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien that was held at the The Bodleian library. 

A link to the exhibition is here.

I have been reading Megan N Fontenot's great series on the People of Middle-East running on Tor.com and really enjoyed the essay.   

The People of Middle-earth: One Ring to Rule Them All

I have enjoyed it enough that I am considering looking for the History of Middle-Earth which runs to a rather daunting 12 volumes. But the basement renovation continues and many books have been boxed so I will probably wait until I can see what I already have. We did discover a couple more electrical outlets as we moved stuff so the process has sped up.  

There have been a couple of significant deaths in the Tolkien universe in 2020, as I am sure you are aware. His son Christopher, who was responsible for the bulk of his father’s posthumously published work passed away January 16th.


And Barbara Remington, the illustrator who created the most widely recognized covers for J.R.R. Tolkien's “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit” passed away on January 23rd. 


Alan Brown on Tor.com published a lovely essay on these editions and you can read it here. 


I know that when I first saw the Ballantine Editions with the covers inspired by Tolkien's illustrations I was drawn to them. (I certainly need to dig out the hair-
dryer and take the stickers off) However as I have become more interested in book covers and illustration, some editions just strike me as being such an important part of the history, not just of the author's work itself, but also of the genre and the period that I may change my feelings about them. Remington's covers are possibly the greatest example of this, for me personally, which is why I was so taken with Brown's essay. 

"The Road goes ever on and on 

Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet."

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Yoon Ha Lee's short fiction

I have not been posting enough. I do find the process helps me organize my reading. Also as an aade-mémoire it is useful to be able to access these small snapshots of what I was reading and thinking at a particular moment in time. 

Rich Horton, science fiction columnist, editor and a reviewer for Locus Magazine maintains an interesting review blog at Strange at Ecbatan. I often check in to see which authors he is featuring and was taken by his capsule discussions of the short fiction of Yoon Ha Lee.  


I have read stories by Lee in the past and felt they were good. But this time I read two stories that really struck a chord. 

The first was was "The Knight of Chains, The Deuce of Stars", which I read in the Horton edited anthology Space Opera. The first two paragraphs were enough to tell me I was in good hands.

"The tower is a black spire upon a world whose only sun is a million starships wrecked into a mass grave. Light the color of fossils burns from the ships, and at certain hours, the sun casts shadows that mutter the names of vanquished cities and vanished civilizations. It is said that when the tower’s sun finally darkens, the universe’s clocks will stop.

But the sun, however strange, is not why people make the labyrinthine journey to the tower. The tower guards the world’s hollow depths, in which may be found the universe’s games. Every game played among the universe’s peoples was once trapped in the world’s terrible underground passages, and every one was mined and bargained for by some traveler. It is for such a game that the exile Niristez comes here now, in a ship of ice and iron and armageddon engines."

Niristez was at one time a strategist for the High Fleet of the Knifebird, until she fled(?) from an unwinnable war which continues to this day. She has come to the tower to retrieve a game, but first she must deal with Daechong. He has been the warden of the tower for as long as it has existed and it is unclear just how long that has been.  Daechong likes to challenge visitors to a game for access to the tower. Sometimes they survive. 

"Most people don’t first notice the warden when they meet him, or the rooms crowded with agate-eyed figurines, flowers of glass, cryptochips sliced into mosaics. They first notice the warden’s gun. It is made of living bone and barbed wire and smoke-silver axioms. It would have a stock of mother-of-pearl, if pearls were born from gangrenous stars. It has a long, lustrous barrel forged in a bomb’s hellheart. And along the barrel is an inscription in whatever language your heart answers to: I never miss."

Lee's focus is the game between Niristez and Daechong for access to the tower. I will not relate anymore you can read it yourself here. 

Instead I will try to explain why I enjoyed it so much. Lee's language reminded me of the beautiful prose poetry descriptions you find in the works of Roger Zelazny or Samuel R. Delany. Niristez character seemed to be related to the legend haunted go-captains from the stories of Cordwainer Smith. And the concept of the games themselves carried a hint of Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game where the rules, if there are any, and the structure of the game itself are ambiguous and ever changing. I am always attracted by connections, real of imagined, that I find between the stories I read. Lee offers plenty of them. 

The second story  “Architectural Constants”  I read in Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue # 2 Oct. 23, 2008. This is the story of the city, its architect and a period of flux. 

"In any of these cities, you may mention the city or the architect, its restless Spider, and no listener will fail to understand which city you mean. The city lies at the intersection of leys that move through seas and continents, and stretch into the vastness beyond the visible stars. The city extends upwards and downwards in preposterous arches and chasm-spanning bridges.

If you listen during the silence following the city’s curfew bells, you can hear the click-click-clicking of the Spider’s slide rule as she checks her calculations."

The librarian Eskevan Three of Thorns is the first character we meet. He is tracking down a rumour that the Spider ascends. The Spider typically resides deep within the depths of the city. If she is roused, that means the foundations of the city need to be restructured.

The second character is city sentinal Attavudhra Nought of Glass; she is assigned to guard the city gate by the guard captain Yaz Five of Hearts. None are allowed to pass except the Spider and Yaz himself. The city itself is a place of shadows, mirrors, reflections and dreams. Often the characters try to alter their perceptions to see what is real or illusion.  Indeed one character we meet later, Riyen Nine of Knots, is not even complete as part of his body is missing/hollowed out. We are not told much about the city; it simply appears to be a dark and ever-changing place. In both stories, Lee using the language of geometry and mathematics frequently, and in this story, both city and characters seem multi-dimensional. It is also clear the ascension of the Spider is treated with some level of fear by the inhabitants as this will mean changes to the city and their lives.

Again this is a story I really enjoyed. I enjoyed the ambiguity of the setting and the imagery. It reminded me of China Meiville's Perdio Street Station and Italio Calvino's Invisible Cities with it's dreamlike cities and fantastic geometries. I could imagine any of them within a print by M.C. Escher. The characters themselves exist at some strange intersection between human, monster and archetype. In both stories Lee has provided the type of fantastic science fiction I often find appealing and I have purchased Lee's collection Conservation of Shadows on the strength of them. 

Sunday, February 2, 2020

New books and the state of science fiction publishing

  Why does this post lead off a photo of an old lamp, is this some metaphor for suddenly seeing the light? Not really, Helen bought it for the living room at a mid-mod shop we visit, Murphy's Mid-Century. The table that features in the photos below also came from Murphy's as part of a trade. It is a local shop selling used furniture and one we love to visit. Indeed Saturday was spent on our favourite pastimes, trying a new breakfast place and visiting a few shops. 

One is an independent bookstore called Second Page. There is a second store, Pages as well, but both are independent and locally owned. They sell new and used, and I have featured purchases from them before. Today I noticed they had anthology Octavia's Brood and Butler's Lilith's Brood as well. I had read the first chapter of Dawn, the first book in the trilogy online and wanted to read all three books. As I eyed both books, I remembered I had planned to order Lilith's Brood online using gift cards I received from my family for Christmas. Then I looked around and thought and then how do these people stay in business. If they close, where do we go on a day out to browse real shops that are not stocked from a central warehouse by some corporate purchasing department? 

Marc Yancus/John Jennings

We visit three independent bookstores in Calgary, that stock new books. 
It is in these stores that we find books we would never discover online and that the chains don't stock. Helen left with a book on the history of textiles. 

Dominic Harman/Tomislav Tikulin/Donato Giancola

The other day Helen sent me an article on the state of Science Fiction Publishing. It seems some publishers are doing okay, others are struggling. This year I had decided to subscribe to both Asimov's and Analog, so I could read some current science fiction. I got paper because it was easier, and no one was going to delete them from my Kindle account for me. Also, I am old, and like paper copies, I can share them with friends and generally run riot.

I had been buying Clarkesworld for years focusing on the year-end anthologies (see comments on paper copies above). I also get some individual issues because they have some of the greatest covers in the history of SF, and this site is about SF illustration as well as stories. I also got Spotify this week so that I can listen to weird British Hauntology inspired music (I blame the Unsubscriber, see my Blogs I follow section and The Fortean Times), but this also allows me to access the Clarkesworld podcasts. I have also pulled some free samples of Beneath Ceaseless Skies for my kindle to see about adding them. If you like Thomas Ligotti I would recommend you try an issue of the online journal Vastarien. Mainly I would suggest that if you can afford it you support some of the things you like so they continue to be available. 

Normally I attribute the cover artists for Clarkeworld their cover gallery is here

Boy do I have lots reading to do.