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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews


Tentacles The SF Reviews newsletter, 23rd June 2007

Sheer Confusion

I have a note to include something about the Tottenham Court Road Caffι Nero, not the big one, I'm talking about the small one close to Goodge Street tube station. Actually the big one is not bad (and the manager's a good guy). But back to the small Caffe Nero - it's very pleasant sitting outside, drinking an espresso and smoking a fine Marlboro. Of course that's very unhealthy. Kids, you know espresso is bad for you. And yes, reluctantly admitted, cigarettes may be bad for you also. Each fag takes a year off your life. Think of a pack of cigarettes as a time machine into the future. One way, unfortunately. Anyway, I was sitting there, as I often do, and thinking of Green Day and the song "Boulevard of Broken Dreams".

I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don't know where it goes
But it's home to me and I walk alone

And I can't imagine why I was thinking that at all, I don't walk alone much but I have been doing some afternoon walking around London's Fitzrovia. It's a lovely area if you like living in the centre. I lived there more than ten years ago and I think it's even better now. I did have some extremely good times there, but then again I have had better and wilder times everywhere since. "Onwards and upwards" I say.

Of course another reason I may have thought of Green Day is that I'm sure young Lorelei is a fan of the band. Let me wish her a fantastic year, it having been her birthday recently. And for that matter, her brother James has just hit twenty-one. Amongst a multitude of other attributes, he's a Neal Asher fan, and totally brilliant though Mr Asher is, I'm trying to persuade James to read some Ken MacLeod as well. However, for the life of me I can't remember why I picked Ken McLeod, except that he's really good of course.

I think that novels that leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorians misrepresented life by leaving out sex.
Kurt Vonnegut, A Man without a Country

Obituary 1 – Wally Shirra

Read one of the many obituaries of Wally Shirra and learn about the fifth American in space. I recommend the one in the Guardian Newspaper. He died of a heart attack at the age of 84. Wally lived what Tom Wolfe wrote about in his book "The Right Stuff". Wally was the only astronaut to have been part of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions. Initially he was uninterested in the opportunity to become an astronaut, considering it more of a circus performance that real test piloting, but after seeing the speed of a Russian Sputnik booster rocket pass overhead one night, he signed up.

In 1962, he became the fifth American in space, taking Mercury 8 on a nine-hour, six-orbit flight.

In 1965. In December that year, piloting Gemini 6, Schirra and crew mate Thomas Stafford sent NASA mission control into panic when they reported spotting a UFO: "a command module with eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit". Not brilliant humour, but any humour was not quite what what NASA expected of its astronauts,

I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.
Kurt Vonnegut

Literary Note - M. John Harrison

You never expected to see a literary note here, of course. I merely wanted to say that M. John Harrison has written some fabulous books from the seventies through to the present day and you can get an insight into his thinking at The Zone interview with M. John Harrison. It dates from 2002 – it contains a lot about "Light" (currently No. 51 on the SF Reviews Best books). But hey, things don't have to be new to be good.

It's also where I picked up on the long life of Chambers Pistols.

Read the fabulous "Light" of course, and read his new "Nova Swing" which is an excellent novel although not quite to my taste.

Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn't mean we deserve to conquer the Universe.
Kurt Vonnegut, Novel 'Hocus Pocus' 1990

Best Books This Month

These are the best book reviewed this month, and a lovely bunch they are.

Richard Matheson's excellent "I Am Legend" is the root of so much of our modern Vampire culture, and I've always had a tender spot for Vampiry. I was a big fan of the The Omega Man but regrettably for several years after that was released I may have had Robert Neville confused with Richard Neville. Richard Neville was a remarkably eloquent editor of Oz magazine", the underground magazine of that same period. Incidentally, I believe Richard makes an appearance on the cover of the notorious School Kids Issue.

Elizabeth Bear's cyber punk novel about an augmented woman running down into middle age was a revelation – I'd never read it before. Fab stuff.

"The Inner Wheel" and "The Penultimate Truth" are old classics and thoroughly enjoyable.

Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

Science Note 1 – Body Suits

Japanese designer makes powered exoskeletons for the aged or disabled. Yoshiyuki Sankai, a professor at the University of Tsukuba, has teamed up with Daiwa House Industry Co to manufacture "400 to 500 suits annually" from 2008.

See the article Nursing-care, rehab robots gaining practical use in The Japan Times. OK, it's a boring title, but have a look, see the photograph and – as the Register points out – you can't help but think of Aliens.

Thanks to the Register for pointing tt all out at Aliens exoskeletons for Japanese old-timers .

New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.
Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

SF Reviews Recognizes David Gerrold

On the other hand, I don't suppose David Gerrold is particularly impressed to be (belatedly) recognised by SF Reviews.

I rather overlooked David Gerrold in the Twentieth Century. I only started reading him in 2000 (if I recall correctly) and until recently it never occurred to me that he'd might have done much writing before "Jumping Off The Planet". Sorry, David, and sorry to all of you who expected, no, who deserved more from the Max Machine. But hey, the 20th passed by in a bit of a blur, frankly.

I had an immensely good time reading his "Chtorr" series and am eagerly awaiting the next volume. I will get the reviews out real soon now. I say what's a few more months after twenty years?

Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.
Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle

Worst Books This Month

Interesting to note that the really bad books have two word titles>

One should always be suspicious of novels with two word titles. Both of these were terribly bad, unreadably so. Good books normally have a single word, e.g. "Dhalgren" or "Hammered", or three words – as in the other three of the top four books this month. QED. Oh, that was a Latin abbreviation. Well on the subject of Latin, how about this:

Veni, Vidi, Velcro – I came, I saw, I stuck around

Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.
Kurt Vonnegut

Obituary 2 – Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut died on the 11th April 2007. He was a man who had endured hellish conditions and was driven to write about them, and to write about them with brilliance and passion.

I've taken the liberty of including some quotes from his work in this newsletter.

During my three years in Vietnam, I certainly heard plenty of last words by dying American footsoldiers. Not one of them, however, had illusions that he had somehow accomplished something worthwhile in the process of making the Supreme Sacrifice.
Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus

This Month's Reviews

One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.
Kurt Vonnegut, "Cold Turkey", In These Times, May 10, 2004

Science note 2 – Wild Sex

The New Scientist has a wonderful article about the sex life of bean weevils entitled Female beetles have a thirst for sex. I couldn't stop chortling while reading.

In fact even now I'm alternating between a chuckle and chortle as I recall the article. It's about the very interesting fact that these female beetles use the male's ejaculate as a valuable water supply. Mind you they don't mate that often since the female finds intercourse painful due to the male's spiny member and the fact that his ejaculate weighs up to 10% of his body mass. If translated to human terms, we're talking 8 litres. Or more. I'm rolling on the floor here. I'm doing my best not to consider human consequences of an 8 litre ejaculate. Even if purposeful it has still to be disastrous. If accidental, you'd have a lot of explaining to do, and mopping up. I apologise if female readers are choking with indignation here. No, No, I've got to stop, this is killing me.

I'm going to need a Tequila shot and pinch of snuff just to calm down.

I hope you've got a subscription to the New Scientist. You can often read stuff as good as this. It's a thoroughly entertaining magazine, but you can't read all the online articles without the subscription. Although interestingly you can if you're browsing at the Wellcome Trust, the world–renowned Medical Research charity. By the way, the Wellcome Trust just reopened its Wellcome Library and exhibition. Go and see it for a little medical science history.

The good thing about the New Scientist is that the articles are easily read, you don't massive specialised knowledge to grasp the essence. Look how easily I got to grips with the Beetle article. The point is, it's not Rocket Science. Of course, I know about Rocket Science because – wait for it – I've got the mug:

Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.
Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus

Next Month's Reviews

Beats me. It was tough enough getting this month's reviews out, a month late. Oh, wait. There might be my first Moorcock review: "Behold The Man" and that is a truly classic book.

That's all for now. As always, tell me what you think about the books, the reviews and the site. Do let me know if there are books you think I should review.

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.
Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

Take care




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