Cover art for the novel Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
With the public libraries closed and my book budget slashed to zero, I was worried I’d be hard strapped for reading material. Then I remembered that some weeks ago, I downloaded a free copy of Annalee Newitz’s science fiction novel Autonomous from Tor.com. So I revisited my kindle device and started consuming the book.
I’m about 60% through, and I can pretty much guarantee that Ms. Newitz is not going to like my review on Amazon. That said, I don’t actually regret reading her book (since it was free), but it again brings to mind how some forms of entertainment are well thought of (in certain prominent circles) and yet cannot seem to tell a good story.
Yesterday, I discovered John Scalzi’s Redshirts novel was also available as a free Tor download, so the MOBI file is now resting comfortably on my kindle. It won both the 2013 Hugo and Lotus awards for best science fiction novel, but given my current experience with “Autonomous,” as well as how I found N.K. Jemisin’s award winning book The Fifth Season, awards don’t always mean what you want them to mean.
Cover art for the anthology “The Collapsar Directive
Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of this anthology on the condition that I would write and publish a review. I have also had a short story and a piece of flash fiction published by Zombie Pirate Publishing, but none of my stories appear in the anthology I am reviewing, The Collapsar Directive.
Actually, the anthology’s title is taken from a story written by Adam Bennett, co-founder of Zombie Pirates, called “The Sword and The Damocles,” a tale about two interconnected intergalactic spacecraft. Like many of the short stories in the anthology, I found it to be “okay,” but not particularly remarkable. Of course “Collapsar” was published a few years back, and I know that many of the authors have since honed their writing skills.
Mel Newmin’s “Looking at the Face of God” had a nice twist to it, but I objected to the idea of releasing zoo animals back to the wild, since animals kept in captivity often lose their ability to fend for themselves in an untamed environment. Once the big reveal occurs, the results become interesting, but then science fiction does sometimes have the created confront their creator.
“THERE ISN’T A PAGE IN THIS VIVID AND FRIGHTENING STORY THAT FAILS TO GRIP THE READER”.
— SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
GRIPPING…POIGNANT…SUCCEEDS ON MULTIPLE LEVELS
— NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
This highly acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel of hope and terror from award-winning author Octavia E. Butler “pairs well with 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale” (John Green, New York Times)–now with a new foreword by N. K. Jemisin.
I’ve heard the name Octavia E. Butler for some time now, and have been meaning to read one or more of her books. She has an interesting background and is generally considered one of the most important science fiction authors of her generation, particularly as a woman of color. Sadly, she passed away in 2006, although the cause is attributed either to a stroke or a head injury acquired during a fall.
Screen capture of a portion of Mike Glyer’s online fanzine “File 770”
Having (finally) successfully subscribed to Mike Glyer’s File 770 online SciFi fan newzine, I find that most of what this rather prolific blog puts out doesn’t catch much of my interest. Of course, with WorldCon Dublin coming up next month, a lot of the content is focused there. They also put out a tremendous number of articles about various awards, again, most of which I don’t have an interest in.
But before that, I took a look at the ballot, which lists science fiction and fantasy works nominated in a number of categories. They include Best Novel, Best Shorter Work, Best Book Editor, Fanzine, TV Show, Movie, Anime, and so forth. Needless to say, I didn’t recognize any of the names and most of the category entries. Oh, I have heard of “Game of Thrones” and I used to watch “Supergirl,” but that was about it. This reminded me that as a “fan,” I’m probably really lacking in keeping up with what’s current (to find out what I’ve been reading and watching lately, go to my Reviews page).
I’m continuing my slow review of the stories in the Zombie Pirate Publishing SciFi anthology World War Four (which also features my short story “Joey,” but right now, that’s beside the point). Today, I highlight Rich Rurshell’s tale “Subject: Galilee.”
Much of the symbolism echoes Christian themes, but Rurshell’s story takes place in the far future. A war is raging between two corporate factions, Liberty West which uses robotic warriors called “Romans,” and Zhang Industries’ human combatants. In between them and a village of peaceful people as well as defected soldiers, is the mysterious armored and cloaked being known as Galilee. He came out of no where, possesses enormous, almost god-like abilities, reprogramming the Roman machines to serve him, his armor all but invulnerable, and seems to be the savior that the world needs, that is until both corporations decide to make him a target.
I’m continuing my slow review of the stories in the Zombie Pirate Publishing SciFi anthology World War Four (which also features my short story “Joey,” but right now, that’s beside the point). This evening, as I write this, I showcase the tale of Chinese fighter pilot Chen Fan’s mission to blow up a Russian fuel depot while being pursued by his arch-nemesis, Iraninov.
It reads pretty much like a standard aerial dogfight between to fighter pilots except the aircraft are really spacecraft capable of operating in atmosphere all the way down to the deck. Fan toggles between worrying about his plane’s damage, evading Iraninov’s attacks, and his moral consciousness at the imminent death of thousands of civilians, collateral damage of his mission, the latter a strange consideration for a hardened combat veteran.
Adam Bennett is the co-founder of Zombie Pirate Publishing and his short story “Jackson’s Revenge” is featured in their SciFi anthology World War Four (which also features my short story “Joey,” but right now, that’s beside the point).
Yes, the tale mentions war and other planets, so the action is set sometime in the future and could definitely involve the aftermath of a fourth world war, but it also takes place in a bar and the weapons involved were merely pistols and swords, so I could easily imagine that the scene was sometime after the American Civil War. That’s a good thing, since it means the story is pretty much universal and you don’t have to be a hardcore science fiction fan to enjoy it.
Bennett’s short story is a study in misdirection, and the reader doesn’t get to find out the meaning of “Jackson’s Revenge” until the last several pages.
I imagine that I’m supposed to feel guilty about reading “old” science fiction. After all, William Gibson’s inaugural SciFi novel Neuromancer is 35 years old and, according to one commentator at File 770 when criticizing award-winning science fiction writer and legend Robert Silverberg‘s criticism of award-winning science fiction author N.K. Jemisin, one of Silverberg’s many faults was that he hasn’t read any science fiction created within the past decade. Gee, I hope I’m not ruffling anyone’s feathers by going “old school.” On the other hand, the book did win a Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo, so there is that.
Gibson’s “Neuromancer” probably launched the cyberpunk genre, and although some of the references are older (television, pay phones), it’s held up very well. Today, science fiction publications are loaded with references to artificial intelligence (AI) but in the 1980s, it must have been a rarity, although I’ll never know why everyone assumes a programmed, non-human intelligence must presuppose a personality or even intent.
It does have to do with the fourth world war and an interplanetary battleship called a “war hog,” only this “hog” is also capable of time travel, which makes things kind of confusing.
We start out with our protagonist and a (more or less) sapient robot named a “Floyd” on the surface of a terraformed Moon thirty years into the war. The war hog has been destroyed and it looks like Commander Redux (although the highest rank he can ever remember is Sergeant) is just trying to survive. Then, through (apparently) a series of flashbacks, we see how Redux got into this mess in the first place, especially when a younger version of himself is put on trial by an older counterpart, and then the older Redux sacrifices his life so that the younger self can steal the war hog at an earlier point in history and try to fix whatever he got wrong.
The story is remarkably short. I went through it in just a few minutes, but that doesn’t mean comprehension is easy. The nameless protagonist is dying of radiation poisoning, but beyond that, the imagery is so hallucinatory, that it seems the poor fellow is already mad, stumbling across the multi-colored snow-covered countryside, body parts falling away like leaves, knowing his moments are numbered.
It’s also quite possible he’s become insane because he’s responsible for the cold fusion weapon that has destroyed, what? Everything?