The material in ttba is copyright © 1991 the contributors (Simon Arrowsmith, Matthew Freestone, Philippa Hogben, Siobhan Murphy, Simon Pick, Gareth Rees, Matthew Reid, Timothy Roddis, Paul Treadaway, Huw Walters and Robert Wilson). The material in this file may be freely copied for private enjoyment or research but may not be republished (e.g., in printed or CDROM versions), distributed in modified form, incorporated into other works, or quoted out of context without the express written permission of the copyright holder(s).
First of all I must apologise for the nonappearance of the last issue of ttba... or rather the appearance of it at the same time as this issue. This is not entirely the fault of the committee - somebody neglected to inform us that the Knox Shaw Room (where the squash was held) was actually four dimensional. The bag of magazines was taken to the squash for issuing to new members but someone accidently dropped it and it fell through the fourth dimension so we were unable to retrieve it.
This term saw (at last) the 1990 "Sorry I Forgot" Christmas Party. By all accounts, this was a very lavish affair with hundreds of people attending, excellent music, fun company and really wild things happening. Unfortunately, I had been banished to the cold wastes of Glasgow for the weekend (where admittedly, I did get to ride on the Glasgow underground) so I was not able to attend this extravaganza. However, I am reliably informed that it was an event not to have been missed with drink flowing like, er, wine, the band playing as if inspired and the acts providing the entertainment were actually good. The best of all, and most realistic I am told, was the impression done by the members of OUSFG of a wall. Of course, since I wasn't actually there, this could all be a load of fetid dingos' kidneys but I (and those of you who didn't turn up) will never know what did really happen. There will be another chance to be "in with the crowd" at the next Christmas Party to be held at around Easter time next year. More details will be circulated in due course (like, for example, when they have actually been decided).
While we are on the subject of next term I will just mention briefly the CUSFS Annual Dinner. This has suddenly become traditional after last year's success. It will be held at the end of February - further details to be decided later. If you are interested, speak to the Secretary. If you want to go to the Dinner, also speak to the Secretary (preferably after the start of next term).
There is a light at the end of every tunnel. However, the corollary is that every light is hidden at the end of a dark, gloomy tunnel. The bright lights of next term - that long distant time when you get to come back at Cambridge to meet up with your friends again, to have really wild parties and fun nights out... and to work your socks off to keep from drowning under the workload which "they" try to cram into a term so short you haven't time to blink - are therefore obscured by the dark gloomy tunnel of the Christmas period. While you are at home celebrating with your family, therefore, spare a thought for the discussions of next term. The discussions will be decided at the Anne McCaffrey discussion and will probably be announced sometime, somewhere shortly after that. If you can, then, please read one or two books from the chosen authors over the festive season and turn up next term to make an input to the discussions.
The discussions tend to feature the same old authors because they are the ones most people are likely to read. Perhaps it is time to introduce a new author. As Chairbeing, I have one or two favourite authors who I would like to see discussed. Unfortunately, I am the only person I know who has read one of these authors and only one of two people (in Cambridge) I know who has read the other. Under these conditions we would end up with a monologue rather than a discussion.
The first of these authors is Christopher Hinz. He has written a series of books based on a being with one consciousness inhabiting two bodies. These beings are known as Paratwa with the two bodies known as tways. The three books in this series are Liege Killer, The Paratwa and Ash Ock. The stories are set in a future in which the Earth is uninhabitable due to pollution and the human race lives in Colonies - vast space stations which orbit the Earth. The paratwa are highly trained physically and have very fast reflexes due to genetic engineering. They were usually employed as assassins in the recent past of the time of the story (i.e. just before humanity had to abandon the Earth) but were thought to have been wiped out when the Earth became uninhabitable. The people of the Colonies were, therefore, very rightly frightened of the prospect of a paratwa loose in the Colonies - imagine being hunted by something which can attack you from both sides at once with no need of communication between the tways because they are as much part of the same being as your left and right arms are part of you, which has super fast reflexes and which is absolutely ruthless with regard to its victim. Needless to say, at the start of the series a Paratwa is loose in the colonies... I found these books very gripping and almost impossible to put down. I am not much of a critic (one of my English teachers once said of me, "She reads for pleasure rather than analysis" which I think was supposed to be a derogatory remark) so I will not analyse these books and their characters in detail. I will just say that I found it very easy to identify with the main characters - Christopher Hinz made me want to know what was going to happen to them. The characters are not all as straightforward as they seem. I will not say more. Hopefully, the library will shortly possess a copy of this series. If there is sufficient interest we may have a discussion on this next term, or in the third term when people are (or should be) interested in revising and don't want to read a lot of books for a discussion.
The other author I would like to see discussed is James P. Hogan. He has written a series of three books - Inherit the Stars, The Gentle Giants of Ganymede and Giant's Star - and also some single books - Endgame Enigma, The Proteus Operation and others.
In the Giants series a spacesuited human body, several thousand years old, is found on the moon. The first two books are an account of the scientific investigation of the body and other, er, strange finds (I won't give too much away in case somebody out there does want to read them). The third book is more of a political intrigue resulting from what the first two books uncovered. Again, the books are very well written - I read the first two books years ago (borrowed from the library), wanted to read them again but had "lost" them, tried to track them down (but I couldn't be sure I'd remembered the title or author properly), eventually found them again and bought and reread them and found that they were every bit as good as I remembered. The excitement of the discoveries is well conveyed through the writing... but some of the science is a little dodgy. However, this does not detract from the stories.
Endgame Enigma is about a Soviet space station to which everybody thinks there is more than meets the eye. Two Americans are sent to investigate (disguised as journalists) and lo and behold they uncover something (it is obvious that they would otherwise it would have been a very short and boring story). If you want to find out what, read the book and try to work it out before it is revealed. Although it is clear that something isn't right with the Space station, it is by no means obvious what. It kept me guessing until the end and I would recommend it to anybody.
The other book of Hogan's that I have read is The Proteus Operation. It starts off in a world where Hilter won the Second World War and then proceeded to take over the rest of the world. At the start of the story (around about the 2000 A.D. mark - I can't remember exactly) only the U.S.A. is holding out against the Third Reich. A group of scientists is sent back in time to prevent Hitler winning WWII and discover that somebody else (from a different future) is helping Hitler's forces. They also discover it is impossible to change your own past. This book is definitely one to read and reread.
If anybody is interested in hearing anything more about these books (Hinz or Hogan) I will be pleased to tell them, or lend them my copies. I would recommend that people read any (or all) of them over the Christmas holiday. I would also like a discussion on one or both of these authors - and will suggest one if there is sufficient interest.
23 Feptembruar, Nachteen, Octrian
It has been three days since they exploded the charm bomb offplanet. They waited til their own ships were free of orbit and then detonated - now our fleet has been neutralised they can do roughly what they like in space. As the sun side shifted the whole of the planet was irradiated, even the Peace Squads in the arctic bunkers. The effects are noticeable already.
I hate my wife.
I watched her get up this morning. I lay in bed later than usual and followed her with my eyes as she got ready for the day. I'm amazed that I could have been married to her for three years in an apparently perfect semblance of happiness when it is quite obvious that we are basically unsuited to each other. It's not that she isn't pretty, because she is - peculiarly, now that her attraction for me has vanished I only realised this properly for the first time in perhaps two years. If it was simply a matter of looking at her as an ornament I would be content, but as it is there is no question of a relationship between two such badly matched egos - the abrasions close proximity entails with its petty intrusions and frictions would be too great. I cannot stand the woman, now all her winning ways have left her. It is obvious that she feels much the same about me. She watched me looking at her from the bed while she put on her skirt until she burst out,
"For God's sake stop watching me and do something, you're so bone idle. It's not as if you didn't snore enough last night while I didn't get a wink of sleep as usual. You know, I've wanted to tell you this for a long time - you know you plonk yourself into the middle of the bed at night and leave me to fend with the edges? I have to sleep round you, you're almost forcing me out of the bed. It's very difficult to get any rest at all."
I turned round on my front, so I wouldn't have to see her reproach me for lying there. It's none of her business when I get out of bed, I'll get up when I'm ready, when I feel like it. Work's not for almost an hour yet.
She really makes me cross sometimes, that woman. She just tells you to do things, as if she had a perfect right - I do not have to follow her orders. I didn't mind so much when she used to smile for me - I used to feel thrilled when I could please her. But since the charm bomb dropped I've had nothing but pursed mouths from her, and I've noticed more her occasional habit of looking sideways at you with the corners of her mouth turned down - a look of evaluation, as if she were weighing you for an idiot, and judging the value of her future on that score. She does it in quiet moments and to be honest it really gets me down.
Also there's her habit of telling you something quite obvious and expecting you not to know. I give up. a man can't go on giving and giving himself forever, he wants some acknowledgement once in a while, a promise that he is winning a return respect on his affections - not orders, snide looks and scorn, scorn, scorn. My wife has been selfish with me for too long, I am resolved to leave her. It's obvious one of us has to get out.
We breakfasted in silence. She cuts the crusts off her toast before she eats it and piles them on the side of the plate, a stupidly pointless habit which is beginning to irritate me. I could name dozens.
Work was no better. My boss is another woman whom I've had to put up with too long. She's older than me, coarse and heavy, and sarcastic. When I came in this morning she said, "Late again, eh, Rodriguez?" I was five minutes early, as she could see perfectly well by the office clock. "If this goes on we'll have to stop your pay." And then she gave a loud flat laugh and stared at me as if to challenge me to an answering joke. I couldn't hear any humour in it, and her mouth remained flat as the desk. All morning as I was trying to work she kept on interrupting me, passing comments or making pointless interjections which there was no benefit in acknowledging. I don't see why I should grudge her a smile, and I can make my own opinions about the world without her randomly pointing out its absurdities. I got back at her in the lunch break by sitting absolutely silent, and scowling stolidly at her when I finished my cheese roll.
We used to get on really well, and the hours passed pleasantly enough. I once even asked her back for dinner. She had a lively tongue behind her flat face, and used to amuse me by being far ruder than she should about her own superiors, about various bugbear politicians, about our status in the Settlements. Even now I'll still admit that she's a very intelligent woman (an intelligence which nowadays I can feel her turning on me, doubtless to my detriment). But the ease of her language has gone, and her good humour which made it bearable, and the hundred little snide flicks of the eye and turns of the nose and droll smiles which gave life and irony to her conversation. Then you could tell she meant less than she said. But to be honest, there's nothing really very clever to being rude about people, even in ways which they patently deserve, and when it goes on and on it ceases to be merely unnecessary and becomes downright malicious. My work is difficult enough to bear without it.
As the war has turned against us, the facts which I have to administer at work become more and more depressing. At least this isn't the fault of the charm bomb - but while everyone around me was still prepared to make an effort, while we were actively working with each other, it was much easier to endure. There was a certain comradeship in adversity, as assumption that if we all tried to pull together - and we did, we did - then we might be able to drag out a victory. This has all changed, and no one seems to give tuppence. Believe me, I would try so hard to do my bit to see us through if I only felt that the rest of the population would do the same, but now that I've had the chance to see how disagreeable they are, I don't doubt that most of our planet's people are motivated purely by selfish concerns. It's doubtless the same on Earth, but their selfishness has driven them together against us.
I work in the civil service, in Munitions and Supply. I'm fit enough to fight, but the number of spacemen we deploy is limited not by the number we can raise but rather by the number of ships we can get into space. There's none left on planet now and our factories have mostly been bombed with vibrators - it's emotionally impossible for anyone to enter them without heavy futility shielding. I'm in Weapons Coordinations anyhow. If we can get the materials together we can still construct large onplanet emplacements. We need something fast, since it's obvious to everyone that invasion can be only a few days away. Our great weapon is the Green Weasel Karma gun; it's effective, but it has its limitations. We had some success at the start of the war when we penetrated their shielding to devolutionise the crews of several large battleships into low karmic forms, entities far enough down the scale of enlightenment as to be unable to fulfil their own functions. Lacking knowledge of the gun's principles, the Terrans will almost certainly be unable to rehabilitate or reevolve such karmic casualties. But when we came to experiment with the gun's theoretical second facility, that of transferring the stolen karma to our own troopers, we hit problems: undeservedly passing on or `fencing' karma was such a low karma thing to do that for every karmic receiver who was transformed into a superman for our side, the weapon's operator - sensitised by proximity to the gun - would himself suffer karma loss and devolve, to apeman status or worse. There is nothing to be done with a gun's battery but store it out of the way where there's no danger of contamination - but even the best sealed battery permits a small leak, and there are rumours of the used karmafilled weapons slowly evolving into higher grades of gun. If this is true, we can only hope it will happen fast enough for them to be of some use to the war.
I shuffled figures around all day, keeping track of what the military had done. When I went home, my boss called out behind, "Had enough, eh, Rodriguez, can't take the pace in the sweat box?" There was more aggression than usual there; I'm sure she was trying to actually bully me into a response. I refuse to give in to this sort of verbal combat. As a catcall it was worthless anyway: it was properly my knockingoff time, and she'd be leaving in five minutes herself. I don't know what she was trying to prove, but it made me angry all the way home. Everyone was giving each other shifty looks on the monorail. There was no comfort from my wife. The dedicated creature hadn't done a stroke of work around the house, she "didn't see why she should lift a finger for a man who never does anything for her." The days are well past when I took a certain pride and comfort in being able to tolerate her laziness. She'd spent all day cutting up magazines with scissors to make ugly collages. It's good to see we've all got our parts to play in the war effort, eh? Not that I saw any point in telling her so. I just didn't say a word, I'm not going to be the one who provokes the arguments. I'd go out, but there's no point, there's nothing to do and none of my friends live in Mantarda. But now I come to think of it, they were mostly stupid people anyway.
24 Feptembruar, Nachteen, Octrian
The government newspaper came out today, so I paid my 20 pistoleros and got a copy. No mention of how badly the war was going; instead, all over the front page:
PLAGUE OF SUICIDESFurther on down I saw: `How can the people of Earth countenance their conduct? Don't they know that they have become murderers? We must redouble our efforts, we must not let the Terrans win a dirty victory.' Elsewhere in the paper the government Minister for Morals issued a thoroughgoing attack on the Earth tactics and several tracts demagoguically urging us to stick together. The essence of the story was that the charm bomb fallout was causing large numbers of people to commit suicide when they found their lives had suddenly become unendurable. Apparently, while I had been at work yesterday the body count had been huge: most of the suicides fairly public, mostly men, mostly in the midafternoon. To read the article, the pavements below tall buildings were becoming awkward places to stand. And from these circumstances the paper drew a fine moral indignation: that Earth was responsible for these deaths by the use of killer weaponry, that she had broken all the bounds of diplomacy, signed treaty and indeed morality, that she had succumbed to her ancient grasping agony in reverting to the bloodthirsty wars of past barbarian eras. What tripe! What rubbish! What use to castigate the people of Earth or to appeal to their better natures when the people of Earth do not receive `Los Corridos' and will never read the arguments which it shouts out on every page? War is war, let's face it, and we'd do the same to them. War is battle and there's nothing to be done, and we know the state of this war and there's little our minister for morals can say about that! It's nothing but journalistic swank. It's another sign that society is going to the dogs. The tension in the street is easy to feel - not that there are many people about, since it's wartime and everyone has their business, but I find myself increasingly irked by the simple annoyance of humanity: one man will have the violent sniffles, another a palpably low standard of personal hygiene and so on across the limited bustle. It's incredible to me that people don't have the basic decency to recognise and correct their little habits that make them so annoying. For a fact, the Government administration pool is entirely staffed by clerks and underlings who pick elastic matter from between their teeth to flick at people, vast insalubrious crowds of them. Pedro's such an unreasonable rotter! and I just used not to notice. What he has against me I don't know. I've had to give up conversing with him.
THIS HAS BECOME A WAR OF BLOOD
When I got back to the house in the evening I broke a rule and switched on the television. Annibal fatarse de Ammartino was explaining emergency social procedure in case of invasion. We can all do our bit by making ourselves over to surprise governmental orders, he says. What a sweaty greaseball! He sat and revved his mouth at the screen, it's plain that from the start he's done nothing but issue pronunciamentoes so we'll notice him. How we ever elected him in the first place I'll never know. The top button of his shirt was undone under his tie. It's obvious he'll never last another election.
I'm still thinking as if there'll be another election.
I have used my influence as a government administrator to get myself an egopistol. It's for selfdefence against the possibility of invasion. If Earth troops land and come at me there's a chance I'll be able to inflate the egos of enough to put them off from risking their necks in somebody else's contest - perhaps I'll then be able to get away. It's a shame I could only get an egopistol; I was hoping for something I could use on my wife if she pushes me any further: solve our problems once and for all. But the gun would be useless on her, her ego's big enough as it is.
One thought was in my mind all evening: invasion. What terrorweapon are the Earthmen going to launch against us? More bombs?
St Anna's day, 1st Dirzi, Nachteen, Octrian
When I woke up this morning, I found my wife had left me. So, now for good and all, that's the last thing at which I have failed: I saw I could not have it in me to make another person happy. We had had a blazing row when we both found ourselves awake at one o'clock in the morning. It started as a natural consequence, because each was so exasperated with the other we were looking for the slightest leeway in each other's behaviour to lay on a mountain of recrimination and hate. Hate? I suppose it came to that. She accused me of coldness, I retaliated by claiming her as arbitrary and we wore ourselves out with shouting. In the morning I found she simply wasn't there any more. I am miserable, yet flatly miserable as if I'd wasted a rainy day. It is curiously dull to see yourself as a human untouchable, a social failure, a solitary. I have to have something solid in my life!
I would die rather than seek comfort from my boss, and let's face it, there was nowhere else I could go. The world has nothing for me; very well, I shall have nothing for the world, it will only see my mask.
Where can I bleed out my passion now?
I would have found it tolerable to remain at home for the first time since the bomb; I would have exercised myself on those possessions of my wife which she left behind. I thought of smashing something as a personal demonstration. Where were my fine reserves of spite and malice? Where was the true turn of the love that had failed? I knew I could arouse it! But it was wartime, and I had to work even on holidays. When I left the house I walked quickly, to keep myself dull. It was better. I looked at the wellknown houses as I went by - how slowly we stride, men - and saw them as if for the first time. What went by behind their fronts? Nothing to match me!
How dare she! I thought on the monorail. I stared round at the other passengers. They were all stupid clods, with jelly eyes. I could hate humanity. Perhaps the Earthmen should just kill us all.
How dare she! I thought at work. I loved her! I did once, I trapped myself in a selfdeceit, an idealisation of this inferior, incomprehending character in the hope of some access to a joy all my reading had led me to theorise could exist. But to maintain that joy in marriage over such a period of time... It would have been all right if she had not been so basically irritating! Couldn't she see her own faults? I found an access to my hidden passion. All morning I simmered away, working faster and faster, shuffling my papers, pounding my keys in increasing violence to make mistake after mistake til lunch. I couldn't eat. `There's a purity in work,' I told myself, and didn't look at my boss. I could feel in my skin she wanted to hear the story, and she'd be a fool if she hadn't guessed. I analysed tables and drew up statistics and made ploys to shepherd the world's resources. How dare she! What right did she have to do this to me? She was in the wrong! Her slights, her ingratitude, her laziness, her insensitivity - I had a multitude of examples I longed to answer for to her face - all combined to wound me to the heart for her action. This woman I had set up to love! And I had intended to leave her! It was to have been my right, I was the one to make decisions, for once just for once it would have been me me me! Me to take the action! Me to demonstrate my power to her! I didn't have to cushion her slights, I had the force of love. And she had devastated me with the final weapon which I wanted to use. Christ! She had prepared for it for years, that was obvious, jabbing and crushing a path into me with scorn and indolence, making way for the final proof of my impotence. I banged my fists on the table. I didn't scream. These papers, this work, what was it to me? My lifesblood, that's what, not just paper printout, it was what I fed my mind on, the progress of the war. I exercised my will against it, watching the ebb and flow of statistics as they washed out their results, casting up the facts of our progress, and it was my work on those facts, my theories, my plans and recommendations, honest, which dictated the course of strategy, mens' lives, our success in war. The tide was against us, we had lost. I had failed yet again, and had to watch my failure as the resources dwindled and ground me down. I worked so hard! I put in all my effort and failed, failed, failed, impotent despite my sacred best which flailed in powerlessness against the great facts of insufficiency, destruction, failure. There was nothing! I had no success in war or wife! The world was horrible, its people ghastly, true true, I had nothing in my life, nothing in my core, I had worked for years and years and achieved a state of nothing. I was the failure. I was the death. I was unique in a dead world with people who did not deserve. Terra oppressed. What were my options? I swept my coffee cup from the table. I leapt to my feet, my chair catapulted out from behind. My boss had been startled when I banged my fists; appalled at my display she sat and watched me pant at her. What a bovine, murderous, brutish woman! At this moment, the invasion alarm went off.
It screamed like a bagful of orphans being whipped with chains. We both looked towards the ceiling, which was foolish as there was nothing to see. This was the end, and we were two administrators in an office. I ran to the door and dashed out.
The observation post! On the roof! If there was a threat, I could see it from there.
The lift hadn't worked since power had once been briefly diverted during a fire near the Houses of Government. I leapt for the stairwell and clattered up it, two and three at a time until a heavy object knocked me aside as it thumped its own way down. It was the peace guard from the roof observation post. I looked after him and for an instant he glanced back, his face like a stone cliff glowing with hidden blood. His mouth gaped and then he was gone, spooked away on his urgent destiny. What impelled him? I ran up the stairs again to see for myself.
The emergency exit to the roof was open and the man's post empty. There was nothing in the sky. There was no sound. This wasn't what I wanted: I seized the magniscope and focussed it where the man had swung it free in his panic. I looked around. Nothing. Across the city, was that a black dart I saw shoot from the sky to lose itself among low skyscrapers? Nothing. If this was an invasion, I told myself, it seemed to be one of invisible and rather harmless men. And then I saw Him.
I had swung the scope low to search the streets. They were empty, til I caught a running man, and then another, and then a score of people, all ages, all speeds, running for all they were worth in the same direction. My scope outpaced them all. Scatters became a knot, a smut, a choke, a pressing heaving crowd of humanflesh in the constricting streets all forcing towards one point, a point risen to with increasing frenzy, urgency, with clawing and - I could see their mouths move - screaming human beings, packed too tight now for violence, gasping, abandoned, trying in agony to climb upon one another, all reaching up for the same thing, all urgent for a part of, for the notice of one man, the man at the apex of the point, the who, the what? He was a shadow, then a presence, then in my eager eyes like a burst of light, he was the man, the man who swung low over the cloud on an antigravity surfboard with flashy jet nozzles, the prime dominant figure in the glittering blue spandex, his laser gun swung low at the hip, the stupid little plastic fins attached to his ankles and helmet glinting in the frosty light; he was the one, the only, the invasion from Earth - oh God, he was Beautiful. How can I describe a young god? His face in its mockGreek Space Marine's Combat Helmet was a chiselled statue turned to the light, acknowledging with grace and ease the plaudits of the crowd. One hand was waved in casual lethargy to the multitude, the sequined sleeve just falling half away to reveal a wrist and forearm of such clarity and firmness it took my breath away. His muscles breathed beneath his skintight jetsuit like the slow pulsing of an oiled machine, his poise was the perfect assurance of the perfect man. I would have died for the way he balanced his laser rifle over his shoulders with his other arm, thought intellectually I realised it was probably a plastic model with flashing red lights stuck to the side. His body was lithe and true. The man was the epitome of charm and grace, of wit and rightness and style, the one true thing - I could tell at a glance - in a world which had proved itself a woe, and I wanted to fuck him there and then, I wanted to fuck him now, I wanted to clear away all the other vagabonds from round his feet and worship him alone. The peace guard! My boss! They mustn't meet him! He was too fine a god to meet them, he was too charming to be wasted out on anyone but me! I broke eye contact with the scope, I turned and ran to the stairwell. I went down into my street to force my way into the crowd to welcome the Starship Sextrooper.
Excert from an editorial in `The Manchester International Echo', most widelyread newspaper on planet Earth:
"... a remarkable victory. Just three platoons of this innovative weapons system, unassisted, were able on several swoops to effect the surrender of Mantarda and provinces in the vicinity proved themselves willing to be subdued. A government official... has suggested that the whole planet may be reduced within three weeks. In sum, we may congratulate ourselves that the whole campaign is a tribute to the spirit of selfdenial, ingenuity and humanity which has always characterised the exploits of Terra. Never has a war been so cleanly or kindly won! Never has battle been so humanitarian! Truly the apex of civilisation is now..." (continues for three pages).
The rattle and hum
Of the monorail trains as
They run to the stars
Tolkien will always be described as the master of worldbuilding. However, he was able to devote a lifetime's work into the creation of Middle Earth, a vast amount of time and effort, in fact, when compared with the actual literary return. A modern author cannot afford to do this; not, at least, if they want to make a living from it. Yet the fantasy authors, at least, will have their work compared with Tolkien's, and they must come up with a few tricks if they do not want the comparison to be too unfavourable.
Many authors seem to suffer the delusion that their creation will appear more realistic if they carefully explain every nuance of its functioning. Unless they have produced a background on a truly enormous scale, as Tolkien did, then this will, in fact, have the reverse effect. Reality does not work like that - we do not know everything, know every place and every character. Reality has loose ends, and so must fiction if it is to be remotely convincing. Tolkien knew this, and left many aspects he had worked out unstated, and the work is all the more convincing for it. An author in the present day must indicate that something exists beyond the edges of their writing, even if they themselves do not know what it is. Guy Gavriel Kay appears to have been successful in this way in Tigana, whereas he rather failed at it in The Fionavar Tapestry. The sign of an improving author, perhaps? The same cannot be said of Stephen Donaldson's fantasy - which stands alongside Kay's as modern popular classics of the genre - which in fact appears to get worse from the point of view of overexplanation as the three series unfold. In the field of sf, Robert Silverberg pulls the trick quite beautifully in a number of books - for instance, A Time of Changes, which describes the interaction between a planetbound people and offworlders without once saying anything about what the actual offworld situation is. Brian Aldiss's Helliconia is another fine example of a totally plausible world; although, strangely, his portrayal of Earth is less convincing than that of Helliconia, to my mind, at least.
It is also tempting to put Frank Herbert's Dune series alongside these, but, on consideration, Arrakis itself is not very believable as a planet. It suffers, along with many fantasy worlds and the vast majority of sf planets, from being far to uniform over its surface. Think of the variety of climates and habitats on Earth, and compare it to the scifi clichés of Desert Planets and Ice Planets. Yes, if you have a planet with that sort of climactic extreme, it may well be all hot or all cold to a human, but it is still going to exhibit a great deal of variation over its surface. Far too few authors take this into account.
Even if the world itself is believable, the (human) society on it must still be viable for it to be convincing. An sf author can conveniently claim "trade with other planets", but this ducks the issue rather, unless they consider what other aspects of such a trade network might be. A fantasy world must be self contained, and all too often an author will carefully describe a world which cannot possibly sustain itself - it being far to tight and constricted. Donaldson's Land is a prime example of this; another, far worse, is Mike Jeffries' first trilogy, which appears to be set in a world which consists of five locations and the roads between them, and where half the population are soldiers. Quite how the economics of such a place work is unclear.
The author must, therefore, be very careful as to what is said, what is left unsaid, and what is hinted at. There is little point in a fantasy writer giving a carefully detailed explanation of the workings of magic in a particular world if it has no relevance to the main character - it would be far more convincing as an unexplained force. On the other hand, the impact of such magic on the society it exists in must also be considered if a plausible whole is to be generated. An sf author may wish to include a cunningly designed bit of ecosystem on a planet. Not only must it be consistent and workable, but the author must also be carefully not to give the impression that this is all there is - a set up that can be easily described in its totality in a novel is going to be too simple to be realistic. The world, the universe, is far to complicated a place for any author to create another. Fiction is like a window into these alternate realities - and the author must make sure not only that what we see is convincing, but also that we are aware that the frames are the edges of the tale, not the edges of the universe.
Bring me Romance
beyond the Moon
Bring me Passion
through the Vacuum
Where there's no gravity we can soothe our Secret Sorrow
Ingenuity! will be the WatchWord of Tomorrow
Love lights Longer
than the Stars
On the Shifting
sands of Mars
In immobile static Starshine in the Endless Up Above
bring me Romance
bring me Passion
Bring Me Love
Over 50% of Births NormalHe stopped reading, a quick glance at the headlines had told him that all the rest of the news was the normal pep talk, another few stories built on the top of the apartment blocks, a few hundred more people to be housed. He got into the lift and headed down to his work. When he arrived, he found an invitation on his computer. "David and Sasha cordially invite you to a house warming, and over half normal party. Arrive 7.00 for 7.30 dinner. Formal dress."
The revised figures for the last month show 51.2% of births were classified as normal by the board of inspectors. This is a 2 point improvement over last months record figures. The head of the board of inspectors said "This is very good news. The figures are showing steady improvement, and now this important milestone has been passed, we can only look towards greater improvements in the months to come."
He mailed his acceptance, and got to work. It was a quiet day, mostly controlling a remote on the endless task of overhauling the reactor that produced two thirds of the community's power.
When he returned home, he found a card copy of the invite. Very flash, he thought, and, after changing, set off to the party. It was up, a long way up, in one of the newest blocks of apartments. He had never been that high before. On arriving, he rang the doorbell. His hostess let him in. Most of the people there he recognized, at least from other parties, but there was one completely new face.
"If you would allow me to introduce you", said Sasha, leading him towards the stranger, "Peter, this is Joshua, Joshua this is Peter. Joshua is an artist. We commissioned a painting from him specially for the new apartment. He is very exclusive, only works when he feels the setting is right. This painting can't be moved from the apartment."
"I feel very strongly that the ambience makes, or breaks, a piece of art. I do not even allow them to repaint the walls without consulting me first. If you like, I will show it to you."
Peter was led into another room. The walls were white, with many paintings on them, representing a small fortune just in the canvas, leaving alone the waste of space.
On the wall opposite the door was the picture. It was large, about one and a half meters by a meter, and it depicted a shattered, dead landscape, as seen through very thick glass. Dust and ashes seemed to stir, no did stir, as if in a faint breeze. Beyond was a vista of grey ash, and grey snow, and grey clouds, backing up into the horizon. On the simple iron grey frame, written in neat black letters was `A Window onto the Shattered Land.'
Peter felt a shiver run down his spine. It was strangely horrible picture. "It's very disturbing, very good. How did you manage the effect?"
"Holography. A unit is embedded in the wall. The sequence takes a month to make its grand cycle, while random factors ensure that each repetition is slightly different. This is my first landscape using the technique, I normally do pictures of machinery, tubes, cables and rock, but I immediately saw that for this place, I was ready to face the challenge of a full blown landscape. The problems of getting realistic dust flurries are immense, but I view my greatest success to be in the storms. They don't come up very often, but to see one is an experience. As well as the actual projector, there is a large computer, dedicated to the production of the image, which is also embedded in the wall."
At that point Sasha entered. "Come on Joshua, there are other people who want to talk to you."
They left Peter alone in the room, staring at the picture, for a timeless five minutes, before he headed out to join the party.
He quickly fell into the comfortable routine of meeting old acquaintances, hearing all the new gossip. He was one of the friends, who had mostly arrived early, and he quietened down when the influential guests started to arrive. David was an executive, only a few ranks down from the top of the Geothermal Energy Resources Unit, who produced all the electricity that the reactor did not. Sasha was second from the top of information dispersal, one of the people who knew what was actually happening, not just the censored version. The people who were arriving then were all of similar influence, and Peter was quite grateful when the call came for dinner.
The first course was pleasant enough, and the white wine superb, maybe even made from grapes, but the main meal shocked Peter. Meat, real meat, from a cow, with the fat, and bones. The cost of meat from animals was huge, astronomical, as space was at a premium, and as feeding animals was such a waste of plant biomass. Peter had eaten a few vegetables, on special occasions, but mostly he lived, as did most of the population, on the product of the yeast and algal tanks.
At the end of the meal, after the traditional toast to the stars and stripes, the party moved back into the outer room. Like most of the others he was drunk, but he was still in control enough to just fade into the background, and to not embarrass himself.
He wandered back into the room with the picture, and contemplated its slight movements. His concentration was broken by the sounds of an argument from inside.
"Why will you not do me a picture? I am willing to pay twice, three times what these have paid. Just name a sum."
"I am sorry. I surveyed your apartment, and it is just not suitable for one of my works. I am an artist, and not to be bribed. I am hardly starving now am I?"
"If you refuse, I shall take it as a personal insult. I will have a Joshua Quail picture."
"If you want a Joshua Quail, you must change apartment. The whole atmosphere in your room is wrong."
"I will give you an entire room to work with. You can make it look just like this room. I will give you a free hand. You can create the atmosphere, but you must let me buy a picture."
"Philistine. It is not just a matter of paint and plaster, it is atmosphere. It takes me at least six months to do a picture, and if I am not happy with the setting, then I will be unhappy about the picture. I refuse to waste six months of my life for anyone, including you. I say again, if you want a picture of mine, you must move. I will look for a place I feel happy to accept a commission for, and then let you veto my choice. I create my pictures to go with places, and will allow you first refusal at the place with my next picture."
"I live in my rooms, and will not move for some prideful artist. I hope you realise who you are refusing this favour to. I am the head of the police. If you refuse, I will hound you. You will be observed every second of every minute of every day until you give in. If you so much as break the most petty statute, even on a mere technicality, I will call a court marshal on you. Think about it, and contact me within the week."
Peter heard the slamming of a door, and then shocked silence. He rejoined the crowd, but the mood was broken, and like most of the others he soon gave his apologies, and left. He could not cope with the highest echelons. All descended from the politicians and the military whose incompetence had forced them down here in the first place. Treat some African states as shit for just a bit too long, keep on thinking you're a superpower, and forget the great leveller. It evened off the sides all right, radiation so high that only a few insects and hardy plants had survived and still they called it a victory because we had these bunkers built, so a few of us survived. They didn't even have the decency to declare an end to the war. They said there was still a possibility of an attack from enemy bunkers or humans who had survived on the surface. It was just an excuse to stop those in power losing it. There may just have been a poor sick humanoid or two, in a sheltered valley somewhere, but noone who could think of attacking. When he got back to his room, Peter opened up his bottle of algae wine, and swigged it down at a great rate, ignoring the taste of synthetic grape flavouring. It was alcohol, and right now all he wanted was to slide down into the oblivion that alcohol offered.
He woke with a headache, and called in ill. By the afternoon he realised that he really was ill, still vomiting frequently. He staggered to the lift, and then along to the doctor, who told him that his system was probably just unable to cope with animal protein, and gave him a few pills and potions.
He felt well enough to go back to work the next day, but he wasn't going to waste the excuse, so he sat down in front of his terminal and loaded up a book. He found it difficult to concentrate, his mind kept slipping back to the party, and the picture. He sent messages to various friends, suggesting they meet up after work. He did not dare ask them what they knew directly over the computer, as he knew how closely that could be monitored, and he guessed that those directly concerned would not be happy to see him spreading gossip about them.
Things like that didn't happen at the parties of high ups, or at least not if you were talking to the lowlifes, the genetic resource bank, the mass of people whose sole job was to have sufficient babies to keep the system ticking over. Of course to have access to a computer meant that his friends were employed, and so at least that one huge step above the masses, but you still didn't say anything that put an executive down, at least not in public.
They met in a local recreation area, all pooling together to rent the small, empty room for a few hours. Peter's news was greeted with great interest, this was their favourite kind of gossip, but much to Peter's disappointment noone there could add anything.
It was not until two weeks later that he did find out anything new. He was sitting at his work terminal when he received a message from David asking him to come round immediately after work. He left ten minutes early, and hurried to the lifts. When he arrived, David answered his knock. "What do you want me for?" asked Peter.
"I've got to go out for a while, and I hoped you could stay here until I return. There are some workmen coming, I'm not quite sure when. You remember the argument at the party? Well Mr Bardon failed to get Joshua to put a picture in his apartments, so at last, he hit on the idea of buying mine. He got some lawyers to check the contract I made with Joshua, and they decided the clauses disallowing the movement of the painting are invalid, so I am legally allowed to sell the painting. Mr Bardon is giving me ten times what I paid for it, and taking on all the costs of moving it, and repairing the room."
Peter stepped into the apartment, and into the room with the picture. The paintings were gone, and dust sheets covered the empty walls. The picture was showing a light fall of dirty grey snow, each flake twisting and spiralling downwards to add imperceptibly to the drift that was already there.
He grow absorbed in watching the flakes. He found himself hypnotised by them, watching them closely to see if he could discern the hidden algorithms that controlled their tortuous paths.
He heard a key turn in the outer door, and he turned to see two men in mechanic's overalls, and a man he recognized from the party.
"You would be Mr Bardon I presume. David asked me to stay and let you in."
"As you see, I have no need of you," Mr Bardon replied, holding up a ring of keys, "but tell David I appreciate the thought. It is a beautiful picture, isn't it?"
"I wouldn't exactly say beautiful," replied Peter, "but fascinating, and wonderful."
"Yes, it is worth every penny of the expense, and more." and with that he turned and signaled to the workmen.
The two onlookers watched the workmen, and the picture for about half an hour. They said nothing, and the only sound was the buzz of the powersaw, and the reverberation of the chisel as the workman cut a ten centimetre deep grove through plaster and lead in a square, about a half a meter out from the picture, but reaching down to the floor.
"Nearly finished now. I should be breaking through the wall about now," said one of the workman, switching on his powersaw again, "We'll cut away the sides first, then the bottom, and finally swing the whole thing down from the top. Then we apologise to the owner of the apartment on the other side of this wall."
The layer of lead was cut through, and the saw started to move easily through plaster. And then there was a sudden chill in the room. Peter looked at the picture to see it showing white dust, spraying out form some source closer to them than could be seen, and then a smell of metal, and smoke, and a deadly cold.
On its surface lived hordes of green, bugeyed creatures. All intelligent, of course. They spoke a language, were aware of themselves and what they were, and had a reassuringly short word to describe the planet on which they lived. They didn't worship the sun, or, indeed, any other strange idol. In fact, given a fairly loose definition of the word, they could be considered to be people. They peopled this planet, had done for a couple of million years and had an odd sort of belief that they always would.
The flora and fauna was, in general, a pleasant shade of a deep red; ruby grasses covering the floor of the planet. There used to be more of this plant life, but the creatures removed much of it. Of course, there was a section of the community who claimed this to be unwise, but nobody listened to them, nobody wanted to.
Centuries before these people, their forefathers had walked this scarlet planet. Great people who had built great civilisations. However, given enough time, each civilisation would collapse. Some were too expansionist, some too insular and others were just superceded by somebody else's rather bigger brand of `civilisation'. The only thing they had in common was a basic inability to last the centuries intact.
In other words, these people made their mistakes, just like any other people, and given half a chance would muck anything up.
And now, they had their `peak' of civilisation. Or civilisations, each with their own idea of the others.
In the main, the problem was simple. There were three superpowers. While any two could be trusted to just about come up with a compromise the other would be inclined to disagree. War was a constant threat.
Life went on. The people built their supermarkets, occasionally they would dig up the remains of their past and let the archaeologists have a look at it, before pouring in the concrete. The buildings gradually grew bigger.
Sooner or later, somebody decided to build a really tall building. This was not because they particularly needed a tall building, nor was it because tall buildings were considered to be at all elegant. This was merely for the sake of constructing a really tall building.
The thing about really tall buildings is that they require really deep foundations. This building was to be built with underground vehicle storage facilities and to be connected to the local subterranean travel system. Added to which it was going to be the tallest building on the planet, its foundations would have to be pretty deep. It was an adventurous development prospect and investors were cautious.
The digging began. The area in which the building was to be built was an infertile one and few remains of their ancient forbears existed there. Without difficulty the digging progressed through to the early eras of their evolution and the inert rocks that now represented that age.
It had been a long day and none of the workers wondered at the hard, flat surfaced white rock they now dug through. Indeed very few commented on the black, sticky gravel beneath and to the side. Even had they spoken, the drilling would have drowned their voices. No, it was not until they discovered the large, contorted knots of iron rods, that anyone called the archaeologists.
The geologists had confirmed that it was approximately ten million years old, the sedimentary rock that had covered the discovery. Nobody could have planted it there, it was all genuine. Now it was up to the archaeologists to explain it all.
It had been an old civilisation, struck by disaster, a comet, perhaps, a famine, sunspots. A few surviving artifacts littered the area. And it was those remnants that suggested something which the new people of the planet could not face up to: they had not been the first to populate this planet. There was horror at first, followed by indignation; afterwards a quest for greater understanding.
A lot of what survived was in the form of circular discs, recognisably plastic, but with beautiful spectra spread across their diameter.
Frighteningly, they had perished despite their apparently superior technology. For years the use of the strangest artifacts was discussed, but when the script was deciphered, they discovered the word `laser'.
It took months of work before it was realised that there were noises recorded on some of the discs. Many of the others showed a regular pattern too, but that took longer to figure out.
The creatures had television, there'd been an outcry at first, then mutterings about the loss of the great art of conversation. After that there were just the families staring, mesmerised by the set.
The news was hardly pleasant viewing, always a partisan discussion on the inevitability of planetwide warfare. Most people watched the other side.
The contents of the unexplained discs were discovered only weeks later.
They had not been the first to invent TV. It had been done differently by their predecessors, but it was soon worked out.
Then they found the box: `Final Message' read the battered label. The box was military standard, and very strong. Inside lay one silver coloured disc, heavily padded against time and tide.
There had been three sides in the end: America, Europe and Japan. Diplomacy had been difficult, if not impossible. Two sides could be made to agree, but not three.
For years now, only deadlock.
But the Europeans were comparatively isolated from America and Japan. They formulated a plan. They would send a nuclear missile from Japan to America. Then, later, they would send another in the reverse direction. The two side would retaliate, and Europe would escape, able to clean its wounds and continue life.
They had it all worked out.
For days the Americans and Japanese had done nothing. They hadn't like the idea of being under fire, but one missile caused only a little damage, hardly more than the border incidents. That wasn't the whole story, however, something had gone wrong. No order had been issued by the high commands. No missile should have been fired. The Generals should have been aware long before they were awoken by the sound of the alerts.
The fact is, neither side wished to see the apocalypse. When the damage was calculated the discovery of the Europeans' bomb design trademarks lead them to vent their anger against the true perpetrators.
The Europeans had, to say the least, been caught by surprise. The military units had been recalled, obediently they had returned to their bases. The state was in mild disarray, security lax, expecting their enemies' communication lines to have been broken.
When a bomb went off in the European capital, it was the Americans who claimed responsibility.
This made the Japanese, caught out twice, look impotent. Hastily they too took their revenge. They fired two missiles at Europe, not to be outdone by the Americans.
To the Americans, who had always been a little trigger happy, the Japanese missiles mistakenly directed over their airspace were a declaration of war.
There followed a hazy patch of history where time ran fast then slow, then fast once more; with the planet crippled, the last remaining bunker recorded the `Final Message'.
There were three green bugeyed creature superpowers. Their names are rather hard to pronounce. Call them A, B and C.
B was comparatively isolated from A and C. They formulated a plan.
They had it all worked out.
At five hundred miles out, it's still hard to think of the Earth as a sphere; it fills over 120! of the view. On a good day you can see elephants in Africa, just patches of grey against the ground. When I passed over North Brazil, I could see the Amazon glinting in the forest; nature had reclaimed its own after the fallout. I thought about last night's party.
Anna would come back to me eventually. She always had, anyway. I just wished she'd be a bit more discreet about it. Okay, you can't keep a secret for long on a station like ours; it's just too small (there are plans for much larger habitats at some of the Lagrange points, but that's several years off; besides, I like the view here). She just needed time and she'd get bored with Dimitri, or he'd be transferred somewhere. Sometimes I could happily strangle her, but I knew I'd forgive her, and we'd be happy until the next time, in a week, or a month, or a year.
I knew that I wouldn't return 'til I could look at her without shouting. That might be some time yet, so I doublechecked the safety readings and switched out.
I'm at a base on one of the poles, before the war. Someone's discovered a huge spaceship under the ice, and they're digging it up. I've been through all this before, but I'm just an observer here. I know what's going to happen, but I can't stop it; I wouldn't want to.
It's The Thing from Another World (the 1951 black and white version, not the 1982 remake), and one of my favourites. Howard Hawks' protege Christian Nyby directs.
The film ended. When the last of the credits had rolled up behind my eyes, I switched back. Undoing the safety web, I floated up out of the chair, reached for one of the grabhandles and propelled myself back towards the airlock.
Immersed in the routines and safety checks of vacuum drill, I climbed into one of the suits in the rack, and stepped into the airlock chamber. A short code tapped on the keypad started the purge cycle, and the outer doors opened. I snapped my static line to the ring at the edge of the lock, and stepped out into the night sky. I couldn't see the Earth from here, and the suit's filters cut in to shield me from the sun's glare.
When I was a kid, I used to go diving in the summer. I remember carrying the equipment down to the boat, sweating in my wetsuit while we went out to the site. I remember all the safety procedures we had to go through. But when I got my head in the water it was a totally different world, filled with exotic fishes and fantastic seaweed, and I thought I could see for miles. Space is like that. Shaking my head in amusement, as I always do, I let go of the ring and walked across the shuttle's hull to the comm dish.
Immersion technology is great for watching movies. You can't feel your body, so you can devote all your attention to the film. Better yet, you can see all of the screen at once. It's as if it's mapped straight onto the retina; you can focus on whatever bit you want. The trouble is, I just love watching films, and noone's making them any more. I've got thousands in my personal library, but they're all prewar. Noone else understands, not even Anna. Especially not Anna.
An hour later, when I'd realigned the dish, I went inside and took the shuttle back to the habitat. They should have returned with the preliminary results by now; after all, I'd been away for fourteen hours.
Whatever it was, it had a cometary orbit. It wouldn't visit the sun again for a hundred and ten years, and was skimming the Earth on its way in. Very convenient, that. I'd advised caution at the open meeting, but friend Dimitri was all for investigating. He'd discovered it, after all.
The trip was scheduled for early this morning. As I approached the station, I could see the other shuttle in its docking bay. It had probably been back for hours. I opened the comm link with the station to request docking permission. Rat was on duty. We call him that 'cause he brought his pet rat up last trip; it died. "Hi Rat. Can I come in please?" Running joke: he'd say no, I'd ignore him.
"Docking permission granted. Approach when ready."
"Hey, Rat! It's me, yeah?" Weird. Shrugging, I closed the link and guided the shuttle onto the docking interface. When the airlock doors opened, I pushed off into the sterile maintenance area and went through decontamination.
I didn't really want to see anyone right now; least of all Anna, who nearly collided with me in the corridor. "Good morning Jon. I hope you had a safe trip." I just stared at her, then kicked off towards my room in shock. What was the woman trying to do to me? She called after me. "There's a meeting this evening to discuss the explorer. Come to the mess at 1800." The explorer? This should be interesting.
I took a shower and some sleep, then went to the mess. Surprisingly, nearly everyone was there, and on time. I did a quick head count: twenty six, almost the entire crew. Most from the Japanese Archipelagate, a few from Asia. I got a coffee and clipped myself to the wall by the door, watching the rows of placid crew members. In fact, the only person in the room who showed the least sign of animation was friend Dimitri. His eyes kept flicking my way, as if trying to gauge my reaction to the scene.
"The explorer is the most important thing that has happened to our race to date," he said. "While it's still near the sun, we must devote as many resources as possible to studying it. Of course, the demolition project must be finished in time but," looking at me now, "I think we can rely on you and Anna to do that?" I gave him a brief nod, unsure of his motive.
"What we saw was incredible; the explorer is obviously of intelligent design, and the fact that it's come so close to Earth can only mean that we were meant to find it. I believe that if we spend enough time studying it, we'll discover something wonderful. The vessel alone could advance our construction sciences by decades, and who knows what lies beyond the hull?"
I looked over the sea of faces in the room. Those that I could see seemed totally lifeless, just staring at Dimitri. He had them in the palm of his hand, and I knew that whatever he suggested, they would do without hesitation. Disgusted, I unclipped myself and swung round into the corridor.
Anna followed. She caught up with me at a corridor node. Strange how we only seemed to meet in corridors. Probably something philosophical there, I thought. "Dimitri said we should finish the demolition. I'll see you in maintenance at 1900." I started to reply, but she'd already kicked off in the other direction.
Only when the station was disappearing behind us did I turn round and look at her. We were on our way to an American recon satellite. We'd seen it's orbit gradually decay, as it dipped in and out of the atmosphere, slower each time. It was on an equatorial orbit like ours, but a lot lower; we thought it would come to Earth somewhere in Africa. When we'd stripped it of useful equipment, we'd blow it up.
"I guess I should apologise, Jon; I've probably been acting quite strangely today. It's just this explorer thing; if it's everything Dimitri says it is, our lives are going to be changed forever." She looked at me in excitement and wideeyed innocence. It worked every time. Nearly every time. I remembered that same zeal in Dimitri's voice, and turned away.
We'd been working on the satellite for three days now, and we'd taken out most of the useful equipment. There were just the storage cells and the military stuff left now. We weren't going to touch the latter; who knew what safeguards they'd put into it? The Americans were paranoid even before the war. Besides, who was there to blow up these days?
We were approaching the satellite. It hung against the stars like a fly in amber; its solar panel wings still spread to catch the sun. There was no compatible docking interface (the war was nearly fifty years ago, after all), so we had to leave the shuttle some distance away and go across in suits. We both suited up and entered the airlock. It was odd, being so close but unable to touch.
Halfway across, I made my move. I'd suspected for a long time, but seeing her closeup in the shuttle confirmed my fears. I grabbed the other line and tugged hard to disorient her, but she recovered more quickly than I'd thought, and whipped round to fight.
Killing someone in a modern vacuum suit is harder than you might think. There are no dangling cables to catch on jagged edges, no easily accessible controls to regulate airflow. The visor is made of toughened plastic, hard enough to deflect small meteorites without cracking. We must have made an odd couple, feverishly embracing under the stars.
Over her shoulder, I noticed the end of her safety line floating away. It must have got cut or disconnected during the struggle. I whipped her round suddenly, and hit the quickrelease catches on her fuel packs, throwing them away from me. She managed to twist round again, her visor brought suddenly next to mine. As I brought my legs up and kicked out, I could see the eyes dilate in shock. Alien eyes. With the last fuel in her system, she managed to right herself, facing me. Then the jets died out, and she silently sped away, towards the atmosphere. Waving.
The intersuit comm crackled to life. "Jon? I suppose you've guessed by now. I'm not the same Anna you knew. I am Anna, though; I've regained many of her memories, her feelings. It's odd. I've known you for half my life, but I only met you today. Do you find that odd? I do.
"The others wanted to kill you when you were sleeping, but I wouldn't let them. I wanted to talk to you before you died, so I was going to kill you on the trip back to the station. You probably realise we have plans for the rest of your race, but you can't possibly know what joy it is to be one of us. Your memories will be intact, you know; nothing is lost."
She was almost lost to sight now. All I could see was a faint spark against the Indian Ocean. After a long pause, "I love you Jon. I always have. It's why I'm giving you a choice of deaths. You can either stay in the satellite and wait for them to get you, or you can go back to our shuttle. I've programmed it to destruct when I die, which shouldn't be too long now. You can still talk to me from there. Won't it be wonderful to die together?"
By this time, I'd managed to control my situation, and was floating near the shuttle. Frantically, I jetted back to the airlock and hit the cycle code. If I could stop the destruct sequence, I could still make it back to Earth. I typed a query in the shuttle's main computer terminal.
INFORMATION ON DESTRUCT SEQUENCE?
SEQUENCE INITIATED. DESTRUCTION WILL OCCUR ON TERMINATION OF
INFORMATION ON TERMINATION OF SEQUENCE?
SEQUENCE IS IRREVERSIBLE. IDENTIFICATION MADE BY RETINAL
Oh shit. The shuttle's comm opened. "Are you there, Jon? Tell me something before I die. How did you know? Why were you so sure?"
"Anna had a tattoo behind her left ear since she was nineteen. Remember how she had it done on her birthday, and regretted it? You probably didn't notice it, so you didn't grow one." I remembered the sight of her smooth skull as she sat in this very seat. "Hell, you're probably a virgin again. Ha!"
"I'm dying, Jon; I'm starting to enter the atmosphere. Are you still there?" No I bloody well wasn't. I was fastening the seals on my suit helmet and getting back into the airlock. I hit the emergency purge code on the keypad and the outer door blew off, ejecting me into space on a plume of wasted air. "Goodbye, Jon." The shuttle exploded behind me, shooting fragments in all directions.
I reckoned I was safe until the satellite came round the curve of the Earth, within sight of the station. I had about thirty minutes. It took most of that to persuade the satellite computer to realign the main laser.
In the last decades before the war, the Americans had built a working prototype for their strategic defense initiative project. The idea was to blow ICBMs out of the sky as they fell to Earth. What they weren't letting on was that it was a manned satellite, with accommodation for four crew members. There was no air left in it; time and meteorites had seen to that. There had been one escape capsule, but that was gone. I had no idea if the crew had made it; I didn't really care.
Once I'd got past the protection levels, it was trivial to adjust the control system. The station was an easy target when it got past the lens of the Earth's atmosphere. The laser used the stored energy from decades of solar panel collection, on the station's power source. It seemed a trifle melodramatic, but the explosions above would serve as a warning to the whole race.
I took stock of my situation. I had a couple of hours of air left, who knew how much time 'til the satellite's orbit finally decayed. I had only the communication gear in my suit, so anyone I could contact was out of range. I was dead, basically. Nothing I could do.
No, damn it! There was still something I could do. The explosives were in place around the satellite; we'd been setting them up while we stripped it. I set all the timers inside and out, then waited. I was gazing out at the planet when a sudden memory came to me. If I was going to die, at least I could go out in style.
It's at the end of John Carpenter's Dark Star. There's this guy whose ship's been blown up by a stubborn bomb, so he surfs into the atmosphere on this bit of debris. End of film. Credits. Great stuff. I went outside and cut away one of the solar panel segments. My boots stuck to the metal sheeting, and I crouched down to give my jets a centre of mass. After a good burn, I was shooting away from the satellite and I could stand up.
It's wonderfully quiet out here. I don't know if I'll even notice when the satellite explodes. I haven't seen any debris yet.
Lenny flicked the switch and gasped as the sheer green silk letters stung out from the monitor display. Plunging in the Net! The skin of his forebrain all that held him between sanity and information apocalypse - the danger was the highest when his fingers tapped the keys. They felt electric. What would he write? He hunched over the console and began.
Lenny flicked the switch and gasped with the hit as the green glowing glory of computer words lit up his retinas with its flare. Great gorgeous visions of insanities made concrete gaped out from unfinished dusty dream stock. Semistories made pseudoflesh, unfinished Frankenstein creations pawing in a nowhere flux! He was ready to pour his sense into the net, to glory in the vision uniquely his. What would he write? He slouched back in his chair, relaxed like the hunter he was, and began.
Lenny flicked the switch. He was no mere typewriter jock, him, he was the Keyboard King, his easy fingers playing out men's dreams. Creation poured from him with all the extravagance of light, he threw his soul into the machine and never tired of the throwing: "This is the stuff to give them," he said, as his impossible, individual visions crowded up to choke him in his own heady splendour. He spat out words as if they were green neon teeth and his own creativity had punched him in the mouth. What would he write? He licked his lips in happy expectation and began.
What was hackspace? Hackspace was the integral space between the computer hack and screen, the swirl of the imagination chaos in which all forms - if so programmed - could take place. Mens' dreams became virtual reality in the matrix of their own minds, and hackspace had the pulpware to programme those dreams. It was mental domination. In the deep mind chasms between the typing of the words and their settlement on the monitor's green permanence, all possible worlds took place; the hack was master of fate and knew it, dictating his own future to impress it on his readers, surfing on the vicarious surge of his own secret dreams - his own beliefs in his true nature. That was the trap of hackspace for the jockeys: a computer monitor's not a mirror, it's a pit, and you pour in what you want and surf the flow, living in it, all the way down to the depths. Lenny knew this, but he was Keyboard Kaiser, his dextrous digits doing the rhumba over the taptaptapspace, sexy Venus prose, forgetting for a while the gross necessities of existence. He flicked the switch and began.
Lenny was silent in his office, pulling the strands of a world plot invisibly together, suave and still in his assured mastery. The phone rang: a deal to make. Big bucks span big wheels. He picked it up - a moment, two, three passed and poured together into minutes as details were filled in. Precise, Lenny put it down again. "Take a letter, Miss Stavely," he said. "To General Arminguez in Brazil." Miss Stavely ripped her glasses off and swung her stunning legs over the desk. "What did you want me to take, big boy?"
Lenny was running like a stallion through the hot jungle, over and through the impediment of undergrowth, crashing past the monstrous vegetation which flapped against him like the obscene tentacles of some gross anemone. He was being chased. His karma gun was in his hand and ready, but there was no telling its efficiency and he'd rather not face the bad guys when they knew their stuff. They had the Gortroopers on his trim tail: the toughest, sweatiest hombres in the known universe and then some stars, the ones who could burn you beyond death. But he was fast and slick, they wouldn't catch Mean Len without tasting their own fear burn. He dodged behind a banyan, flicked the switch of the slim karma gun, and when he clocked their whiteeyes he began.
Lenny rode his white palatino horse into Fractious Person's Gulch, sloping easy in the moulded saddle, leering the guts out of the cosy dull townies who dared look up from their knownothing one(dirt)track confidence. He was the spookrider who shot the villains in Byronic inconsequentiality, the mad bad groover who was too stoned on the prairie heat in apocalypse burnblown dust to acknowledge the love of the good woman which kept him running through the driftgrass, wind flowing for him like it never had before. He was the hero without spurs, dead legend of the West, and there he burst out forever against the wide rolling prairy. He flipped his switch 'gainst the horse's side and the gallop began.
"So tell me about hackspace," said Sir William to the jiving assassin, the death fate hunter who lent meaning to his kills throughout all oblivion. "It's easy, Sir William," he laughed, leaneyed, and popped pills into his hollow cheeks to rattle their fever dreams in his burntout forebrain. "Hackspace sets up a conceptual world which the user - the `reader', as we call him - can access any time, a world of purest realityclean happenings where the image spins out in eternal possibility for ever and ever. This data is contained on a durable hard copy we call paper, whose information can be interfaced up to twenty, forty, a hundred years after the initial programming. Hackspace is the enduring brain vomit that'll draw in men's minds for generations. They'll play forever." "Hot dog," said Sir William. "Can you provide this medium for me in quantity?" "Can I ever?"
Lenny, hackjock, demon assassin, apocalyptic fictioneer, set up to burn the world. He had the jazz control to dreams, he'd won the deathfate oblivion sex biz mastery which gave him dominance of humanity in forever. He flicked the switch and began.
They burst into the computer room the next morning. Lenny was immobile before the stillglowing monitor, grotesquely twisted, quite dead. Someone had shoved his head up his own backside. There was nothing they could do. Hackspace had claimed its own. End.
It was an evil thing, with sharp little bones sewn into the tip; he told me they were human. I suppose he must have hated himself that first time. He would have sent me away if there were anywhere I could go, but my mother was dead before I was two, and there was noone else. Perhaps if he'd ever left any marks, someone would have noticed and done something. I used to dream of breaking into that desk and stealing the whip; I'd cut it up into little pieces with the garden shears, or fling it on the bonfire where it belonged.
Perversely, I treasure those first memories best from all my childhood. They remind me of how far I've come.
As the months passed, it became a ritual for him. Although it hurt more every time than I remembered, I became used to it in my own way. Don't misunderstand me, I never enjoyed it; I'm not some sort of sicko like my father.
I started to retreat into myself at even the mention of pain. It was a natural defense, and I don't think he really noticed; he was far too absorbed in it to see anybody but himself. I learned to construct a tough cocoon around my inner self. It still hurt as much as ever, but somehow it didn't seem to matter as much; the humiliation had gone.
One day, I got hold of the key to the desk drawer. My father came home worse than usual, collapsed into a chair and fell asleep, snoring loudly. He always kept the key on a chain round his neck; I was sure I'd waken him, but somehow I managed to remove the chain and creep to the desk. It was then that I realised there was no whip; it was a thing of the mind, born of the bitterness of failure and selfdisgust.
My plans of revenge didn't stop, though; they just got more violent. I used to lie awake at night, thinking of new and more painful ways to kill my father. When I finally slept, I would dream of vampires...
Forever I wander the gloomy halls of this twilight place, fixed between the lands of day and night. The highup windows have never let in sunlight, if it exists here (I used to think I remembered the sun; perhaps I only dreamed it). I saw the outside once; in one of the attics, there's a window with loose boards. If you pry one away there's a view of the moor, stretching away to the horizon, and far beyond for all I know.
I'm not alone in this place; I can hear the screams echo in the drafty corridors, in the darker gloom that passes for night. I even saw a hand once, human I think. It was on a chopping board in one of the kitchens, a cleaver lying bloodied next to it; hunter and prey in the same grave. But I've never seen a single person in all the time I've been here (how long is that now?).
At night, I hide in the cellars; one of them is filled with oversized chairs and tables, a manmade forest of turned wood. I have a nest at the back, with a blanket and a cache of food. If the vampires come for me there, I've always thought, I'll have a handy supply of stakes.
When I first went away to school, they could sense the loneliness, the gulf of separation between us, even with their untrained psyches. Naturally, being children, they taunted me without mercy. I suppose I have my father to thank for the training he'd unwittingly given me, and I withdrew when the taunting began. Even the sharpest of their attacks bounced off the hard exterior of my shell. When they could see that I just didn't care, they left me alone. I never made any friends though.
I hated church, too. I can vividly remember sitting on some hard, uncomfortable bench in itching best trousers, watching the vicar with his bright robes and shock haircut. The whole school had to go every Sunday, to listen to that evangelical asshole. One day I let my guard slip, and some of my plans for my father's death slipped out. I think I've already mentioned the vicar's power; he picked me out of the crowd right then, branded me a sinner before the whole school. I can still recall his eyes drilling straight into my brain, and his accusation reverberating there.
Eventually I passed through school with reasonable success; not too high, not too low. It's been said that school days are the best days of your life; that's not entirely true for me, but at least I was away from my father.
During the day, I scavenge for food. It means rushing quickly through the huge kitchens, head down to avoid seeing the meat hooks, swinging in some breeze as if hungry for flesh. The lofty rooms seem somehow claustrophobic with the smell of hanging game, and I can hear the scurrying of rats in the walls.
In the larders I can usually find something worth eating: maybe a lump of cheese or hard bread, if I'm lucky a stale pie. Some sour milk perhaps. I don't know who stocks the larders; maybe the vampires, fattening up their prey. I've never seen any of them.
There's something curious and vaguely frightening about this place: the dimensions are all wrong. I'm fairly sure the vampires are about our size, so they didn't build it unless they actually like feeling dwarfed by doorways (which I wouldn't put past them). I want to know what's going to happen when the giants come back.
When I finally came home at 16, she had moved in with my father, so I left for the city. Of course, it wasn't the communal hive of mental unity that government propaganda claimed; I'd never expected that. But it did take me in, find a place for me. I'm grateful for this.
I travelled by night, walking in shadows. I took what work came my way, but mostly I sifted what the rich discard. It's incredible what people throw away if it isn't perfect: I've found some designer mirrorshades, a leather jacket with a ripped sleeve, a single silver earring (part of a matched pair, I assume); a bird of prey, about to strike. I've had one ear pierced for it; they call me Hawk now.
I refuse to join one of the gangs; I've always worked better on my own, and I don't like taking orders. Besides, I can look after myself. If I sense people coming, I hide inside myself, reflecting what they expect to see. The other denizens of the underworld see one of their own, and let me pass. The cops (when they venture this far into the city) see a citizen hurrying home after dark.
It's only a surface deception, of course. I can fit in anywhere, but never feel at home. It might help if I knew what home was like.
My cellar isn't safe any more. I found a girl under my blanket there last week; she was shivering and very pale. I didn't know whether she was human or vampire, so I fled. I don't know how long I can last. I haven't eaten well for days; my strength is fading. I haven't been able to sleep, either; they're after me now, and nowhere is safe to rest.
Yesterday, I crept back to my cellar (empty now, thank God), and equipped myself with a supply of food and a bundle of chair legs with sharp, ragged ends. I've decided to keep on the move; it's safest that way, 'cause they won't be able to lay traps.
They've found me at last. I woke from a fitful sleep in some cupboard, to hear them padding the bare floor outside. Panicking, I burst out into the room and dove through a gap for the door.
I can hear them padding behind me now, in a surreal nightmare chase through dusty corridors and forgotten halls. All I can remember are vague fragments: pounding through an empty ballroom, flying up a baroque staircase, wrenching open heavy doors.
Both ends of this passage are blocked off now; there's no escape. I wander into a bedroom and collapse onto a decaying four poster, curled up in shock. She climbs between the heavy drapes, and straddles me, eyes dilated from the hunt. The last thing I recognise before the sharp teeth descend on my throat is the familiar pale skin, almost translucent in the moonlight.
There is such power in this form, such freedom. I can track my prey by smell alone; I could do it blindfolded. And then the kill. What joy there is in the sharp tang of fear on the breeze, the warm flow of lifeblood as I sink my teeth into smooth flesh...
I wake from my recurrent dream (no longer frightening now) to see them. The pale one bends over me, her teeth glinting in the moonlight. I slowly rise from the gutter, to accept her cold embrace. I feel something strange: a sense of belonging.
The publication of the massive short story collection Maps in a Mirror gives ample opportunity for consideration is this questions, and there's plenty of evidence for both points of view. Now, when I say `massive', I mean it. Maps in a Mirror consists of nearly 700 pages of closeprinted text, and with the exception of the Worthing/Capitol stories (collected in The Worthing Saga) and the Mormon stories in The Folk of the Fringe, the 46 stories here represent all of Card's short fiction so far, or at least all that he is willing to see reprinted. This is a collection that deserves careful savouring.
Seeing these stories together stresses the theme that is most noticeable in Card's writing, the pain and mutilation (emotional and physical) of his characters.
Card deprecates the tendency in the horror genre towards the graphic portrayal of violence and claims, "I don't write horror". Yet we have `Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory' (man tormented by malformed children who seem to be exteriorisations of his evil character), `Fat Farm' (hedonist becomes grossly fat, has himself copied to a new, thin body, leaving his old self to be tortured back to thinness), `Closing the Timelid' (when timetravel makes it possible to commit suicide nonfatally, death becomes the ultimate trip for drugaddicts), `Memories of my Head' (man trapped in unhappy marriage blows his head off but even then cannot escape), `A Thousand Deaths' (repressive government tortures dissident by repeatedly killing him and bringing him back to life again), `Unaccompanied Sonata' (musician is forbidden to play, disobeys, and his fingers are amputated so he cannot disobey again), `Kingsmeat' (humaneating aliens take over colony and slowly dismember and consume the inhabitants). I could also mention the archetypal example of Card's "limb fiction", the novel A Planet Called Treason (hero grows lots of extra arms and legs and then has them chopped off). Are you an Orson Scott Card character? Then count your limbs.
These are just the physical traumas that Card puts his characters through; many more stories are constructed around emotional pain no less traumatically portrayed, but less easy to give the flavour of in a short review.
I detect two strands to these stories of pain. The first, and less important, portrays pain as punishment, and includes `Eumenides', `Fat Farm', and a few others. I have no real disagreement with these stories, and despite Card's claims not to write in the genre, they're fine horror stories, on a par with those of George R R Martin or Ian Watson, and certainly Card has no shortage of gruesome invention or nastily observed character detail. There is, perhaps, evidence of an ascetic dislike of bodies, perhaps most obvious in `Fat Farm', which Card describes as `physical autobiography' in his afterword.
The second strand is much harder for me to get to grips with, and the closest I can come is, pain as affirmation. These stories comprise the balance of the stories described above, and much of Card's most important novels, including Hart's Hope, Songmaster, Ender's Game and Red Prophet. In these stories the hero (almost always male) undergoes terrible physical and (more importantly) emotional pain, but emerges with the realisation that it has all been very important and worthwhile. In these stories, pain becomes the raison d'etre of the character; proof that he is worth something, that his beliefs are important; pain is badge of pride. These are stories of martyrdom.
It is as though Card has a burning desire to write fiction that strikes at the heart of its readers, fiction that grapples with universal truths, fiction that is `important'. And he knows how this is done: important fiction involves the suffering of the protagonist; important fiction is tragic and painful. And he knows that out of pain come wisdom and insight.
But there are traps in this schema, and Card falls into them. The first is to presume too much, to tell the reader how wise the hero is, how much pain he is suffering, rather than showing this convincingly. Suffering does not automatically make one a saint; pain and guilt are not in themselves enough to convince: there must be good writing and excellent characterisation as well. Otherwise, the torment becomes hysterical posturing, the catharsis does not convince. I think that Songmaster falls into this trap, as does Speaker for the Dead.
The second trap arises out of Card's tendency to portray redemption as the outcome of the suffering. In these stories, suffering and guilt are enough. You can be forgiven of your sins if you suffer. Terrible things happen, but through pain the wound may be healed. These stories tend towards an artificial sentimentality.
An example of this is `Lost Boys' (a family who lose a difficult child to a murderer, but when he comes back as a ghost they are able to give him the perfect Christmas he never had when he was alive), which has (apparently) attracted a great deal of controversy and criticism because Card tells the story as though it concerned his own family. Card quotes Karen Joy Fowler as being the most succinct of the critics: "By telling your story in the first person with so much detail from your own life, you've appropriated something that doesn't belong to you. You've pretended to feel the grief of a parent who has lost a child, and you don't have a right to feel that grief." Well, I don't object to this; Card's use of his own family in the story is his own business, surely. But this issue may have obscured a deeper flaw in the story, which by placing the schmalzy Christmas scene at the end, gives the impression that because the family are sorry that the son has been killed, it is somehow alright, that everything is OK at the end of the story.
Something of the sort goes on in the novel Ender's Game, where humanity destroys an alien race, and then through Ender's pain and guilt is given a second chance at peaceful coexistence.
Related to this issue is Card's use of the perpetrator of suffering as a messiah figure. I have already noted Ender, but there's also the Shepherd character in `Kingsmeat' (who saves his people from being killed outright by the flesheating aliens by the expedient of slowly dismembering them instead). Card himself refers us to Gene Wolfe's use of the torturer Severian as the messiah in The Book of the New Sun: "I think it's interesting that when Gene Wolfe set out to create a Christfigure in his Book of the New Sun, he also made his protagonist begin as apprentice torturer, so that the one who suffered and died to save others is depicted as one who also inflicts suffering: it is a way to explicitly make the Christfigure take upon himself, in all innocence, the darkest sins of the world."
I've tried to indicate what goes wrong in Card's writing, but there are occasions on which he gets it right, and doesn't fall into any of these traps. `Kingsmeat' is one, `Unaccompanied Sonata' another, and Hart's Hope is a third. And when he gets it right, his writing does have a mythic power to it.
And there are stories that don't involve pain or amputation. The best story in Maps in a Mirror is `The Originist', a very well thought out and wellwritten novella about family and community that is set in the milieu of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. It is interesting to note that Card "poured a novel's worth of love and labour into it" (if only he did this much work on every story of his!) and a little sad that he "firmly [believes that Asimov] is the finest writer of American prose in our time, bar none."
In the end, I am prepared to forgive the bad stories in Maps in a Mirror, and to treasure the good. And you should certainly read it - read it with care - and judge for yourself.
Matt Hanrahan is the rebellious elder son of the Prime of Newest Delhi, whose interest in electronics makes him unattractive to the powerful antitechnology Conventist religious movement. He is framed for the murder of his father, possibly by his evil younger brother Edward, and escapes to the more liberal Alabama City, where scientific research is directed by the bureaucrat Kasimir Sukui. With a repaired radio/tv set they contact the descendants of those original colonists who had decided to remain in orbit, who have received messages from an approaching ship from Earth that intends to `improve' the lives of the Expatrians whether they like it or not.
So far, so standard. But Brooke's focus is on the development of his major characters, Hanrahan and Sukui. Hanrahan, at the start a rebellious dilettante, finds maturity and a cause that he can believe in and even risk his life for. Sukui aspires to the ideal of the emotionless, rational scientist, and takes a great deal of pride in his `understanding' of other people and his lack of personal attachment. While Hanrahan learns discipline and commitment, Sukui learns of love and emotion, and like Hanrahan he finds a cause that is important to him.
However, interesting as this character development is, the other characters never quite manage to escape from their roles, and while Brooke defies expectations with some remarkable twists at the end, a large number of loose ends are left flailing around - including the approaching ship from Earth, about which nothing more is heard. I found that this mishmash of ideas never quite jelled into a story that would grab me - like his character Sukui, Brooke maintains too much of a detachment to really engage the reader.
Keith Brooke is a young British writer from the Interzone school, with one previous novel, Keepers of the Peace (1990). His promise is not fully realised in Expatria, but I have no doubt that he will improve with experience, and I intend to keep a lookout for his next novel.
The range of his work is still there, and if the inventiveness is a little more macabre, so much the better. The best of the horror is the marvellously understated `Tales from Weston Willow' and the best of the fantasy is `The Pharoah and the Mademoiselle' which for no apparent reason has large sections in blank verse.
I would have liked to have seen more sf in this collection: Watson's fantasy and horror are fine, but lack the bite and sheer insistency of the best of his sf. In my opinion, Watson's recent horror and fantasy novels The Power, Meat and The Fire Worm are not nearly as good as his most recent sf novel, The Flies of Memory.
But you probably know by now whether you like the writing of Ian Watson. If you do, get hold of this collection and enjoy!
Mist is set in 479 BC during the invasion of Greece by the armies of the Persian king Xerxes. The narrator, `Latro' (a name which means mercenary or soldier) awakens after the Battle of Plataea to discover he can remember practically nothing. A healer tells him that he was injured in the battle, fighting for Xerxes army and that his wound has caused his memory loss. The healer gives Latro a scroll to record his experiences in, since he forgets recent events after about twelve hours. It is Wolfes translation of this scroll that we are supposed to be reading, when we read this book.
Shortly after the start of the story, the other aspect of Latro's disability is revealed. Latro and his friend (referred to as `the black man' throughout Mist) travel to Thebes where they fall in with the poet Pindar and a slave girl `Io'. They visit the temple of Apollo and as the pythoness there begins to prophesy for Latro we read `I paid little attention to her because my eyes were on a Golden man, larger than any man should be, who had stepped silently from an alcove.' Latro has met one of the most powerful of the Greek gods.
This device of an amnesiac narrator recording his own history presents Wolfe with some interesting problems; to be realistic, Latro must write with brevity- he is travelling a lot and has only limited space on the scroll. Wolfe makes it look easy; the prose has a spare beauty and never becomes a mere catalogue of events. Perhaps less well handled is the fact that Latro must constantly remind himself in the text, of things that we remember easily, such as the names of his friends. This can become slightly annoying, but it is difficult to see how the problem could have been avoided.
The more serious problem of how to provide direction in a story written by a man incapable of making plans is overcome largely by the frequent action of the gods in Latros life. Latro discovers that it is Demeter who has taken his memories and thus he becomes a pawn in the plans of various of the gods who help him or hinder him to further their own plans. When Latro is not engaged on his quest to recover himself he acts almost as a passive recorder as we are taken on a tour of preClassical Greece - Sparta, Athens (sacked by the Persians), Delphi, and Eleusis are all in here.
The interesting point here is that all the places and people in the book are named as Latro called them, thus Athens is referred to as Thought (due to its associations with Athene), Sparta as Rope and so forth. This has two effects, firstly it keeps the reader at one remove from the landscape of Latros world and so paradoxically makes it more real. For if Wolfe had used the familiar name of Athens (for example) we would immediately imagine the mythical city of Theseus and lose the sense of the ruined city Latro encounters. The second effect is to drastically improve your knowledge of that period of history - if you do not understand at least the most important references then the story will completely pass you by. (I recommend The Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick for complete beginners in the subject, followed by a dose of Herodotus (whose line Wolfe follows quite strongly)).
Soldier of Arete, the sequel, feels completely different to its predecessor. Where Mist revels in the exploration of a new world, Arete is very dark indeed. Latro becomes involved in a rescue mission and kills a fair number of people during this part of the book. This seems to induce a deep depression in Latro and the tone of the book mirrors his interior darkness. Most of the significant events in Arete are presented very subtly in the text and I am not sure I have fully understood it. Latro acquires or perhaps, comes to embody, the arete or fighting virtues of the title. There are several references to possession; is Latro being taken over by Ares? (or Pleistorus, as he is usually known in this book) Wolfe is, as usual, not giving anything away.
Latro also becomes more of a character in this book, as he recalls some fragments of his past. He gains some limited ability to plan after he is taught some of the Art of Memory. The book ends when Latro sets sail, with a group of slaves he helps to escape, for his home.
There are numerous parallels between this series and Wolfes earlier series, The Book of the New Sun. Both texts purport to descend to us from a distant time, and to record the history of their narrators. Severian of course, remembers everything, while Latro can remember virtually nothing, but both men seem similar insofar as they do not know who they are; Latro in the obvious sense, and Severian in the more subtle sense that he does not at first know the role which has been appointed to him.
A third book Soldier of Sidon is supposed to conclude the series, but to my knowledge Wolfe has no contract to write it and so Latro's tale must remain incomplete, at least for the moment.
The basis of Prospero's Books is an ambitious one - a version of The TempestDrowning by Numbers, and the mild controversy surrounding The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Peter Greenaway has been elevated from his previous status as a sort of intellectual cult figure, which was apparently even unchanged by the enormous critical acclaim received for the startling, compelling The Draughtsman's Contract, which was his first real feature film (The Falls, though more than 3 hours long, is in the same class as his shorts such as Vertical Features Remake).
Prospero's Books was thus already perceived as significant months before it was released, and has appeared in the midst of an unprecedented blaze of publicity. However, there seems to be no evidence that Greenaway has changed direction. From the opening scenes, there is no doubt that it is a Greenaway film, and the distinctive characteristics we all know and love are still there. There are changes though. The video editing technology used to such effect in his Television Dante, (and later in his tribute to Mozart, M is for Man, Music and Mozart,) is very obvious, for example.
Despite this largescale exploration of the scope of cinema, the film is nonetheless very theatrical, perhaps to remind the viewer of the dramatic origins of the film: all the action is confined to stagelike sets, often deliberately enclosed and limited, and usually highly stylised. The sumptuous costumes similarly echo the unreality of stage production: ludicrously large ruffs, platform shoes and ornate hats create a bizarre impression. Many stage directors prefer to bring the inherent unnaturalness of the form to the attention of the audience, and it is this necessity to remind the audience of the artificiality of the experience which has characterised Peter Greenaway's films. As usual, there is a rigid framework for the film: the books which Prospero brought with him from Milan are listed throughout the film.
These books betray many of the obscure interests which have characterised the imagery in Greenaway's previous films: almost redolent of Borges, they range from the amusing to the arcane, imbued with antique learning, with mention of heretical beliefs, and echoes of old obsessions. The books provide the expected link with previous films, as well as contributing to the breakdown of the barrier between viewer and filmmaker.
As Prospero, an imposing figure entirely in control of events, Geilgud is an inspired choice. The film is so centred around the character that all the characters appear to speak through him, for most of the film. This is most striking when it comes to Caliban, played by the dancer Michael Clark, for whom words are clearly unnecessary. The image we are presented with is rather that of a stagemanager controlling every detail of a performance, autocratic and omniscient. From the magnificent costume to the hoards of naked dancers attending him, Prospero dominates the film to an unprecedented degree.
This is a radical and visually stunning reworking of The Tempest, and one of the most enjoyable films of a Shakespeare play. While it is probably not Greenaway's greatest film, it is one of the most entertaining, and demonstrates clearly that he has no shortage of potential to continue to produce good films.
Her latest novel, The Sorceress and the Cygnet belongs very firmly with the former books, but is nonetheless an interesting novel in many ways. The story concerns Corleu, of the Wayfolk (travelling people), whose appearance and ancestry have something odd in them. Something is changing in the rhythm of life, and Corleu begins to find mythical figures coming to life, and is forced into a quest, apparently of great cosmological importance.
But though the plot may not offer much new, the world itself is richly imagined. McKillip has a talent for inventing believable and involving worlds and characters, which are nonetheless quite far removed from traditional fantasy ideas. The cosmology is particularly well spun out, the preternatural beings are believable and vital, and the way they fit into the society, in myth and folklore is convincing. The attention to the importance of folklore, and to different kinds of magic, is also well brought off. Magic is not presented as something other to society, and there is a seamless track from folk belief and skill to `high' magic. Few authors have as much detail when it comes to the ubiquitous presence of lore in society, even down to children's games, and it seems to be something that McKillip has a deep understanding of.
The characterisation and descriptive writing is also very compelling. The changing of the tone of writing style with the mood of the narrative, which many people comment on in her work, is again present, and is very effective in creating atmosphere. And it is atmosphere which again is one of the strongest elements drawing the reader: the book is very readable, and the resolution of the plot is quite satisfying. Many elements are sharply defined, in bold colours, whilst others are conveyed much more subtly, and McKillip shows the range of writing she is capable of fairly clearly.
In conclusion, this is a book well worth reading; highly enjoyable, and an excellent introduction to the writer, for those who have not yet read any of her work.
Collating the Hall of Fame actually gave me a very interesting insight into the way CUSFS members' minds work (or at least chug along giving the impression of working), apart from the sheer soul destroying frustration of trying to decipher some people's hand writing!. It was amusing to note how many entries got votes in both the best author/ novel/programme categories and the trash category - sometimes by the same person. Although I allowed fantasy works and authors (not strictly sf) some people have very odd definitions of science fiction. Most of these extraneous definitions I simply ignored. If you had seen what I had to type in you would forgive me.
Final disclaimer... any mistakes are mine, all mine.
1. Ursula K LeGuin 138 8 2. Orson Scott Card 118 7 3. William Gibson 116 7 4. Philip K Dick 115 6 5. Larry Niven 69 4 =. JRR Tolkien 69 4 7. Jack Vance 68 4 8. Terry Pratchett 67 4 9. Geoff Ryman 61 4 10. J G Ballard 60 4Novel
1. Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card) 103 6 2. Neuromancer (William Gibson) 80 5 3. A Scanner Darkly (Philip K Dick) 77 4 4. Dune (Frank Herbert) 74 5 5. The Postman (David Brin) 73 5 6. A Canticle for Liebowitz (Walter Miller) 60 4 7. The Lord of the Rings (J R R Tolkien) 58 3 8. Tea with the Black Dragon (R A MacAvoy) 52 3 9. Tiger! Tiger! (Alfred Bester) 45 3Series
1. Discworld (Terry Pratchett) 146 8 2. Earthsea (Ursula Le Guin) 131 8 3. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) 92 5 4. Amber (Roger Zelazny) 78 5 5. The Book of the New Sun (Gene Wolfe) 76 4 6. Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card) 72 4 7. Gormenghast (Mervyn Peake) 71 4 8. Neveryon (Samuel Delany) 58 3 9. Belgariad (David Eddings) 55 3 10. Known Space (Larry Niven) 48 3Short Story
1. Flowers for Algernon (Keyes) 74 4 2. Unaccompanied Sonata (Orson Scott Card) 67 4 3. Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card) 55 3 4. Burning Chrome (Gibson) 54 2 5. The Moon Blues (Connie Willis) 37 2 6. Petra (Greg Bear) 34 2 7. The Game of Rat & Dragon (Cordwainer Smith) 32 2 8. The Bone Forest (Holdstock) 30 2 =. A Rose for Ecclesiastes (Roger Zelazny) 30 2 10. The End (Frederick Brown) 29 2 11. Flowers of Edo (Bruce Sterling) 25 2Comic
1. Watchman 156 9 2. Sandman 75 4 3. Hellblazer 60 4 4. Mage 54 3 =. Asterix 54 3 6. Books of Magic 47 3 7. Swamp Thing 46 3Film
1. Blade Runner 179 10 2. Brazil 167 9 3. Star Wars 134 8 4. Alien 104 6 5. Dark Star 93 6 6. Terminator 87 5 =. 2001 87 5 8. Time Bandits 78 5 9. Return of the Jedi 66 4 =. Edward Scissorhands 66 4 11. Silent Running 65 4 12. Terminator 2 63 4Television and Radio
1. Blake's 7 289 16 2. Dr. Who 265 14 3. Hitchhiker's Guide (radio) 172 13 4. Star Trek (original) 162 9 5. Hitchhiker's Guide (TV) 93 6 6. Star Cops 92 6 7. The Clangers 90 6 8. Red Dwarf 84 5 9. The Prisoner 75 4 10. Mr Benn 61 4 11. The Magic Roundabout 57 4 12. Avengers 56 4No prizes for predicting the winner to this category. Dr. Who made a valiant attempt but was unable to knock Blake's 7 off its pedestal. The votes of those people who can't tell the difference between the television and radio versions of HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy have been split evenly between the two versions. This has probably made the television version appear higher up the list than it deserves but the adjudicator (me) has deemed it the fairest way.
1. Gor (John Norman) 174 9 2. Plan 9 from Outer Space 74 4 3. Scientology (L Ron Hubbard) 73 4 4. Heinlein 50 3 5. Craig Shaw Gardner 40 2 6. Eddings 37 2 7. Millenium: the Movie 35 2 =. Battlestar Galactica 35 2 9. The Leo Sayer Game 33 2 10. Huw Walters 30 2 =. Isaac Asimov 30 2Fascinating how many people received votes in this category and in others. Huw is obviously going up in the world - he got the same number of votes as Asimov.
1. Avon's leather 90 5 2. Dr. Who(4) Scarf 52 3 3. Simon Pick's Trench Jacket 49 3 4. Mr Benn's entire wardrobe 36 2 =. Dr. Who(6) 36 2 6. Dr. Who(5) 34 2Blake's 7 has had a profound influence on current members. In addition to Avon's leather, there were a number of costumes from this series which received votes but weren't placed.
1. Dracula 115 6 2. Duckula 70 4 3. Nosferatu (Original) 38 2 =. Mia Carla (Lust for a Vampire) 38 2 =. Barnabus Collins (Dark Star) 38 2 6. Chloe Ashcroft 37 2 7. Bela Lugosi 31 2
"It appears that the problem originated somewhere in the Computer Laboratory, with an AI experiment that slipped past local security. It was removed from the network as soon as possible, but it had left serious damage in its wake that was not at first apparent. Then a relatively minor request through the system from one of the mathematics Societies was routed through a post that had been left nonexistent by the rogue AI. This somehow worked its way up the system, until it failed to find the ViceChancellor, due to the fact that the request had been misdirected by the previous empty positions, at which point emergency shutdown systems were operated, overriding operatorintervention.
"The situation now is that we have to reset the University. There is a small button in the Senate House basement for precisely this purpose. However, there are one or two snags.
"Basically, they all stem from the fact that there hasn't actually been a University reboot for over seven hundred years. All subsequent updates to the system have been carried out on the fly, and, in fact, have been written in increasingly more advanced languages. The original source is a selfdefining language known as TROG, and although we can still compile and run it, it has become obsolete, and noone knows how to use it anymore. We will thus be unable to modify the source in any way, and will be unable to trap any bugs resulting from the changes to the operating environment since the last time the system was run.
"The most fundamental of these changes, of course, has been the expansion of the University. The initial conditions specified only three Colleges and four Departments, and a systemreset will cancel all existing sites and install just these seven and the Senate in their place. Fortunately, we have been taking tape backups of all the Colleges and Departments at regular intervals, mainly for easeofmaintenance purposes. It should be possible to get all the Colleges and the major Departments back up and running within fortyeight hours of a reboot, the reboot itself taking in excess of twenty hours. Given that we will have to do a thorough check for problems on the newly reinstalled system, it is likely to take over a week before things are anything like back to normal, and even then there will probably still be the odd fault reported from time to time.
"I see no reason, however, why the student timetable should be altered while the work is in progress."
This was no surprise to the only inhabitant of the BBC gravel pit, a small rodent the technicians had taken to feeding; it had seen it all before, and was rather blas&eacutre; about the whole affair.
An eccentric figure hunched over the controls of the TARDIS, his clothing the result of a BBC costume assistant let loose in Oxfam. Finally, with a triumphant stab at a large red button, the floor shook and the viewscreen came on, to reveal the shiny plastic and metal tubing of a BBC set designer's hangover.
The control room was suddenly filled with a gratingly highpitched squeal, and the Doctor finally spoke. "Mel, how many times have I told you not to use the intercom? Last time, you managed to shatter the navigation system; we were stuck in Benidorm for a fortnight! And will you please try to get rid of that American accent; when I gave you Peri's brain, I thought it would be an improvement!"
The doors of the TARDIS opened; the Doctor and Mel stepped out into the spotless and gleaming interior of Mr Burger; an effect possible only by polishing the surfaces with Coca Cola. Mel ordered a Huge Whopper with Cheese and a strawberry Triple Thick Shake, while the Doctor started taking measurements of one of the tables with a steel ruler. Half an hour later, a soggy cardboard box and a crumbling pinkish lump arrived at the table. The lump had a straw sticking out of it. "Doctor, there's something very strange about that waitress; I mean, the plumber's mate I can understand, but the egg whisk is a bit odd... aaagh!"
A honeysmooth voice made itself known. "So Doctor, we meet again! Oops, wrong villain." The owner of the voice, wearing a neatly trimmed beard and a chef's apron, stepped up to the table. "I see you've discovered my latest scheme: to destroy England with burgers indistinguishable from the baps or the cardboard packaging! You have walked straight into my trap! Ha ha ha!" With that, he tapped an lengthy code into the till register and the BBC gravel pit outside disappeared, to the vague disinterest of a small rodent.
"Hold on," said the Doctor, rushing outside, "that corridor looks familiar!" Within moments, he had emerged from the blue box that was the TARDIS, sitting incongruously amid the plastic tables. "You idiot," he shouted. "You've nested them; we'll never get back now!" To prove his point, he ran outside again and reemerged from the TARDIS, banging his shin on the way. "But why?"
Suddenly the Master ripped off his apron, and grinned horribly. "Hold on," said the Doctor, "I know that face... no, you can't be..."
"I'm afraid so, Doctor; it's a useful disguise. I've been able to hide among these primitive Earth people for years, playing practical jokes on them and making television programmes about it. You see the hidden camera in that dalek?"
The dalek trundled forward, then stopped two feet away. The top slowly unscrewed, and a wellknown figure stepped out carrying a large red book. "You thought you were here to play a trick on yet another member of the public, didn't you? Well, Jeremy Beadle, THIS IS YOUR LIFE!"
The Doctor sidled quietly away, considering how to extricate the TARDIS from its current predicament. "Now if we reverse the polarity of the neutron flow..."
Naturally, this is an attitude the government of Thrace has tried to encourage in its citizens from a very early age; there are public holidays and classes on the lakes' importance to life in the desert. As any child could tell you (but never will), the lakes provide the city's chief source of nutrition: a constant supply of milk, which the government pumps up to the city free of charge.
The citizens are happy to use this versatile food in all sorts of local dishes; there's even an annual competition for the best recipe (rewarded with extra milk rations for a month), and the master chefs work on their creations for months before the festival, guarding their simmering vats with great care, lest their rivals get an advance tasting.
The lakes also provide a source of income for the city; surplus milk is taken across the desert by caravan, and helps the government pay for many civic schemes, including free schools and public parks with decorative rock arrangements.
Thrace has no unemployment problem, like some of the cities in the desert; the government always needs people to work on the lakes. It's quite an honour among the city's misfits and social outcasts to be picked for the milk skimmers. Sadly, workers can never come back to the surface (the mortality rate is high, and there are never enough workers in the caves), but this is considered a small price, to help society.
When a new worker is led through the mazelike tunnels beneath the city to the wellguarded lakes (the government can't afford the risk of sabotage by enemy agents), he is greeted with warm affection by his fellow workers, eager for tales from the surface.
The worker will be assigned to a skimmer team, getting used to the simple routine of working, eating and sleeping in the flat skiff that will be home for the rest of his working life. In their work hours, the skimmers will travel the lakes looking for undisturbed patches, where they can skim the nutritious surface layer, the cream, for processing and pumping up to the city above.
After a few weeks, most workers settle into their new lives. Some, however, seem unable to accept the claustrophobia, or the risk of death by fire (the gas given off by unprocessed milk is very volatile, and can ignite accidentally). A few try to escape, and get lost in the extensive tunnel system. This loss is regretted by the government, which is why they have recently written the following slogan to help workers forget their previous lives: "IN THRACE, NOONE CAN HEAR YOU CREAM"
But wait, what was this? Charging out of the light of the sun, wringing every inch of speed from the dynamic engines of his clappedout old space freighter, who was it but EGIL VANATAR come to save the world. His cargo hold was full of extremely powerful TNT! Without any thought but for the duty he must do, he smashed his careening spacecraft into the very dead centre of the ravening herd. And as they all exploded together, spaceship, every last walrus and Egil Vanatar, he shouted his dying words above the blast, "At last, at last, I have expiated my terrible crime!" and on the surface of Nexus ever after on Egilsday children said a special prayer and lonely people wept to themselves in their rooms for the heroism of one man.