The material in ttba is copyright © 1992 the contributors (David Anderson, Amanda Baker, Matthew Freestone, Clive Jones, Simon Pick, Gareth Rees, Helen Steele, Robert Wilson and Wizzo). 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).
And as it is with them, so it is with sf.
I am talking, of course, about Illumination, the 1992 British national sf convention. This is the annual meeting of fans and authors, and if there is some movement shaping among the many talented British sf authors then we should have heard of it. But no, there are no manifestos, no great theorists of the genre, no Movements ready to spring their deconstructive theories upon an unsuspecting readership. There are just a bunch of authors producing good and bad work on their own.
Are there any suitable candidates about? The five authors who made up the Cyberpunk Movement of the mideighties have all moved on to different, and in my opinion better things, and those authors who continue to write cyberpunk novels are mostly imitating the style and the surface gloss of the genre, ignorant of or unconcerned with the ideas that went into the original Movement works (see my review of Halo by Tom Maddox in this issue for an example of this kind of fiction). There are other derivative genres of cyberpunk: the `steampunk' of K W Jeter's Infernal Devices and Gibson and Sterling's The Difference Engine or the `splatterpunk' that takes the energetic style of cyberpunk and fuses it with violent horror - but none of these have produced, to my knowledge, the slightest hint of critical thinking, or have any kind of agenda for the genre. The authors are just individuals who have caught onto a good thing. Rudy Rucker expounds some kind of `freestyle' writing philosophy which insofar as I can make out, is nebulous in the extreme: "Write what you like," he seems to be saying, "but make it hip!"
What about David Pringle's (in)famous editorial in Interzone in which he derided the inwardlooking, earthbound sf of the `Wessex School' (Chris Priest, Keith Roberts, Garry Kilworth, John Christopher and others) and called for a new, energetic, outwardlooking spaceoriented sf that would be exemplified by Stephen Baxter and Paul J McAuley? Quite a few people (myself included) wrote to IZ criticising him for this `manifesto' advocating lowquality happyclappy space advocacy (as we saw it). Perhaps it is the case that we wrote less out of fear that IZ would go down the plughole of Analog than out of an enthusiasm that at last we had a manifesto, a movement, something to react against. But no, Pringle backed away from his earlier statements. We should not look to him for inspiration.
Now here's a worrying development: Bantam/Spectra has a new imprint called `The Next Wave'. The authors published under it are young and competent midlist authors but there's nothing special about them nor do they have any pretensions to a literary movement. The publishers seem to have discovered that movements sell - no doubt we can expect that future movements in sf will be no more than marketing creations.
So where should we look for the future of the genre? I don't know, but the most interesting programme item at Illumination featured John Clute and Geoff Ryman talking (in part) about what Ryman needs to do in order to remain a Great Author. Clute's contention was that Great Authors are of their time or ahead of their time: look at Philip K Dick - we are still catching up with what his writings mean to us. To write works that stand the test of time you really have to be in tune with the times, and not only with the surface detritus of our culture, but with its deep concerns. Ryman tells us that he is currently researching into Islamic culture, poetry and science; perhaps we should follow him as he surfs along the crest of the wave of now.
Chairbeing Gareth Rees Christ's Secretary Helen Steele Newnham Treasurer Toby Fagan Christ's Membership Secretary David Jones Trinity TTBA Editor Michael Williams Sidney Sussex Josie Collins New Hall Librarian David Anderson Gonville & CaiusFeel free to get in touch with us if you feel that there is anything amiss with the way CUSFS is run, or indeed in the unlikely event that you wish to congratulate us on our dedication and selfless endeavour.
Many, many thanks to all of the old committee and especially to Philippa, for carrying out what I am sure I am about to find is a really awful job.
Scone (Unicon 13) - Iain Banks, Anne Page
Glasgow University, 7-9 August 1992, 14 pounds
Scone, c/o Kenny Meechan, 80 Otago Street, Glasgow G12 8AP
Theme is `fun and games in sf', but there will not be a roleplaying stream as such The first NSSFA general meeting will be held here.
Novacon 22 - Storm Constantine
Royal Angus Hotel, Birmingham, 6-8 November 1992, 20 pounds
Bernie Evans, 121 Cape Hill, Smethwick, Warley, West Midlands B66 4HS
This is the Birmingham SF Group's annual convention.
Hillcon III (18th Beneluxcon) - Peter Schaap
Atlanta Hotel, Rotterdam, 27-29 November 1992, f 40
Hillcon III, Kotter 5, 1186 WH Amstelveen, Netherlands
Octocon 92 - Orson Scott Card
Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin, 10 pounds (13 pounds from May 1st)
Octocon 92, 30 Beverly Downs, Knocklyon, Dublin 16
The third Irish national sf convention. The Irish community of fantasy writers - Diane Duane, Peter Morwood, Anne McCaffrey, Katherine Kurtz, etc. are promised to be there.
Hatfield Poly, sometime in 1993, cheap
Daniel Ives c/o PSIFA, Student's Union, Hatfield Poly, Hatfield, Herts
These Shoestringcons have been justifiably famous for some time for providing bottomofthebarrel conventions for next to no money and with next to no (official) program. PSIFA (the Hatfield society) has been having trouble with their Union over the con, and would like people to support them by writing and saying what a great idea the Shoestringcons are.
Helicon (Eastercon 1993) - John Brunner, George R R Martin
Hotel de France, St. Helier, Jersey, 8-12 April 1993, 22 pounds (25 pounds from May 1st)
Helicon, 63 Drake Road, Chessington, Surrey KT9 1LQ
Described as `for media fans': there will be a section on science fiction films and film techniques. Very popular (the last convention to be held at the Hotel de France was a great success), and likely to be smoothly and successfully run (or else Tim Illingworth will have to eat his words).
28-31 May 1993, 18 pounds
Mexicon 5, 121 Cape Hill, Smethwick, Warley, West Midlands B66 2SH
Mexicons are the most literary of sf conventions. However this year's is still looking for a hotel and a guest of honour, but claim to have it all in hand.
Sou'Wester (Eastercon 1994) - Diane Duane, Neil Gaiman, Barbara
Hambly, Peter Morwood
Grand Hotel, Bristol, 1-4 April 1994, 18 pounds?
Sou'Wester, 3 West Shrubbery, Redland, Bristol BS6 6SZ
While sensible of the many merits of your publication, as an amateur of science and a citizen of the world I cannot help feeling that what it lacks is a regular column dedicated to the amusing anomalies and interesting information which the beacon of science can sometimes illuminate. It would not surprise me to learn that many of your readers feel the same. May I ask if you intend such a column, and if so may I congratulate you for your dedication not only to that expression of human ingenuity which paves the way for the Modern Future, but also to those highly amusing morsels of trivia which are the common grazing of every educated mind,
Simon Curtis Cinnamon Pick
The Editors Reply: by one of those strange coincidences, or should we say synchronicities, which are apt to astound and amaze the orthodox scientific community, we have in this very issue a column as like to the one which you describe in your letter as if you had written it yourself.
Yes, I, Amanda Baker, by virtue of my wellknown and close association with Famous Oxford AstroPhysicist Dr Dave `Cosmic' Clements, had the great pleasure over two years ago of suddenly finding myself on an Eastercon committee! I didn't volunteer, I didn't have any experience (beyond DCMing at one Picocon), I didn't want to do it, I had never attended an Eastercon... and I was suddenly one of the Ten Invisible Masters.
For me, Illumination was one long mad dash (interspersed with the odd seven hours of sleep now and then). Committee roundup at 9am, then on with the wallyphone and off to Green Room to be Programme Oops. Your item needs an OHP five minutes ago? You're on a panel and all the other people haven't made it to the convention? Your inflatable banana has a puncture? No problem! I'll just radio operations, who will put me through to the technical crew, and we'll have a gopher over in no time!
One of the high points was on Saturday (I think - all the days ran together!) when the Russians, Juri and Andrei, arrived from Moscow. They had travelled by train to Prague, hitched to the ferry, missed their contact in London and so took a National Express bus to Blackpool. The journey took them four days, and on their backs they carried enough books, badges and other souvenirs to sell to pay for their journey home. They arrived just in time for the SF Club Deutchland (Regional Group Great Britain) party, and after a full day of headlesschickening, I ended up serving them Norbreck Hotel Special Alcoholic Punch half an hour after it had `run out'!
To all those who are thinking of organising a convention, I'd like to say just one thing. Running a con is the only way to get the convention you would like to attend - but you still don't get to attend it!
Illumination was my third Eastercon and undoubtably the best. Well programmed, smoothly running - the Illumination committee can feel proud of their convention. What is more, Illumination was fun, and once it got going there seemed to be little time for sitting around doing nothing.
Illumination had three guests of honour - Geoff Ryman, Paul MacAuley and Pam Wells - and they were all well chosen. But by far the best (and most active) was Geoff Ryman who popped up all over the programme, the highlight being his third Wizard of Oz talk (the previous two being given at WinCon I and Confiction, the 1990 WorldCon). Geoff was also `interviewed' by the Interzone critic John Clute, gave a reading from his new books Was and took part in the moving tribute to the recently deceased Angela Carter. The other success of the programme seemed to be the popularity of the science stream. Talks by Colin Jack, Jack Cohen and others were well attended and, in marked contrast to some other conventions, funny as well as informative. Other personal favourites were the Urban myth workshop with Robert Holdstock and the panel on Building religions - where Alison Scott divulged some facts about pineapple rings and whipped cream and decided that sf fandom really is a religion.
A programme however good, cannot work if the organisation is a shambles. Fortunately at Illumination this was not the case. Bar the occasional hiccup and some minor quibbles, either the con did run smoothly or the committee were very good at hiding it. In fact the main worry seemed to be whether the wallyphones (walkietalkies) were waterproof - it rained solidly on the Saturday as Hugh Mascetti and Armageddon were setting up the fireworks display. Fortunately the rain stopped and the display went ahead and proved magnificent.
The final point must be the hotel. The staff at the Norbreck castle were great and they seemed to enjoy the experience (indeed the manager wanted to know how he could bid for next year's Eastercon), which always helps both the convention members and the committee. The programme rooms were a bit spread out, but this just meant there was plenty of space to lounge around (though it was a little tiring for the gophers and other staff). The Norbreck Castle itself is not as plush as some other hotels and the rooms are not as big as the hotel last year (vitally important when you are intending to crash on a floor!) but all in all I think it was a good choice - despite previous worries. Blackpool was as tacky as ever but we managed to avoid it except for one curryrun on the Saturday night.
Illumination was a good example of how a con should be run. Of course there were problems but only minor ones, easily sorted out, which did not detract from the enjoyment most people seemed to get from attending.
I may not have thews of banded iron,
I may not have a dauntless heart,
I may not face danger with merry quips
And triumph through my swordsman's art;
Few are the princesses I have rescued,
Few are the villains I have crushed
Yet I still stand proud with the best of men
- But in the end I'm not worth very much.
A vampire's desires are unspeakable to men.
Heed my warning, peoples of the past, warring nations of Earth! I write a message from the ruined world of the future, where we scholars hide in the great cities of men and the vampires hide in the great cities of vampires, and neither have much left of the past. Our world is torn from yours, and the life in it was spilt in the tearing. Forgive my rough style if it seems unwieldy to your ears! It is the style of the scholarship of the future, it is a style that reflects our world. If I seem to you extreme in laying bare your future, bear in mind the extremity of our own. There is little of your time left. For this message is returned to you with vampire science and vampire magic; it is written in the blood of female miscarriages on the skin of slain vampires, it is cast back through the aeons by its concealment in the corpse of a vampire as he crumbles to dust. The ravage of time seizes the twice dead man with wrath, for the vampire has broken time's covenant, and time's force pounds at his body until it is dust, maintained in the present but projected into the past. The message, so prepared, is carried along in the mystic fury of time as it claims its own once more. That a message can be sent has been proved by our reception of such; but of a message's effect, our scholars are in doubt. Can time's anomaly be used to change itself? Will time permit its own selfmutilation? The world, rubbed raw by destruction, cries out that we at least attempt such. That is why you have this message, this is why I unveil to you your future, act on it if you can.
Vampires cannot spawn, but they can breed - literally like flies off the corpses of men. In the dark places they hid; when all the world blossomed, their black blooms sprang too from filth. They stalked the night, they increased, they multiplied in unholy fashion, they were ready. At once they revealed themselves to the clear sight of men, smutting his pure vision with proof of their seed. Not a seed of the flesh but a seed of the vision, it was, a metaphysic inimical to humanity but which required humanity for its increase. Was it attractive? Was there ignorance? Was there incredulity? Was there death? This more than anything. The revelation of the vampires brought recruits, power, strength til then nurtured in silent murder but now freshly rotting in the vitality of the light, a monstrous efflorescence in the heart of society. It grew, it festered, it struck - and then there was war.
We still have in existence thirty seconds worth of videotape of the vampire delegate to the United Nations Council of Wisdom, but it is thirty seconds worth of silence for vampires are neither seen nor heard on videotape. His description was taken down by reporters, his speech preserved in a transcript of ancient lore, so we know what he said. He said:
"We are the vampires of Earth! We have sloughed ourselves from the warm rot of men and represent the chosen path to the future. This is our ultimatum, to which you must concede because we are your future in our living death, we flaunt against eternity's decay and so will outlast you. We will drain off you, and you - willing or unwilling - will give out the flow. We want a continent - Africa - and the people of Africa whom we may breed for our perpetuance, and the carrion and beasts of Africa that we may feed our men even as they act as beasts for us; and we want the resources and wealth of an earthborne continent that we may build us our cities and our metal coffins and our padded coffins and our palaces and vaults of dark, wherein we engage and are happy. We want one hundred years of isolation, to build the new world in which the new vampires can live. We will transform the continent! We will tap its human wealth and its material wealth. We will build mighty stone cities of silent coffin sleepers, great monorails and tarmacked trading routes down which our vampire convoys will carry our stock. We will draw from ourselves our art, our music, our utopian darkness and perpetual massive works of creation - the art of the dead. We will build the model for the world.
Those are our demands, as a sovereign nation and a racial group demanding its liberty. By your own standards of right you cannot deny us, nor by the standards of fate. If you do not accede to our demands, we will go to war, and we are more numerous and stronger than you can know.
We await your decision."
And the vampire ambassador left the United Nations with his clerical aides rather than face the massed anger of the world's nations. A story says they slaughtered a young boy in the carpark for their lunch.
And on the refusal of the burning broad demands of this public secret man - the upstanding lightshy hatch of the silent seethe of their innumerability in the suspension of that society - on the refusal, I say, hell broke loose. The vampires came out! The vampires were abroad! How could we fight? How could we turn with dripping stake and see the man at our backs, our wives, our friends to whom we'd revealed our inner light hiss and bare us their sudden teeth? Lovers, leaders, the high and low, all had drenched at the taint. They danced in our sunbaked cities, swarming like bats in a seacave until they blocked the sun. We regrouped, we reformed, we struck out again and again with our rugged wooden tusks in awful slaughter until the streets ran red with blood and white with ichor, or merely choked in drifts of dust from the mummy dessication of the deathspoor of time's allergy. Men drowned dry in househigh drifts of vampiredeath. But worst of all were the unknown infiltration tunnellings into society's unsurveyable core - vampire tunnels as one bit another bit another on down and through like black threads through a crumpled tapestry: we were clawed from within. Regroup! Retrench! Fall back on those you trust! If your left hand offends you - as a few remnant fragments have it - cut it off; if you mother's teeth offend you, cut her through! And they fled our righteous wrath, and clung together like flies swarming on dung, and they worked their cities from tiny huts and clusters into great horrifying atomic powerhouses (for the dirty death explosion at the atom's heart is the dirty death energy fallout that's the buzz from the vampire core, and the worm which trawls the sun's innards devouring burnt hydrogen is the decay void finality that the vampires bask in in hideous reverse), metal crag cities of ancient screams and perpetual cozening nightstalkers, who at midnight gang the walkways and throng the squares round the redpainted mahogany fleshcages to prod and poke and tease and feast on their cattle and their capture, and by their feeding - in the only release they can know for their longing for perpetuity - breed exponential their new vampires anew. Glaciers of enamelled steel! the vampire strongholds. And we men cower in our mirrored halls, in the shifting plates of our mirrored armour, and we feel the rim of our bakelite neckguards like the collars of history's slaves; and we men administrate our petty empires and commune with the states we trust and fear for the menstates we don't, and we live on vampire technology and work our miracles by vampire science, and contest our scattered remnants against their dark satanic chill. And we always look over our shoulders, lest our mirrors lie - for look, the mirror being the machine of light and operating on the reflection of light has no gear in its mechanism for the appreciation of vampires, which are the very soul and spirit of lightless dark, and so are our insurance and our eyes for us. But if our head's eyes see nothing, then neither can our extended toolish ones, and the vampire behind you can never be revealed by the mirrored walls in front until his clawed hands rip the bakelite toothblunter from your neck. Our prince in his mirror armour, Popeblessed, in the open perspex cathedral stood over the incense burners in the play of the garlic fumes and raised his hands, heavy with crossrings, to give us his welcome, and I was there, and he said as the jets thundered in the sun overhead: "Even in the open and the light, we are stalked, and the blinding of the lights of our defence may cloak the enemy," and it is true.
For where are our weapons? Where are our bullets and guns against the amorphous dead? Lo, where is the mighty unutterable Bomb that can split this earth like an overboiled egg fired against the wall? It encases the mindless destroying split seed, the subtle insinuating radiation death that the vampires soak and enjoy and multiply in, and is useless. Where are the valour of the strong and the sweat of the brave? Vampires, effortless, are smooth and do not sweat, but with the noses of feral hunters can smell the sweat of the honest living man for a mile. Where are knives gone, where are axes gone, where are guns gone in this resurrectable life? Lo, we developed weapons anew to meet the threat. We have swords of silver and crossbows of wood, and wooden stakes and wooden bolts. We have our terrifying splinter guns, and our bolt ships and our mighty splinter jets which thunder through the sun and rain stakes down upon the land. We have our fine sprays of garlic mist and our squirts of Aqua Sancta. The surface of America is a face of running moats! a checkerboard of streams more substantial as blockades than walls and mirror posts and mirror ramparts and the rolling garlic plantations where collared serfs in rustling gowns of a thousand tiny mirrors toil in the shadows of the scarecrow crucifixes. We wear our plate mirror and our ringmirror and our scale mirror into battle, our head proud bullets in mirror helms pointing unerring forwards at the dark horde as we charge with fearing heart but silver nerve to dusty battle with death, wielding our stakes and struts like wooden teeth hungry for the taste of dry vampire gut and sticky ichor. The silver fireengines of war pump a million gallons of holy water with the force of blood through the tunnels of a living heart, surging away the armies of the undead! There is struggle neverceasing. I have seen the tanks! I have been to NewRomeontheMississippi, and seen the mighty massblessed reservoirs where the EverHoly Pope - by the miracle of the divine Force working through his body in a world made porous to wonder by the debalancing of time's laws - does work his hands forever giving blessing over blessing in eighthour killing shifts to make the water holy which burns the Enemy. I have seen the immersion tanks where His Holiness is dipped one after the other to turn the water to living fire where it may wash the vampire skin, raddling their substance's outer shield like irrigation canals ploughed through the surface of a desert. The legions of the mighty are small but hard. But to what avail? What use are our warbands, our effort, our strife? The solid shadows of the night have their own war and weapons, their Marshals and Generals and mighty exertions, and their Engines and Constructions of war which mash and twist and seize us in our hundreds for their grotesquerie of lust and food. We are the hunted.
We are the used.
We are the food.
Our numbers are a mere fractional proportion of those of our ancestors; we live in fear and constant vigilance and unceasing cares that leave us never carefree. Our minds strain perpetually under the possibility of curse that leaves us aged and grey; there may next minute of our lives be death or the unspeakable. We live in horror for the consumption of our metaphysic, our last internal stronghold, our tiny soul. Vampires and we, we grip the earth. They stalk, we hide, they mass, we fight; the last Bright Empire is behind its own transparent locks and bars, and theirs is fortified too in its wickedness. And in the toll of war and conversion we both of us dwindle towards zero. And this is not the worst. This is not the worst.
For consider, if it is the extraction of blood by vampire means that makes a living man a vampire, then it is the restoration of that human essential by human means that can make a vampire a man. And so our feeble bodies groan under the necessary tax, we cripple our wasted substances to feed all we can of ourselves to the great transfusion banks and not one of us, not the Pope in his Vatican, not the prince in his hospital, not the most anaemic slave in his glass hovel in the dirt is free from the tax of blood. And we take our captured vampires and strap them, screaming incomprehension, to a one of the massed ranks of transfusion tables and by the application of a device of needle and a surgical straw, a surgeon, having filled his mouth with blood so that it drips from his living lips, blows it back into human veins. The nasty ichor, displaced, oozes hated to the floor from an incision in the feet. And vampire becomes man. And if such a footmarked man is seized again, and drained once more at Vampire banquets for the joyless birth of a new vampire hero, he does become once more like them in form and matter and negation of spirit; and if again captured by us, may so be reverted again and it is not impossible for such to be three or four times shuttlecocked between estates, or nine or ten. And those who have had such are unable to explain what they were as a vampire, nor are they pressed hard upon the subject for it seems to them to have passed as in a dream. And adrift in the memory are their past manners, if not of the kind of the functioning particle they now embody. But this is not the worst. For the rumours have the deepest horror, and fly without ceasing, for they say that if pushed too much from life to void and back, from the breathing burn of the living to the static negation of the counterbrood, THE MATTER OF OUR FORMS IS NOT STABLE and can slip, and fall into the vampire terror like an elastic band that, stretched, snaps between extremes - but a band that moves with the steady majesty of decay. And, too, if men once restored from vampires can revert, may not the proselytised vampires of the ebony cities find that among their number they have warm, living, cringing men where before but yesterday there was one of their own? And this is the pollution of it all, that all men are so bound up together against the threat that roars savaging out of the void, out of nothing at all, that they act as one and think and exist as one against the horror of time's opposite, and the vampires hunt also as a mighty pack - dwindling at the rate we dwindle in numbers, but this is to their advantage as they are creatures borne of the maelstrom of Nothing, the whirlpool of No Elements that takes place in the vastness of Nowhere, and so to dwindle to extinction is to take this dying planet to their natural home and not ours - and so are bound against us in common unity. And this being so, our race minds are each unified, ours to our common aim and they to theirs, and in this commonality and oneness open to affection across the multitude from the tendency of the one, as one bad apple in a basket will set them all spoiling. Our minds are one. We tremble in fear - and the fear does stimulate the danger, that is sure - as we wonder if it is not possible that, if the legion of the footmarkedreclaimed risk reversion, so might not a healthy human, an innocent, an untouched newborn baby? And so turn vampire with no provocation but merely the loss of anchorage of its own intrinsic substance? And may not any fresh vampire turn Man? THIS IS THE WORST. And does the clock tick all the way each time? Does nothing ever run down, does no process ever lose itself and become halfcut? Are we not afraid of the existence of partial transformation, the halfvampire, the common denominator which all purity, life and death, would abhor, trapped in limbo and content with nothing because there is nothing created to suit its adulterated spirit? Is this what is to be? Is this what we spiral down to? And hand to hand, breast to breast, mouth to mouth, clawing while crushed in mutual dependence, in shift one to the other, vampire to man, man to vampire, like the slow pulsings of the planetary heart, we two races - life and its opposite - on a dying world evolve endlessly together into the infinity of the future.
M.H. -- Ms. Maupin, you and your husband became highly successful after founding Overland Interface, but how did you make the decision to move up in the first place?
J.M. -- Well Michael, I realise people move up now at the drop of a hat, but back then - this is back in '67 - people still saw Overland as a sort of retirement home. So it took something fairly major to make us move - I mean, we would still be down here now if it hadn't been for Hilary's accident.
M.H. -- Do you want to talk about that?
J.M. -- Well it started in August '66 - back then we lived in Barrington, that's a suburb just outside of Chicago. I was living with Ambrose and Hilary, that's our daughter, had just turned five. We were quite well off - I worked in Global law and Ambrose had a job share in technical writing. Anyway we'd had my parents down for the day - they'd died a couple of years ago - and they'd been doting on Hilary. They'd bought her one of those fairies that were so popular then - they were sort of autonomous Netghosts and they could carry messages and that sort of thing, but I'm getting off the point here. Well, after my parents had gone home I took Hilary upstairs to put her to bed. I got her tucked in and she said to me something like, "Mom, do you have grandparents?" I told her I had and of course, being a little mercenary, she wanted to know when they would be coming to visit. Well, it didn't seem a good idea to tell her right then, but the next day I had a little chat with her to explain that back in the past, people weren't stored, so they disappeared when they died. That confused her some, so then I had to explain a bit about the Net and about Overland.
M.H. -- People say it comes naturally to kids, do you agree?
J.M. -- Well, yes in a way Mr. Higa, but they don't see it the way we do. I mean they can't remember knowing anyone who isn't stored. That was the problem. She developed a fantasy fulfilment disorder.
M.H. -- We don't have to go into depth, if you'd rather not.
J.M. -- No, it's okay. I mean, some of this stuff still hurts me, but I've come to terms with what happened - the guilt we felt - and if it helps other people to know what happened to us then at least that's something positive out of it. So anyway, after our talk, what she really picked up on was that Overland was a place you could go. I don't think she'd really understood before that Grandma and Grandpa had to go somewhere when they disappeared, and of course she wanted to go there herself. Well, back then FFD was just speculation in psychology journals rather than material for "Better Parenting" so we thought that if we just wired her in we could send her to my parents and they could take her out for a day. My parents didn't know any better either, so they did all the fun things - they let her fly, they let her play immersion games and they brought her down here as a Net ghost so she could see herself.
After that she went on to get the classic early symptoms - to start with it was just her bothering us to let her go back, so we fixed up for her to go and visit her grandparents every other Saturday and that accelerated the process. After a couple of weeks she was off her food and she was complaining all the time that she felt heavy and stupid when she was down here, that she wanted to be up in Overland all the time. I guess one time when I got angry with her I must have said that only dead people live in Overland. I definitely remember her having a tantrum where she just lay on the floor with her eyes squeezed shut, beating the ground with her fists and shouting, "I want to be dead!" again and again.
So we took her to the doctor, but there wasn't really that much she could do - to be fair she had heard of FFD cases and she explained to us how Overland was very much like a projection of the young child's fantasy realm - but it was new and she didn't know any therapists for it. So she fixed us up with a senior childpsychologist - Koorts in fact.
M.H. -- This is Richard Koorts, right?
J.M. -- Well sure, it was Hilary's case that set off his research into FFD really. Anyway, he recommended activities that weren't available in Overland, so we took Hilary to a playgroup to get her more peer group contact. That had some remedial effect - she liked going to the playgroup, but she didn't see why she couldn't live in Overland and go to playgroup too. So, time passed and we didn't seem to be going anywhere - Hilary was unhappy a lot of the time, and she sometimes refused to react or move at all when she was down here. We were under a great deal of strain and I think that's largely why we tried giving her the `cold turkey' treatment. We forbade her to go on her usual visit. Well, she threw a fit, then she ran upstairs and hid in her room in a sulk. Ambrose and I had had enough, and we left her to it.
So we'd just settled down to watch the midday news when we heard her scream growing louder and louder and then cut off with a terrible sort of `thwack' as she hit the bottom stair. We rushed over to her, but she was quite obviously dead - her neck was twisted and - well, then of course the Net ran her last Overland template and she appeared next to us at the bottom of the stairs. Of course all she could remember was going to bed the previous evening and so she looked round confused and said, "What's happening?" Ambrose just stood there totally dumbstruck and I really blew up. I tried to smack her - can you believe that? - but of course it was her Net ghost so I went right through. Ambrose sort of slumped into a chair and started to cry and I started shouting at her - stuff like, "Well now you've got what you wanted you little shit! Now you've killed yourself!" But she just stood there and said, "Don't shout at me Mommy, I can fly!" before zooming off round the room. I sat down next to Ambrose and started to laugh and cry at the same time.
M.H. -- What happened after that?
J.M. -- Well we had a funeral of course - and we took Hilary along since we thought it would do her good to say goodbye to that part of herself. After that she lived with my parents for a while and we visited back and forth, but it was all rather strained. My parents made it clear that they weren't going to look after her forever and Ambrose's parents had been good Catholics back when it was still a sin to be stored - they didn't even have nano injections, so they could only see Net ghosts if they wore eyephones. Anyway, Hilary needed us, so we made wills to ourselves then just booked ourselves into a clinic to get euthanased. We had a big wake for our friends, then we sold the real house and kept a template to live in.
M.H. -- So then you founded Overland Interface in '69?
J.M. -- Yes, we set it up as a consultancy to advise business on a more constructive use of Overland. After all, there were several million people up here just being stored under the `Right to Life' act of '62 - people just hadn't woken up to the human resources available.
M.H. -- Any regrets about moving up?
J.M. -- I suppose I miss not being able to touch real things. I still find Overland stuff all feels the same-though the routines are being upgraded all the time - and if what I read in Scientific American is true we should have commercial decanting in a few years, so I'll be able to move down for a time and refresh my memory. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an avatar in New York who I should collect. Goodbye Mr. Higa.
M.H. -- Thank you for your time Ms. Maupin.
But the feeling wouldn't go away. He could just reach out to the door lock, by the window... He wouldn't. The urge was very strong, but he wouldn't do it. He was not going to do it. He could imagine what would happen. The door would fly open; he'd fall out into the traffic. He could imagine his family looking round, aghast, at his tumbling body disappearing under a car behind. They would be shocked, wondering how he could have done it. It wouldn't happen. It would be very easy though; he'd just have to reach out... He sat on his hand to stop himself from doing it.
It wouldn't work. He could easily take his hand out from under him. A sign went past. He looked at it. Another one hundred and twenty miles. One and a half hours to resist the urge. He began to panic. He wasn't going to be able to stop himself. He looked round at his family. There was a grim silence in the car; the family all thinking about the argument that had just taken place. This was how divorces started. If he jumped out, would they blame each other? How was he going to stop himself. What would he say? "Help, I'm feeling suicidal"? They'd probably just look blank and then what would they do? Panic? Hold on to him during the whole journey? It wouldn't do any good to tell them; it would worry them silly.
Perhaps it wouldn't happen. But it could. He would reach out like this... He didn't reach out; if he did he would surely go the whole way. The only thing to do was not to even start. But there were one and a half hours to go. Perhaps he should just get it over with. What on earth could he do? It wasn't as if he wanted to die. There was just this urge in his subconscious that wanted him to kill himself.
It was getting darker outside the window; almost all of the cars had their lights on. He could imagine jumping out into the car coming up behind. All he had to do was unlock the door and open it. It was just a morbid fantasy, he told himself. If he put his hand on the lock like this, he wouldn't necessarily open it. He could feel it under his hand; he pulled it up. There was a click. None of his family noticed. He moved his hand over to the doorhandle.
He glided with distressing ease through the air. Some years ago, he had seen an explanation of the mechanisms behind human levitation. The maths and physics had seemed reasonable enough at the time, although he had forgotten it mere moments later. He had no reason to care how it worked; he only needed to know he could comprehend the proofs, and his computer could always look up the details again for him if he wanted. Yet, for all the science, he could find no emotional counterpart. He liked walking, yet levitation was `better'. He was no active foe of conformism, but any dissident knows that one can remain a passive taunt to conventionality only for so long, in only so many ways, before one has one's knuckles rapped. Acceptability is a precious commodity to you once you've felt social rejection, even once. He had felt it many times, and knew that he should hover gracelessly by way of transport, rather than use the legs he was given. It was not difficult to levitate, it was almost cowardly - he had it easy, now.
Where next? Anywhere he cared, so far as he knew. Spoilt for choice, he unthinkingly decelerated, the almost undetectable and instinctive guidance system making the transition from drifting to bobbing as he neared the crossroads - registering his uncertainty as tiny reorientations to reflect his many thoughts as to where he should go next. He detested this highly visible echoing of his inner indecisions, and instead dropped into a seat on the thin refuge that delimited the vehicular portion of the road from the `pedestrian'. The limited telepathy of the tiny sensor box in his back pocket could invade his mind, but, as he always comforted himself, only on its own terms. While it knew where he wanted to go, it would not register his wish to go there unassisted. They said that machines could think now, which he doubted - certainly none of the ones he had encountered ever understood his mistrust of them, though the same went for most of his friends. In the generationsold search for computers that could behave like humans, there was some confusion over which of man and machine had been changed more fundamentally in order to fit the equation. But before they released prototype devices, they had been prudent enough to simulate the possible sociological effects on a computer, to check that it would work. After a few shallow critiques in the media, the fuss calmed down, and the vast majority of the population came to accept this technology - they had it easy, now.
He had done his day's work, and was, as ever, weary of much that happened in his town. The teletransmitter caught his sudden decisiveness, and he rose from the seat and headed North, effortlessly ascending the tallest hill of the sparse metropolis. People rarely went up the hill - there was nothing at the summit, after all. As a place to reflect upon the fate of his city, however, it served him well. The domed top afforded a coldly realistic view of the softly artificial environment. This was life that had been carefully sampled, processed, and rendered back to replace the original, characteristically, yet almost imperceptibly, dulling it in the process. If a town is becoming congested, then the solution is obvious: simply make a new one using fractal architecture that was parameterised from the original, then modified to more closely match the requirements of the residents. And, unbelievably, people liked it, oblivious to the losses they had faced. Nobody minded the uniformity of the brickwork, nor the overshadowing of humanity by raw logic in the mock Edwardian district, nor indeed the telling implausibilities that marred the pseudohistory of the new town, and revealed to those who took a second look that for reasons they couldn't put their fingers on, it just couldn't have happened like that. It made him almost frantic to realise that as time went by, he would become one of a dying breed, since the past itself was being depicted in their terms. No longer was it possible to obtain an old film, unless it had been colourtinted, smoothed, deglitched, restabilised and then converted to a raster image, and compacted for easy transit, based around ohsonatural assumptions on where the viewer's eye would wander. Yes, archive newsreels were available - he could watch whatever he wanted at a moment's notice, but that required inquisitiveness. Inquiry was obsolete; computers knew what you wanted to find out, and vast processors were dedicated to the task of keeping citizens wellinformed - it was easy, now.
His equipment belt suddenly began to emit an alarmed bleep as he undid the buckle and let the belt slide to its ankles. He stepped out and back, looking at it as it lay there in the grass - an impeccably planted stretch of turf that constituted one of the city's few concessions to nature. There was a distinct whistle as more and more circuits cut in, vainly trying to cope with this unexpected loss of contact. The pitch of the bleeping noise rose, and several lights began to flash.
There was, for once, someone else on the hill, a young programmer. He could tell that he was a programmer because of the number of interface sockets on his belt, and the ridiculously high quality metallic blue finish that was only an option on the most expensive models of equipment belt. He could tell the man was young, because...
The man was young. He didn't care how he knew. He stood there, knowing, in flagrant defiance of the proofs that intuition was merely an illusion, that the man was young.
The young man flipped up the visor on his helmet, and glanced disapprovingly at the discarded belt.
"So you like these, these... then?" the old man asked, waving indicatively at his belt.
"What are you talking to me for?" The young man was clearly startled, and unprepared for vocal communication. His voice had even developed a raw and husky quality through lack of use. Now, when he spoke, it was only in a whisper, and the fact that he disapproved of the breach of the peace that his companion had caused with his more forthright and louder tone of voice was obvious. "Can't you use your teletransmitter like everyone else?"
"Can't you talk, like everyone used to?"
The young man ignored him, and instead slid his sleeve up, swiftly produced a small clinical injection unit, and quietly jabbed the needle into his arm. With his other hand, he keyed a brief code into the unit, and a small bolt of liquid slid down the tube into his arm.
"Great gadget. Of course, it's not supposed to dispense sedatives like these, but I did design the damn machines, so I ought to know how to fiddle them a bit, and after all, I really need something to calm... ahhhhh... calm my nerves down." The dose had clearly had its effect.
"Why do you need to calm your nerves?"
"Yes, I do like teletransmitters. I helped on the project team that designed the prototypes. We were extraordinarily careful to make sure that they would be compatible with every conceivable human mentality, and would provide an effortless means of communication between humans and computers. Then you just stand there and take yours off. Hell, you're weird. Shit." The young man paused, realising this didn't actually answer the most recent question that had been put to him. "What did you say?"
"Why do you need to calm your nerves?"
"My wife left me this afternoon."
"Oh. I'm sorry." The older man was clearly at a loss for anything useful to say at this stage.
"Yeah, so am I, dumbo. Shit."
So much for sympathy. Time to try sarcasm instead: "Never mind, I'm sure you can order another one with your teletransmitter."
"Look, smartass. Sure, I can order another with my teletransmitter, but it still costs money, y'know. Besides, this is the third one I've lost this week."
So much for sarcasm. Time to try abject confusion: "Costs money?"
"Yes. These were robotic wives. Larger initial outlay, but much lower running costs, and guaranteed marital harmony. The snag is that they're not working yet, and my boss is getting annoyed at the number of robots we're losing. It all worked fine under software simulation a couple of weeks back. Shit."
So much for confusion. Time to try despair. He turned away, as the young man tapped more keys, and sent three more doses into his blood stream. The young man had it easy, now.
Geoff Ryman's fourth novel is both a paraliterary endeavour to reclaim Oz from Hollywood and a moving and often disturbing parable about childhood. The novel is made up of three linked stories: in 1875, Dorothy's parents die of a diphtheria epidemic in St. Louis and she is packed off to her aunt in the tiny settler town of Manhattan in Kansas. She cannot adjust to the poverty and hardship of frontier life, nor to the puritan ethic that Aunt Em (who means well, but is unable to show any affection for Dorothy) attempts to instil in her, and she is sexually abused by her uncle. She runs away to the Wichita (looking for Oz?), but cannot escape from the tragedy of her life, becoming a prostitute, alcoholic, violent, and is finally locked up in a mental hospital. "Oh, Dorothy!" cries the reader, "Where was Oz when you needed it most?" "There's no place like home," the film has Dorothy saying, and the irony is painfully cruel.
One of Ryman's many sources, quoted in the chapter headings, describes the flight from the failed farmlands of the American West: "By the end of the nineteenth century, country towns had become charnelhouses and the countries that surrounded them had become places of dry bones. The land and its farms were filled with the guilty voices of women mourning for their children and the aimless mutterings of men asking about jobs... The people who left the land came to the cities not to get jobs, but to be free from them, not to get work but to be entertained, not to be masters but to be charges. They followed yellow brick roads to emerald cities presided over by imaginary wizards who would permit them to live in happy adolescence for the rest of their lives..." [Michael Lesy, Wisconsin Death Trip] Where was Oz for all these people?
In 1927, Judy Garland (nee Frances Gumm) is the youngest and most talented of three performing sisters, singing in her parents' moviehouse, being pushed onto the stage in Los Angeles and watching nervously as her gay father and unfaithful mother attempt to keep up the pretence of a normal family. By the time she stars in The Wizard of Oz, she no longer has a home to return to.
In 1956 disturbed child Jonathan sees The Wizard of Oz on its first television showing. In 1989, dying of AIDS, he learns by chance that Baum had based his books on a real Dorothy whom he met in Kansas in the late nineteenth century, and sets out to find where she lived - and to look for Oz.
In Ryman's novel, L. Frank Baum appears briefly as a substitute teacher at Dorothy's school, and is so horrified at his pupil's wasted life that he writes the Oz books as if to say, it could have been different. The people of Kansas have trouble with Baum's East Coast accent, and think that his name is Balm - and certainly Ryman casts the novelist in the role of a healer, for one of Ryman's theses seems to be this: that Baum created Oz as a gift that children who were unhappy at home could escape to, a land that was always marvellous and exciting, but in which you could never come to any harm, and which you never had to leave; The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was never intended to carry the heavy moral authority of the film, never intended to show that Oz is a terrifying and dangerous place or that home is best and that girls should never leave to seek adventure. In Baum's novel, the good sorceress Glinda gives Dorothy a magic kiss on her forehead to protect her from all harm, but this is absent from the film: "Gradually Jonathan realized that in the movie, the kiss was not a spell. The kiss would not protect Dorothy. She could be hurt. It was television, frightening again."
Baum's message was not understood - or perhaps understood well enough - by adult Americans. "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was kept off most public library shelves until the 1960s because librarians considered it hackwork." [Aljean Harmetz, The Making of the Wizard of Oz] "The hostility to the Oz books was itself something of a phenomenon... It is significant that one of the most brutal attacks on the Oz books was made by the director of the Detroit Library system, who found the Oz books to have `a cowardly approach to life'. They are also guilty of `negativism'. Worst of all, `there is nothing elevating or uplifting about the Baum series'. For the Librarian of Detroit, courage and affirmation meant punching the clock and then doing the dull work of a machine while never questioning the system." [Gore Vidal, `The Oz Books']
How successful is Was? We are on Orson Scott Card territory here - the characters' lives depicted here are so painful that we cannot but feel moved by them - and Ryman has, like Card, a combination of gentle wisdom, love for and piercing insight into his characters. Perhaps it is overdone in places, but Was remains a powerful and assured piece of work, and certainly a candidate for the year's best novel.
Postscript (April 92). After listening to Ryman talk about the novel, it seems that my interpretation of the novel is wrong - or at least it does not concur with his, and certainly Ryman is wiser than I. My own interpretation was that Dorothy cannot find Oz, but can only go on searching for it by becoming insane. Ryman said that Dorothy does find Oz; it is we who label her as `mad'. Much as I wished for a happy ending to the novel, I cannot agree with him; I do not have such a romantic view of madness.
The picture of galactic society painted here is extremely bleak: with planetdestroying technologies easily available, advanced civilisations hide in fear of violent and agressive intelligences, taking great care to hide every trace of their presence by shielding all radio emissions and by concealing totally all information about what they are like, and where there home star is. Meanwhile, the aggressive intelligences build their selfreplicating machines to destroy unwary young intelligent races, and live in such terror of the Law that condemns them and all their descendants to extermination that they turn entire star systems into traps and decoys.
Bleak, yes, but as the crew of the Dawn Treader degenerate into Lord of the Fliesstyle powerplay, mysticism and violence, Greg Bear seems to be suggesting that we have no reason to hope for anything better.
Given that the novel attempts to describe civilisations immeasurably more advanced, technologically and socially, than ourselves, it is not surprising that Bear fails to be completely convincing, but some subeditor should have caught the truly dreadful names (for example, one of the aliens is called `Dry Skin/Norman'. I kid you not!). On the plus side, Anvil of Stars is a wellpaced exciting adventure story, with superscience to rival anything doc Smith ever thought up.
Well, not really. Ellen Datlow's new collection is full of sophisticated and intelligent stories that bear this kind of analysis lightly.
Of course there's fluff too, but even that is mostly delightful. There's Larry Niven's oftreprinted `Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex', about the problems of conceiving a child when your sperm are faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive; Philip Jose Farmer wonders what Tarzan would have been like if it had been written by William rather than Edgar Rice in `The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod'; Geoff Ryman describes a universe dedicated to fucking itself in `Omnisexual'; Roberta Lannes parodies the anthology's theme in her hilarious `Saving the World at the New Moon Motel', Harlan Ellison supplies a rather disappointing dirty joke `How's the Night Life on Cissalda', and Scott Baker pads out the pages with the dull and unreconstructed `The Jamesburg Incubus'.
Among the serious stories, two authors comment on the nasty side of malefemale politics using the humanalien metaphor, K W Jeter in `The First Time' and Michaela Roessner in `Picture Planes'; there are variations on the demon lover by Richard Matheson and Lewis Shiner; three stories take as a theme the destructive effect of the cargo culture induced by the appearance on Earth of vastly superior aliens; `War Bride' by Rick Wilbur, `When the Fathers Go' by Bruce McAllister and `And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side' by James Tiptree Jr. The stories which approach the alien sex theme best are `Dancing Chickens' by Ed Bryant and `Roadside Rescue' by Pat Cadigan which go beyond merely sex with aliens to consider kinds of activity which humans might have trouble recognising as sex. Leigh Kennedy supplies `Her Furry Face', a story about a failed relationship, Lisa Tuttle provides original and interesting speculations on the role of gender in `Husbands' and Pat Murphy has some kooky theories about the future of evolution in `Love and Sex Among the Invertebrates'.
The most challenging of the stories here, and worth the price alone, is Connie Willis' controversial `All My Darling Daughters'. In the story, genetic engineering has produced a creature called a `tessel', which is essentially a living vagina, whose attraction to the male characters in the story is not only that it is incapable of defending itself, but that when penetrated, it emits a scream "the sound a woman must make when she is being raped. No. Worse. The sound a child might make." You can see why such a story might prove controversial. Male critics, notably Orson Scott Card, have accused Willis of being antimale, and avowed that they could never find anything attractive about the tessel. Female critics have found more to disagree about. Mari Kotari, writing in issue 9 of Science Fiction Eye, argues that since the tessel reduces sexual vulnerability to its essential form, the story provides a reductio ad absurdam demonstration that vulnerability does not define or constitute femininity; that it is something alien. "Just as the tessel uncovered its users' sexual politics rather than its own identity, so the textuality of `All My Darling Daughters' unveils the reader's own political sexuality."
A book titled Alien Sex could have become an anthology of pornography, but Datlow has instead assembled an almost uniformly excellent collection of entertaining and intelligent stories.
In the opening chapters we run through all the cyberpunk themes - information economy, powerful scheming multinational corporations, exotic east Asian setting (there's even a Zen Master who seems to spend all his time in zazen or dishing out Zen platitudes), cities in orbit, emerging artificial intelligence - as SenTrax official Gonzales performs an `information audit' on a corrupt Burmese bureaucrat who then tries to have him assassinated, returns to the US in shock at his close brush with death, gets assigned to escort computer scientist Diana Heywood to L5 colony Halo, run by the slowlyawakening artificial intelligence Aleph. At which point, the genre trappings, the (rather feeble) corporate machinations, even the central character Gonzales, fade into the background and the novel focuses on its central concern, the strengthening selfhood and approaching transcendental intelligence of Aleph.
Maddox has been accused of fine writing (`hyperliterate' exudes William Gibson on the cover; `literate as hell' write Paul McAuley in a review), and certainly he is selfconsciously literate, with erratic success. There are moments of poetry, but too often of bathos - some of the dialogue is truly dreadful. Maddox is adept at describing his robots, machine intelligences and orbital habitats, less so when it comes to his rather cardboard characters and their interactions.
It's not that Halo is a bad book, it's just that Maddox is too weighed down by the genre he champions to emerge from it. And there is some evidence that there's a real writer struggling to emerge from this book's pages. Don't spend your money yet, but do watch this space.
Perhaps the case for Philip K Dick's status as a great artist still has to be proven (I am in no doubt on this score - Dick mined the trash of pulp fiction, religious cults and conspiracy theory to produce astonish gems of literature: he possessed something of William Burroughs' paranoid vision, but with infinitely more love for his characters, those ordinary people trying to survive in the face of oppressive bosses or governments, and often the total breakdown of reality), but there can be no doubt as to his suffering. Sutin carefully details the troubles of Dick's life - his hate for his mother (on whose support he depended many times in his life), his passionate courtships and inability to hold down a relationship for long (he was married five times), his drug habit (he used - prescribed - amphetamines and tranquilisers in vast quantities to control his moods and allow him to write at ferocious speed), his suicide attempts and his theological agonising, but never forgets why Dick's life is so fascinating to us. Of the rejection of the seven mainstream novels he wrote in the fifties, Sutin writes "It was an anguish to him. And out of that anguish his best work would come." And of Dick's intense religious visions of February and March 1974 (and which he struggled heroically and unsuccessfully to explain for the rest of his life, said struggle filling more than 7,000 pages of journal - Sutin prints one extraordinary story from this Exegesis in which Dick is tormented by a God who is responsible for his visions but by whose very nature is immune to and beyond any explanation), "As Valis proved, it was, whatever else you will, a great idea for a novel."
Lawrence Sutin remains somewhat detached from his subject throughout the book, the cool tone a contrast with some Dickian eulogies, but that is to his credit, for Dick is clearly a difficult person to write about. Not only, it seems, was he possessed of an incredibly energetic, intelligent and warm personality, but his own versions of his life often (when they are not already selfcontradictory) contrast dramatically with those of his friends and family. It seems that he never stopped fictionalising, quite unconsciously, his life story, and Sutin proceeds through this minefield with admirable care, backing up or contradicting Dick's own accounts with those of people close to him, and itemising his sources meticulously.
How much can Philip K Dick's life tell us about his novels? Sutin provides two different views of Dick's on the subject: "It is one of the cardinal errors of literary criticism to believe that the author's own views can be inferred from his writing." and "People have told me that everything about me, every facet of my life, psyche, experiences, dreams and fears are laid out explicitly in my writing, that from the corpus of my work I can be absolutely and precisely inferred. This is true." Certainly it is the case that his novels drew heavily on his life for their raw materials, for characters, places and dilemmas, even for their metaphysical paradoxes. But isn't this true of any serious writer? Sutin points to the many correspondances between life and art, but he is not in the business of explaining, nor should we be. Divine Invasions is, dare I say it, an essential book. Read it. (And if you haven't read the masterpieces A Scanner Darkly, Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said, or Valis, perhaps this book will persuade you.)
His space opera still has space ships (though the main protagonist's ship is now a dirty cargo ship), aliens (nasty and bizarre) and strange and difficult environments, yet there is something more: Greenland is not an `ideas' writer like so many other space opera authors; his characters are as real and colourful as any you could read about. The main protagonist of Take Back Plenty is Tabitha Jute, the captain of the cargo ship `Alice Liddell' who gets into all sorts of trouble after taking on some strange passengers - trouble that includes space pirates, bounty hunters, crashing on Venus and aliens, thought long dead, proving to be very much alive. It is all told with such an eye for pace and humour that it is a true joy to read and I feel I can heartily recommend it.
The chief protagonist of The Crow Road is Prentice McHoan, a young Scot on the verge of manhood and understanding, and it is through his eyes that much of the story is seen. Banks often uses a narrator who is either a child (Frank in The Wasp Factory) or someone who is childlike, has yet to reach the understanding, the stasis of adulthood, and is thus more naive, grasping for knowledge, and more combative, fighting against the forces of the establishment. This choice serves him well in The Crow Road - Prentice makes an ideal protagonist, intelligent and full of dark humour, yet not without many faults - his infatuation for the divine Verity, his jealousy of his brother, his argument with his father - which all form part of the tale.
The story is essentially that of two generations of the McHoans and their sprawling family of eccentrics: Prentice's father, Kenneth; Kenneth's brothers, the missing Rory and the religious Hamish; and his brother in law, the rich yet troubled Fergus are just some of the wonderful characters Banks draws for us in a text based on flashback and a contemporary narrative. These characters and the land where they live and die make The Crow Road special, for it is clear that Banks feels for the people he writes about and understands them and their motives. It is this skill that some of the `best' of his generation often lack, and though Banks is not as literate or as polished as his peers he still has a certain spark, an eye for the horrific and the darkly humourous (here used to much better effect than in his previous novels), all of which make The Crow Road his best novel yet.
Sf fandom is indeed the natural place for those who love sf, its images and ideas, but to enter it it is wiser to visit a convention or two to see if you like the people. It is wiser still to go to one with people you know, although fandom is welcoming enough to people who make the effort to participate in it. Participation, however, will not bring you anything in the way of a deeper enjoyment or understanding of science fiction, nor will it broaden your reading or your mind in ways that you cannot with a little effort encourage for yourself, as it has to be said that the taste of most fans is lamentably poor and unthinking. Yet participation will bring you lots of new friends and new social interests if you do not have enough already. Perhaps it is the place for you, although the Ton is not the place to start.
Don't let me put you off.
Jumpin' Jack Daniels, famous popstar of the band New Teenage Kicks, who last had a hit record in 1973 with their glamrock classic Sugar Overload, in 1986 persuaded doctors to equip him with reversable hormones. At the time he told reporters, "I'm cheesed with all this tabloid speculation over my personal relationships. From now on I'm in a multioptional situation." This radical technique of radiation therapy means that, after an injection of the correct enzymes, Jumpin' Jack is able to switch his sexual orientation whichever way he wishes, to find either women or men attractive, but not both at the same time. Since 1986 he has personally sued popular publications seventeen times, each time successfully, for making allegations about his sex life and orientation. If they claim he is gay, he can prove in court that he is straight, and vice versa. Says Jack, "If everyone had reversable hormones, the world would be a more wonderful place." It's a Fact!
James Bradley Scurf of NY state, USA, twentyseven years of age and now employed as a car mechanic, was born with the sexual pleasure circuits of his brain connected by misplaced nerve ends to his throat. Bizarre but true, while James received no pleasure from intercourse, all feeling in his palate and throat was perceived by his brain as being sexual in nature. He would mystify all his friends by turning up to parties, getting very drunk and repeatedly throwing up. This constant behaviour was not, as they thought, lack of selfcontrol but merely an attempt to achieve sexual fulfillment. A doctor writes, "Being the fast movement of liquid expelled from the body through a narrow tube, for men at least the principle is identical for both processes." James Bradley Scurf has been speechless since May 1987, when friends fed him his first vindaloo. It's a Fact!
As part of its prolife drive, the latest issue of fundamentalist journal `Christian Pedagogue' has come out firmly against modern medicine, affirming the right of diseases - both germs and viral infections - to live on God's earth with the same rights and hopes of salvation as any other living thing. "If we visit a doctor," affirms the editorial, "we not only fight against the extra life in our bodies which God has seen fit to bless us with and thus against God's inevitable Will, we also seek to murder the living disease which through the goodness of our hearts we let ride in us so that it too may multiply and experience the beauty of God's creation. All have a right to life in the sight of the Lord." In California, a mental `Channeller' has made psychic contact with an influenza virus living in her body and is now offering seminars instructing the influenza's timeless wisdom as seen as `Life on the InSide'. The virus has much to say on the subject of the Universe of Love in which we live and the bonds of Psychic Love which bind as all and give us our own special role within the world whole, but has also come out firmly against tightening the gun laws. It's a Fact!