Aye, and Gomorrah • 1967 • SF short story by Samuel R. Delany

★★★★★

Synopsis: Astronauts are neutered and androgynized after their training. When they visit Earth, some of them prostitute themselves to „frelks“, people who fetishize sex with the astronauts.
The story follows the first person narrator with his fellow astronauts searching Paris and mostly Istanbul for frelks. He follows such a woman in Istanbul to her home. But he doesn’t want to be paid with money.

Review: This story was published first in Harlan Ellison‘s famous anthology „Dangerous Visions“ which picked up the New Wave voices of SF. It has been anthologized very often since then.
The story‘s topic is sexuality in different forms, written by one of the most prominent gay authors of SF. Transgender, asexuality, gay, prostitution – you‘ll find everything here (though not as explicit as in his later works) and it’s been heavily discussed because of it. In the 1960s it might have felt revolutionary but nowadays it still stays relevant and feels fresh.

Delany‘s narrative voice is sometimes charming, other times mysterious, as he doesn’t spoon feed the reader. The story is worth being read twice, as it slowly gives away its secrets. It isn’t as puzzling as a Gene Wolfe story but quite clear in its messages, asking for sexual and gender tolerance.

I found the story‘s beauty remarkable, and can only recommend reading it, as it is a masterpiece of the New Wave of SF.

Delany never lets me down with his different topics – for a linguistic novel, check out my review of Babel-17.

Meta: isfdb It won the Nebula Award.

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Good News from the Vatican • 1971 • SF short story by Robert Silverberg

★★★☆☆

Synopsis: The first person narrator, as well as a catholic bishop, a rabbi, and a couple others have met since three months in a bar at Rome’s St Peter’s plance in order to watch the outcome of a conclave, the voting for a new pope. They are looking forward to have the robotic cardinal as the new leader of the Catholic Church, some discuss against it. A bunch of robotic priests are eagerly praying for it.

Review: This satiric work was brief and enjoyable. It‘s got an archaic touch as a SF work – with „Lira“ as the Italian money instead of Euro, a still integrate state of „Yugoslavia“ instead of several states, and the weak role of females in the story. How could Silverberg have predicted the unheard of case of a retired pope, or a pope from South America? But the story was written after the Second Vatican Council which implemented huge reforms to the church. And the author could have extrapolated far braver than just introducing an AI as a pope.
The church’s role is always interesting to note in SF works, as it has a huge impact even in our days. Typically, it’s depicted as opposing uploading minds into the cloud (because what about the soul?) in more contemporary works This story takes a charming, inclusive, and positive approach to Catholicism which I find quite interesting.
On the negative side, there is nearly no discussion of the implications of an AI pope. It only presents the satirical idea as such, lets you have a good laugh, and leave you on your own.
Back in the 1970s it might have more punch, but nowadays it feels weaker. It is short enough to be enjoyable and for this, I can recommend it.

Meta: isfdb It won the Nebula Award

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Vaster than Empires and more Slow – 1971 – Hainish novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin

★★★★☆

An exploratory ship staffed with Osden, an empath who is able to receive emotions by any being, is sent out to investigate world 4470. It is covered with a forest and besides of plants no animal down to microbial life at all.

Osden is hated by the whole team of 9 scientific members due to his explicit negative behavior. This is not the only problematic relationship; all of them act weird and difficult.

Once they are on the planet, things go nuts, they feel obsessed. Osden is sent out to investigate the source of this phenomenon.

Review: The strange selection of a clearly defunct crew clearly contrasts any militarily structured spaceship. It might be considered as an answer to the early Star Trek series which has been quite popular at the time of first publication in 1971. While the typical crew has their role models, the protagonists of this novelette are outstanding in their negative reactions. This is no happy, charming “Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet”, at all!

Le Guin analyses the relationship of the crew to the planets alien concept of life as a followup to her first novella The Word for World is Forest. It has been anthologiesed multiple times, and I’m happy to have reread it after my commemorative reading in 2018 (I didn’t write reviews, then).

The story’s title is taken from To His Coy Mistress by 17th century poet Andrew Marvell. It also cites the famous beginning of the poem “Had we but World enough, and Time. Other SFF authors refer also to it, e.g. Aldiss, Haldeman, Beagle, or Pratchett. So, check it out!

This novelette is a great supplement of her Hainish universe, set some time after The Dispossessed, and I can fully recommend it. For a deeper analysis, please consider the Wikipedia article , but as usual, beware of heavy spoilers there.

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Ancient Egypt [Visual Explorer Guide] • 2020 • Non fiction book by Peter Mavrikis

★★★★☆

This book remembers me of a river cruseship journey up the Nile some ten years ago. It’s been one of my most impressive travels and this book brings back fond memories and extends it. Now, in these pandemic times there is no way of returning there in person, and I welcome this book as a best case of replacing the travel itself.

As the title says: it’s visual, and that is its most prominent element. It’s structured through the well-known historical eons of Egyptian history, starting in the Old Kingdom (the pyramids at Giza and the Great Sphinx) through Middle (Obelisks at Heliopolis) and New Kingdown (Pharaoh Ramses II, the Karnak Temple, the Theban Necropolis, and the Temple of Nefertari at Abu Simbel)  up to the Greco-Roman Period (Alexandria) with each period getting its equal share of attention.

I can nearly feel the stones’ heat with the vivid pictures again. Welcome to time travel witht his book at a really affordable price.

Meta: isbn 9781838860165. Publication Date 14.09.2020 by Amber Books.

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Entanglements – Tomorrow’s Lovers, Families, and Friends • 2020 • Twelve Tomorrows anthology by Sheila Williams

★★★+☆☆

Summary: The Twelve Tomorrow’s series by MIT is an annual anthology featuring near future SF stories. I really liked the past issues, and came to the same conclusion this year: there are some gems in it making the anthology worth its price and time investment, resulting in 3.5 stars. This year’s novelty is a common topic “Entanglement” for the original stories, providing a more humanistic instead of technological view on our future. This resulted in some stories which I tagged as “Romance SF” which might by a neologism as a SF subgenre – though I’m fully aware that romances in SF go back to pulp SF times. Usually, I don’t buy into romance stories, but James Patrick Kelly’s novelette “Your Boyfriend Experience” is a very fine example which I really liked: it features a charming lovebot in an unusal restaurant episode. Most prominent in this anthology is Nancy Kress, opening with a novelette “Invisible People”, supported by a very insightful biography and interview – both were excellent and let me look forward reading the whole anthology. The story combines Kress’s trademarked humanistic topic with contemporary trends like nonbinary characters and very strong females. Another gem in this anthology is “Sparklybits” by Nick Wolven, combining multi-motherhood with A.I. companions. On the negative side there are stories which I simply didn’t understand or which I didn’t like that much – in other words: a plain normal anthology, worthwhile for everyone who likes Near Future SF set in our own world and society – you won’t find space opera or cyberpunk here.

If you’re interested, check out my older 2014 and 2013 Twelve Tomorrows reviews (the newer ones rest on my shelves and didn’t get through my reading slump).

Contents:

  • 1    • ★★★★☆ • Invisible People • 2020 • Near Future SF novelette by Nancy Kress • review
  • 25  • ★★★★☆ • Profile: Nancy Kress • 2020 • Biography and Interview by Lisa Yaszek • excellent biography and a longer interview by the highly qualified professor of SF studies, uncovering not only Kress’s background, but also emphasizing the author’s “reputation for weaving ethical debates about the meaning and value of new scientific and medical trends into vividly dramatized stories“, linking “big technoscientifc ideas with intimate portraits of families and relationships“. The interview also gives insights into her process of translating hard science to the ethical aspects of societal change. She says that “science itself is fascinating. But unless I can translate it into narrative, and its effect on people, it doesn’t hold as much fascination, and it doesn’t, of course, create stories. Because stories are made out fo and for people.” The influence by Ursula K. Le Guin is obvious, and I guess that’s why I love her work.
  • 35  • ★★★☆☆ • Echo the Echo • 2020 • Near Future SF short story by Rich Larson • review
  • 51  • ★★★★☆ • Sparklybits • 2020 • Near Future SF short story by Nick Wolven • review
  • 75  • ★★☆☆☆ • A little Wisdom • 2020 • Near Future SF short story by Mary Robinette Kowal • review
  • 93  • ★★★★☆ • Your Boyfriend Experience • 2020 • Romance SF novelette by James Patrick Kelly •  review
  • 123 • ★★☆☆☆ • Mediation • 2020 • Near Future SF short story by Cadwell Turnbull • review
  • 135 • ☆☆☆☆☆ • The Nation of the Sick • 2020 • Near Future SF short story by Sam J. Miller • I just didn’t get this story and have no intention re-reading it, so I leave it unreviewed.
  • 151 • ★★★☆☆ • Don’t mind me • 2020 • Near Future SF short story by Suzanne Palmer • review
  • 171 • ★★☆☆☆ • The Monogamy Hormone • 2020 • Romance SF short story by Annalee Newitz • review
  • 185 • ★★☆☆☆ • The Monk of Lingyin Temple • 2020 • Near Future SF novelette by Xia Jia (translated by Ken Liu) • review

Meta: isfdb. publication date 15.9.2020 by MIT Press.

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Im Dienst der Föderation – 2000 – Military SF Roman von Tanya Huff

★★★+☆☆

Torin Kerr führt ihre Marines als Ehrenwache in eine diplomatische Mission: Sie sollen neben Menschen und „Elfen“ ein weiteres kämpfendes Volk – „Echsen“ – für den Beitritt in die Föderation gewinnen. Die aggressiven Spezies sind dringend nötig, da die älteren, pazifistischen Völker (darunter „Spinnen“) sich nicht gegen die ominösen Anderen wehren könnten.

Ihre Rang als „Staff Sergeant“ – der zweithöchste Unteroffiziersrang – erfordert, ihren Trupp am Leben zu halten und den neuesten Junioroffizier anzulernen und von dummen Befehlen abzuhalten. Was ihr leichter fallen würde, wenn sie mit ihm nicht vor dem Einsatz geschlafen hätte.

Einige Tage nach Ankunft auf dem Heimatplaneten der Echsen und einigen Paraden wird der Truppentransporter in der Wildnis abgeschossen. Es beginnt ein Kampf gegen eine Übermacht Wilder.

Review: Der planetarische Kampf gegen Wilde ist so alt wie die SF (als Beispiel sei Ursula Le Guins „Das Wort für Welt ist Wald genannt“) und immer wieder unterhaltsam. Auch die Gegenüberstellung von Menschen gegen Echsen fand in „Enemy Mine“ eine einfühlsame Schilderung. Die Autorin wagt sich mit der Kombination beider Fremdheitsmotive – wilde Echsen – an einen interessanten Stoff, der vor allem von den Dialogen der Protagonistin mit ihren Marines und dem Leutnant lebt.

Aber auch die Handlung selbst – getragen von Klassenclowns und Quotentoten – bleibt durchweg mitreißend und lässt sich in wenigen Lesesitzungen flüssig beenden. Die Handlung ist angelehnt an eine historische Begebenheit im Zulukrieg von 1879, bei der wenige Briten einer Übermacht an Zulukriegern gegenüberstand und die Mission von Rorke’s Drift verteidigten. Eine dreifach Klasse-Adaption dieses Themas in die Welt der SF!

Gleichzeitig startet mit der Protagonistin Torin Kerr eine vielteilige, sehr beliebte Serie, die nun ihre deutsche Erstveröffentlichung im Plan9 Verlag erlebt. Einziger Wermutstropfen sind die überaus häufigen syntaktischen Fehler in der deutschen Übersetzung, die ein sorgfältiger Editor sicher ausgebügelt hätte. Ansonsten ist die Qualität der Übersetzung nicht zu bemängeln.

Perfekte Urlaubslektüre für Freunde militärischer SF, die zwischendurch gerne mal ihren Kopf ausschalten und einfach nur unterhalten werden wollen! Den Vergleich zu Scalzi braucht diese Autorin nicht zu scheuen. Dafür gibts 3.5 Sterne und eine Leseempfehlung.

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Wonders of the World • 2020 • Non fiction book by Claudia Martin

★★★★☆

In these Covid19 days, one cannot travel around a lot. That’s the time when you need books like this to still the wanderlust. Its most prominent element are the stunning fotos around the world. Name a prominent place and you’ve got it there: Grand Canyon, Pyramid of Giza, Empire State Building or the Great Barrier Reef.

I can’t say “these are pictures I’ve never seen before”, but having them side by side over 200 pages is just great. The book divides the world in “Africa and the Middle East”, Europe, “The Americas”, Asia, and “The Pacific”.

Africa starts with the Pyramids and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, but also has modern architecture like the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa or the artificially built Palm island in Dubai. Africa is not only dry but also green, as the Botswana Okavango Delta shows. Just stunning is the “underwater waterfall” in Mauritius.

Europe starts with a great foto of the St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and then skips to several Italian sites like the Dome in Florence, the Grand Canal in Venice, the Rome Colosseum. Nature is given its share with the Matterhorn in Switzerland, the Geirangerfjord in Norway, and the Northern Aurora Lights. There are so many great places there, that it would just hurt to name most and miss out others. France, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, and England get their fair share. Of course there is Stonehenge, but also the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, or the tremendous Plitvice Lakes in Croatia.

The Americas has obviously a couple of USA’s landscapes like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite’s Tunnel View, and Monument Valley, but also Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building, Glacier National Park in Canada, before going South to Colombia and Mexico with Mayan temples, the Amazonas River, and the fascinating Horns in Chile.

Asia starts with Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, presents then Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, doesn’t forget the Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Army, the Forbidden City in Beijing, and of course the Mount Fuji in Japan. Several great sites in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and the ever burning Darvaza crater in Turkmenistan find their way into the book. Göreme National Park in Cappadocia, the Iran Lut Desert with the world’s hottest land surface temperature, and the Taj Mahal in India.

The Pacific encompasses Australasia, Polynesia, but also the Galapagos islands and the Philippines. The first picture in it is the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Sydney’s Opera House, some sites from the Lord of the Rings country New Zealand, Kilauea in Hawaii, the Moai in Easter Island, rice terraces in Philippines, and the turtles of Galapagos conclude the book.

Are you exhausted from the list? It hasn’t been everything, by far. And it is less exhausting and more joyful to just look at those pictures.

I can nearly feel the stones’ heat with the vivid pictures again. Welcome to time travel witht his book at a really affordable price.

Meta: isbn 9781838860509. Publication Date 14.09.2020 by Amber Books.

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Neverland’s Library • 2014 • Fantasy anthology by Roger Bellini

★★★☆☆

Summary: Tad Williams explains in his introduction, that the anthology’s title comes from Peter Pan – “about continuing to see the world as children see it”. While I didn’t expect any mentioning of a library in the stories, the children’s point of view didn’t really manifest in the featured stories. They were mostly too adult, forgetting about the children’s view. This anthology appeared originally in 2014 by publisher Ragnarok and has now been re-published by Outland Entertainment at 11.8.2020. Back in 2013, the funding kickstarter project ended fishy, though I don’t know the details (and doesn’t really affect this edition). Sadly, this edition was shortened by several stories from well-known authors like Mark Lawrence, Brian Staveley, or Miles Cameron. My question to the publisher for the reason behind the exclusion wasn’t answered, and I feel a little sad to have missed them. Also, the author introduction at the end is way outdated – e.g. Marie Brennan has authored several novels, the latest one just recently is Driftwood.

Two gems were outstanding: “The Height of Our Fathers” by Jeff Salyards about two graverobbing children, and a vampire novelette “An Equity in Dust” by R. S. Belcher. Also very good was “Restoring the Magic” by Ian Creasey which tells the story of repatriating magical creatures in Slovakia, sponsored by the European Union. The only author I’ve read before was Marie Brennan (her novel “Driftwood” has been published just recently), but her story of a nine-tailed fox wandering East Asia wasn’t outstanding. Most of the other stories were likable enough – the anthology is no must-read but an interesting selection with many lesser known authors and investigation a broad spectrum of fantasy subgenres – from litrpg-similar “The Machine” via savages centric “Season of the Soulless”, a fairy tale “The Last Magician” to said vampire story by Belcher. I couldn’t identify a common topic of the stories and leave with an arbitrary feeling. 

Contents:

  • (didn’t read) • A Soul in the Hand • short fiction by Jeff Mariotte and Marsheila Rockwell 
  • ★★☆☆☆ • The Machine • 2014 • Fantasy short story by Kenny Soward • review
  • ★★★☆☆ • Season of the Soulless • 2014 • Fantasy short story by Betsy Dornbusch • review
  • ★★★☆☆ • Fire Walker • 2014 • Fantasy short story by Keith Gouveia • review
  • ★★★★+☆ • The Height of Our Fathers • 2014 • Fantasy novelette by Jeff Salyards • review
  • ★★☆☆☆ • The Last Magician • 2014 • Fantasy short story by William Meikle • review
  • ★★★+☆☆ •  Restoring the Magic • 2014 • Fantasy short story by Ian Creasey • review
  • ★★★☆☆ • Charlotte and the Demon Who Swam Through the Grass • 2014 • Fantasy short story by Mercedes M. Yardley • review
  • ☆☆☆☆☆ • On the Far Side of the Apocalypse • 1997 • Horror short story by Peter Rawlik • didn’t read, because horror
  • ★★★☆☆ • The Stump and the Spire • 2014 • Fantasy short story by Joseph R. Lallo • review
  • ★★★★☆ • An Equity in Dust • 2014 • Vampire novelette by R. S. Belcher • review
  • ★★★☆☆ • Centuries of Kings • 2014 • Fantasy short story by Marie Brennan • review

Meta: isbn 9781947659698. Published at 11.9.2020 by Outland Entertainment.

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The Bone Shard Daughter • 2020 • Fantasy novel by Andrea Stewart

★★★★☆

Synopsis: Lin is the Phoenix Emperor’s daughter, but her memory is a mess – she’s forgotten her childhood and a competitive boy is about replacing her as the heir. Both learn the speciality of the Sukai family: bone shard magic. Every child in the empire has to loose a chip of skull bone, which can be carved in a magic language, during the Tithing Festival. Embedded in constructs, they give life to those golem like entities. Lin wants to uncover the secrets but needs to get access to the closed rooms in her father’s palace.

Contrasting young Lin is protagonist smuggler Jovis who slowly glides into a role of rescuing children from the Tithing Festival – not because he’s got a good heart, but he gets paid by the parents. 

Two other protagonists, Phalue and vigilant Ranami, use their positions to mitigate injustice on their island. 

Review: What’s the value of a human, is it worth the protection from an ominous threat? This drives the upcoming revolution in the empire and is a great philosophical question in general. Stewart sprinkles this question all other her narration and finds ever different angles. 

The plot is full of wonderful surprises, bringing forth the best in the main protagonists. The story unfolds slowly in very short POV changing chapters, but picks up speed after a third into the novel. Up to this point, the characters and strong world-building drew me in completely. I guess, there are a couple of readers who will love Jovis’s animal companion who first starts as a cute puppy and ends as a valuable combatant, whose story arc wasn’t completely unfolded in this book.

I didn’t want the novel to end, and found that there is lots of room for a next volume in the series. In fact, this novel can only be regarded as a opening chapter for a broader, wonderful painting, and I can’t wait for the next one.

Meta: isfdb. UK publication date is at 10.8.2020 by Little, Brown Book Group. 

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An Equity in Dust • 2014 • Vampire novelette by R. S. Belcher

★★★★☆

DURING THE EARLY HOURS of Shallow the watch discovered the Duke of White Rapture burning on the catwalk, his hot ashes drifting downward to join the skulls and dust.

Synopsis: A modern society centered around overdimensional vampires. A personal assistant leading the investigations of one of the vampires’ death. Love of family, a post apocalyptic scenario with the vampires as saviors, the horror behind the scenes.

Review: I’m a sucker for vampire stories – give me Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire any day or a group of LARP players involved in Vampire: the Masquerade. This one is different: the description of their foreignness, enormity, monstrosity embedded in a loving society depending on them was dense and immersive. They are no Twilight’s Edward torn between humanity and eternity but mere gods living openly with their flock. The modern society’s industrial blood donation system ruled by a lottery, and the feudal hierarchy gave a colorful and rich setting for the plot. Several twists in the story’s course found their way to a great ending, and I wished to read a novel in this setting. Highly recommended.

Meta: isbn. re-published as part of the anthology Neverland’s Library.

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