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The Vampires Have Officially Won

My feelings on S.M. Stirling as a writer have always been mixed. There’s potential there, but he’s stuck in the same ghetto, writing the same Military SF plots in different settings. The Draka novels were interesting, until the last one. The Emberverse was mostly a waste, but still different. In the Court of the Crimson King was a bold and successful return to the spirit of the pulps. But you know what sells now? Stories about girls seduced by monsters. Twilight. And by all appearances, Stirling wrote his own Twilight novel.

It’s incredibly depressing to see all the supernatural detectives choking up the Science Fiction section. But this is actually worse. Because Stirling is capable of better. Instead he switches out vampires for werewolves and writes something like A Taint in the Blood to market to an older version of the Twilight crowd. Does the man actually need the money this badly. I know he’s done Terminator novels, and merchandising books are low, but this is worse. This is developing your own derivative merchandising book. In a market overcrowded with books like it. Or sorta like it.

From Publishers Weekly

Stirling (The Sword of the Lady) launches a new series with a messy and unappetizing mix of well-worn monster tropes and excessive sexual violence. The ancient, powerful, and sociopathic Shadowspawn have always lived among (and interbred with) humans. When Adrian Brézé, the one Shadowspawn capable of resisting his violent urges, discovers that his ex, Ellen, has been kidnapped by his evil twin sister, Adrienne, he begins a war against his own kind. Adrienne repeatedly rapes Ellen, who endures using psychological techniques she developed during childhood abuse, as she prepares her own political machinations. Stirling hits just about every cliché, from the grizzled vampire hunter and mentor to Adrienne’s pathologically devoted servants (who call themselves lucies and renfields). Stirling’s prose is competent, but there’s nothing new in his story, and few readers will have the stomach for the over-the-top sadism.

The cliche part is none too surprising. Or the rapes. Or that he’s managed to write another evil lesbian villain (is this one also blond?). Without reading this, I can guess that the Shadowspawn will be a dumbed down version of the Draka. A depressingly dumbed down version. Especially since this and Emberverse are his main focus now. Writers need to earn money. But doing something like this and dedicating it to…

To Jack Williamson, Fred Pohl, Sprague de Camp and other Golden Agers for inspiration; and Roger Zelazny and Fred Saberhagen.

Come on.

That’s like writing ad copy for the back of a box of Frosted Flakes and dedicating it to Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. What’s happening to Science Fiction? This is. It’s been swamped by everyone doing their own takes on Twilight and Jim Butcher. Frosted Flakes would taste better.

Asimov’s The End of Eternity headed to the Big Screen

The End of Eternity is not an Asimov novel that many people are familiar with, it doesn’t even read that much like Asimov, with a sexually frustrated puritanical main character whose job involves changing history and wiping out millions in the process, and humanity’s progress with it, encountering a beautiful girl who is more than what she seems, and who causes him to fall in love, and then destroy everything he’s worked for, while creating a new future for humanity.

It sounds bold stated that way, but the novel is heavily talky and spends a lot of time inside the main character’s head, which is pretty much why no publisher would buy something like that today. But the Isaac Asimov name has a certain magic and in the gold rush for filmable properties, New Regency has snapped up The End of Eternity. Can they actually do anything with it?

It’s certainly a tall order. Assuming they don’t cast Will Smith and have him go around blasting monsters from the future, a faithful adaptation would be a serious challenge. But I don’t think we can exactly count on that. It would take a heavily arty director to pull the novel off right, and I doubt New Regency option The End of Eternity for that. In the 70’s the novel might have been filmed straight, but that won’t happen now.

The biggest obstacles are an unlikable main character who is being one or another kind of jackass through the movie. Asimov gets us to empathize with him and his restricted life, but I doubt that would fly in a movie. Then there is the lack of action and a story that like a lot of Asimov’s work depends more on ideas than on action. Two major challenges for New Regency to overcome right out of the gate.

Martin H. Greenberg – Good for Science Fiction or Bad?

With the shrinkage of short story markets, once the major place for the development of new Science Fiction and Fantasy talent, you might suppose that Martin H. Greenberg’s endless themed short story collections are actually good. Except of course that Martin H. Greenberg mainly recycles commonly read stories by recognized authors, which lets them get paid for the reprint and creates an incentive for already well paid authors to keep writing short stories in a marketplace that rewards them better for simply sticking to writing novels.

It’s one justification for Martin H. Greenberg’s endless story collections that he edits the way compulsive gamblers play cards. Unfortunately it’s the only one. The con for the pro that Martin H. Greenberg lets professional authors get paid twice is that his short story collections are invariably terrible. Occasionally a good short story will somehow sneak in to a Martin H. Greenberg collection, probably because it was written 50 years ago by Isaac Asimov. But overall Martin H. Greenberg’s short story collections attract bad and outright overly reprinted stories the way lightbulbs attract moths, with the same destructive outcome.

Somehow it wasn’t this bad a decade or so ago when Martin H. Greenberg had a bunch of short story collections under his belt but they weren’t too frequent or too egregious. Lately though it seems as if Martin H. Greenberg turns out a dozen of them a year and that may be an exaggeration but not that much. Last time I stopped by, I saw at least four new ones and the covers alone made me slightly nauseous. The problem is that there are actually good short story collections out there, none of them however have the name Martin H. Greenberg on them. Martin H. Greenberg has become the Burger King of SF and F short story collections and the results are the same tasteless reprocessed junk.

Panic! A Douglas Adams Free Hitchhiker Novel

Panic or not, a new Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novel, obviously not penned by the deceased Douglas Adams is due to be released titled, And Another Thing, which is really just asking for it. It shouldn’t be all that shocking, after all how many Robot and Foundation, Blade Runner sequels and Dune novels have been released that were not written by Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick or Frank Herbert. And how many of those should have been pulped from the start? The honest reality is despite some decent moments, most of them. A series that people genuinely enjoy is an author’s personal vision and not really everyone’s playground. And if that is true for series like The Foundation and Dune, which took place on an epic scale, it is all the more true for the Hitchhiker novels which were erratic, eccentric and personal. They can’t be duplicated except as a thin copy and there is no reason to try. And even Douglas Adams had run out of steam writing them, So Long and Thanks for all the Fish was a radical detour into a more personal intimate realm and Mostly Harmless was mostly empty. I don’t think anyone but die hard fans really took Salmon of Doubt as being all that promising. And that only makes this all the more senseless. If even Douglas Adams had lost the knack for writing Hitchhiker novels, having some third party do it will not fly, even with all the jumping off high places and not looking in the world.

Science Fiction’s 5 Greatest Novels

4. Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Once voted as the fan favorite trilogy, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy had expanded with a series of increasingly poorly chosen novels beginning with Foundation’s Edge that increasingly diluted the series finally rolling the whole thing up into a planetary intelligence that would consume all human life in the universe. And then after Isaac Asimov’s death came Forward the Foundation. Forward the Foundation did rely on some of the same elements of those novels but it possessed a purity of narrative emerging as not only Isaac Asimov’s greatest novel but also as a parallel story to his own life.

Told in a series of sections encapsulating the life and death of Hari Seldon, founder of the Foundation and the man whose vision of Psychohistory was to chart and predict the course of humanity, Forward the Foundation gives us Hari Seldon coping with Emperors and tyrants, intelligent robots hiding among mankind, telepaths and the unsolvable problem of predicting human history all the while growing old, losing his wife and watching the Empire he had grown up in decaying and collapsing all around him. It was likely too how Isaac Asimov had felt in the closing stages of his life living in a city that had become increasingly violent and dangerous, his illness and his disconnection growing and it is ultimately the story of one man’s death and his intellectual triumph over it. At the end of Forward the Foundation Hari Seldon dies with the vision of humanity’s future unfolding all around him in the equations he had produced and it is also the vision of Isaac Asimov dying with the visions of the future he produced living on in his published and printed works.

The Five Greatest Science Fiction Novels of All Time

Timothy Zahn Delivers With Night Train to Rigel

Night Train to Rigel is in many ways an unashamed throwback to the kind of novels that were being written regularly before the New Wave and have grown far less common today. And that is no bad thing. At once referencing Agatha Christie and classic detective novels and movies, Night Train to Rigel is more a story of a series of plots and mysteries being unraveled than it is a story about technology or action adventure. For those who want nothing more from their Science Fiction than experimental treasties on quantum mechanics and nanotechnology are better off sticking with Robert J. Sawyer and Greg Egan. For those who want a great read in the tradition of classic American Science Fiction, Night Train to Rigel is a wonderful reminder of how readable Science Fiction once used to be.

The proper predecessors to a novel like Night Train to Rigel are Isaac Asimov’s earlier Caves of Steel books and Robert Heinlein’s Between Planets and Double Star that propel you into a world of interstellar intrigue and logical puzzles. Night Train to Rigel begins with Frank Compton, a former Western Alliance agent fired for being a little too good at his job and uncovering a UN plot to cover up faked reports touting Yandro, the fifth planet colonized by Earth, at a tremendous waste of resources and material. Yandro was colonized anyway and Frank Compton went to look elsewhere for work, but while still on the retainer of earth’s wealthiest man looking to get aggressively involved in intergalactic commerce, Frank Compton finds a dead man with empty pockets and a train ticket with his face and fingerprint on it. A ticket to Yandro.

The train is the great tube Quadrail railway running through the galaxy, its operation carried out by the mysterious and enigmatic Spiders, a race that appear to be machines or creatures in shielded suits, who provide transit between different solar systems and promote trade and diplomacy between races for a hefty charge. Weapons may not be carried on board the train, except for disassembled weapons systems. Nor may any acts of violence be engaged in there. But on board the train Frank Compton finds himself recruited by the Spiders and some of their seemingly human agents to find out who is about to begin the first interstellar war in thousands of years.

A great deal of the pleasure in Night Train to Rigel lies in Frank Compton’s slow secretive procedural uncovering of the plot. Combined with a professionally paranoid mindset that leads him to maintain secrecy and misdirection and surrounded by characters equally deceptive and reticent, Night Train to Rigel becomes a mystery locked in the minds of the characters. Frank Compton himself, Batya his link to the Spiders and the members of the other races he encounters on his journey all pose enigmatic riddles, directing and misdirecting him to the final answer.

Science Fiction and Detective novels are two genres that seem a natural fit but in practice are difficult to fuse. Night Train to Rigel is indisputably one of the best efforts in recent years and a cleanly written refreshing read devoid of the angst and clutter of other novels in the field. If at times, Night Train to Rigel fails to live up to its own standards, that is somewhat unfortunate. Frank Compton often seems to overthink complex problems while ignoring far simpler realities. And the last twenty pages are simply a letdown. While the solution that brings together the puzzle of Yandro and the coming interstellar war is intriguing, the revelation of the identity of the Spiders is a strikingly weak cliche that has already been parodied relentlessly in every source down to Futurama. It is additionally unclear while Frank Compton needs to blackmail his employer for a trillion dollars when the Spiders have that money and more handily available. The question of the morality of the Spiders’ actions regarding Batya and others are finessed trickily at best.

That said the journey along to Yandro and then Modhra, a moon with little atmosphere but lugeboard and underground casinos buried in frozen seas, is a spectacular collection of tense moments and puzzle solving that nearly equals Isaac Asimov. Frank Compton’s professional intelligence work and Earth’s politics easily equal anything Robert Heinlein wrote but without the smug hectoring lectures or the preachy libertarianism piled on top. Possibly the cleanest aspect of Timothy Zahn’s writing here is that he simply tells the story without any of the asides and preoccupations of the grandmasters. Frank Compton is a seasoned professional with a personality but without any more depth or character than he needs. Batya is enigmatic and mostly remains that way. No more is introduced into the equation than is actually needed.

Night Train to Rigel also works as the answer to a number of questions on how to maintain interstellar peace by leveraging economic ambitions and trade and how non-violence can also be transformed into a strength. The resulting system Timothy Zahn has set up in Night Train to Rigel shows a plausible workable economic, political and social system that at once makes the setting for a wonderful story and allows for a kind of Oriental Express and Alfred Hitchcock style setting, without compromising its plausibility.

Timothy Zahn’s own writing handily blends humor, action and puzzle solving without ever slowing down until the end and the final mystery that he leaves for the closing page is a doozy that resonates back along the entire novel, shifting the reader’s perspective of the mission he was on all along in the best tradition of the great spy novel.

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