Sunday, May 24, 2020

Star Trek Podcast Episode: Stories Strange New Worlds Should Tell!

Hello, Captain Pike fans as always each episode my intention is to explore the fundamentals of storytelling through the lens of Star Trek. My hope is that we will have fun exploring the themes while learning lessons that we can apply to our own fiction. There is no set schedule, I’ll just do one when I feel like it. Now Let’s boldly go.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Book Review: The Last Transaction by Barry N. Malzberg

The Last Transaction by Barry N. Malzberg

Paperback, 180 pages

Published November 1977 by Pinnacle Books

As a podcaster and scholar of Philip K Dick and the new wave of Science Fiction, it is nice that Hollywood has helped Phil to be remembered. Ne American Library editions and various other honors have come to the tradition and memory of Dick, but sadly all that happened after his death. to those of us who study the field and go deeper, it is somewhat frustrating when other equally as talented science fiction provocateurs get ignored. Harlan Ellison got some attention in part to his personal antics but the John Brunners and Judith Merill's of the genre are close to being lost.

Another one of those voices is Barry Malzberg who we interviewed on the podcast less than a month from his 8th decade on planet earth. With great exhaustion, he spoke of how horrible it was to see so many of the ideas in his science fiction coming true. He talked at length about his book Revelations which is soon to be re-released by D. Harlan Wilson's excellent publishing imprint Anti-Odious Press.

I read and reviewed that book last year, it was about the way mass media turned misery into profit and it was something Malzberg nailed more than a decade before the gotcha TV shows were a big deal. It is all done with the aspects you expect from the gonzo new wave sci-fi authors. Paranoid unreliable narrators, sadistic psychosexual manipulation, horrible political realities, and dark humor.

The Last Transaction is similar and like Revelations, it is uncomfortable in how the satire feels pretty close to home. An aging President losing his mind in the office is something we are watching on the news each night. While we don't have the Cold War standoff of this novel we get a pandemic. This novel is the story of the President who just lost the 1984 election and is sitting done to record his memories so they can be preserved. Eric Springer is very much an asshole and his senile memories provide the kinda unreliable narration that Malzberg loves to employ.

In some books the psycho-sexual Mysgonist moments make sense in the horrors of the story here they seem out of place and distracting from the point. It took me out of the novel. My feeling was the point was how scary it is to have a man losing his mind and be the President. Since Malzberg is still with us he has seen this cute concept become horror film worthy reality twice. It was clear last in the Regan years that his mind was slipping, and there is little doubt what is happening with Trump.

I wanted to like this more as I am generally a fan of Malzberg's work, and I thought the concept of President losing his mind written in 1977 might seem like a prophecy. That being said this novel not only gets really violently sexual for no good story reason, but the point seems dead on arrival. Springer does not seem to have much of political identity and if you are writing about America with its two-party system it is like eating a soaking wet potato chip. This story has no crunch without the partisan divide. The Last Transaction is a cake that was baked without flour in that regard. It has some interesting moments, but nothing groundbreaking or essential to check out like Revelations or Beyond Apollo.

I am glad I read this because I am going to be over the next few years I will be a gonzo new wave sci-fi completionist. If your not in that camp then there are two dozens Mala\zberg novels you should read before this one.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Book Review: The Eureka Years: Boucher and McComas's Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction 1949-1954 Edited by Annette Peltz McComas

The Eureka Years: Boucher and McComas's Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction 1949-1954 Edited by Annette Peltz McComas

Mass Market Paperback, 348 pages

Published 1982 by Bantam Books

This book came to me at an interesting time. I need to explain a little bit about why I am reading this. As co-host of Dickheads ( A Philip K. Dick) podcast, we had a long-running joke about Tony Boucher. Through my research for the various episodes I finding quotes, connections, or support given to Phil by a man named Tony Boucher. So every time I mentioned him my co-host would say "Shout to Tony." I have to admit before starting the podcast I had no idea who Tony Boucher was our how important he was not just to PKD but the Science Fiction genre as a whole. I also don't want to short change his editing part Mick McComas who played as big a role if not as directly on Phil. None the less I am researching a tribute to Boucher so when I started this I got some advice. Boucher and McComas made their biggest impact editing the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Just you know I have invited the modern editor of that same magazine for the show Gordan VanGelder and it was he who suggested this book to me. The Eureka Years is a very strange and one of a kind book that was compiled by Mick McCComa's former wife Annette. She did an amazing job compiling materials to give a scholar's dream look at the early years of this genre-defining journal. This book contains not just stories, but the letters about them and detailed history about the two men behind it. It was kinda too perfect for the project I am working on here. The introduction and preface were helpful for getting an overview of the Men and the impact of their magazine. The picture of the early days is painted in a series of letters that are published from years when they were developing the first issue. The name of the magazine that just started a FANTASY and their plan for getting it going. This is interesting because we see how they found investors, distribution, and more. Right from the beginning, they had the plan to be a deeply more thoughtful magazine than Campbell's Astounding for example. The next part of the book contains some of the early classics by well-known authors such as PKD, Asimov, Sturgeon, Damon Knight, Richard Matheson, and Ray Bradbury to name a few. Each story comes not only with the tale, but the letters that show the process of the editors. No one was above getting notes for revisions. Unlike many editors, at the time Boucher and McComas asked writers to make the changes. That is cool. The notes to Bradbury were the most detailed and interesting. they had a big impact on the Bradbury story The Exiles, changing major elements. Bradbury made the changes but it was cool to see the impact they had on that story. One of the best sections and really a must-read for aspiring writers since they give lots of great advice and few of the letters are straight-up funny. I think I will save the rest of my thoughts for the podcast, when it gets recorded and released I will post here with this review. I loved this book but I can only recommend it to people who study and teach the genre. I suppose there is alot to learn for writers as well. This, not a book you picture for the fiction. What is there is great, including an interesting story by Tony Boucher himself. Are you the Target audience? I am super stoked I read it.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Launching A New Podcast! Star Trek Story, Myth and Arcs!

Welcome to Star Trek Story, Myth and Arcs podcast it’s Five-year mission, to explore Star Trek arcs and themes seek out new story directions and boldly tell stories that no one has told before. We will discuss how Star Trek has told both good and bad stories, discuss how the elements of great storytelling can be applied to Trek and all stories in the future. This should be fun for Trekkers but I hope writers who are not fans can still learn valuable lessons about narrative.

First two episodes:

On Twitter @StarTrekArcs

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Book Review: Star Trek World Without End by Joe Haldeman

Star Trek World Without End by Joe Haldeman

Mass Market Paperback, 148 pages

Published May 1993 by Spectra (first published February 1979)

These days there are probably several hundred Star Trek novels but in the seventies, the ST novels were the only way the franchise was moving forward in the dark days between the Animated Series and the first movie. The early days of Star Trek are much more exciting in terms of crossover to very respected authors in the field of Science Fiction. In the Orignal series, there were episodes by several respected genre authors Jerome Bixby, Richard Matheson (I am Legend), George Clayton Johnson (Logan's Run), Harlan Ellison (Dangerous Visions), Norman Spinrad (Men in the Jungle)and Theodore freaking Sturgeon. Ellison was responsible for the Guardian of Forever, Spinrad the Doomsday Machine, and Surgeon invented the crazy way Vulcans reproduce. Larry Niven wrote for the far weirder Animated Series.

So it was not that big a stretch when respected science fiction writers like James Blish, Greg Bear, and the Hugo and Nebula award-winning Joe Haldeman wrote Star Trek novels. Blish most adapted and deepen the actual episodes. The 70's early Bantam novels were short and aimed to be like a single hour episode of the series. The later Pocketbooks had more epic novel feeling to them.

If you are not familiar with Haldeman he is a Vietnam vet who wrote what I consider to be the ultimate military sci-fi classic The Forever War. Yes, even over Starship Troopers which the novel was clearly a response too. Haldeman is a genius writer with decades of fantastic books but the Forever War is a must-read classic. I was really interested in his two attempts at Star Trek both in the 70's. I already reviewed the first Planet of Judgement.

One thing that makes these early books interesting is the authors were not working with the enormous canon we have come to know. They also tend to take more seriously the actual space elements of the setting. I like that this novel really plays with science fictional ideas. The Enterprise encounters a ship that was designed to fool it's inhabitants that they were on a world. The set-up is similar to the TOS episode "The World is Hollow and I have touched the sky." Unlike that story, Haldeman does all the neat Sci-fi things his mind and no need for budget make possible.

The small manufactured planet has a low gravity which leads to scenes of the crew flying around with little wings, that was probably my favorite example. Also, the planet survives by sucking the energy of passing ships, like a vampire planet. When the enterprise becomes low on energy only Scotty remains. This provides some funny and really on-point character moments, but it also gave Haldeman to take seriously that the enterprise is a spaceship. Lots of Trek writers in TV, movies, and books forget that simple factor.

Haldeman does a great job with the characters, Scotty and Spock most of all. There is a scene that was my favorite when a Klingon boards the nearly drained of energy Enterprise. Scotty has converted a transporter room for his last stand. Of course, he gets the Klingon drunk.

Is it great, or mind-blowing? No. But if you are like me a fan of Trek and Haldeman you should check it out. By the way Joe Haldeman just took part in the Facebook group "Science Fiction Book Club"'s Q and A. I asked the Author about writing this book. He said this: "They gave us a thick stack of mimeographed notions, most of which I more or less ignored, and then they turned the ms. over to some underemployed secretary to critique. That was lots of fun. Like, I had Spock say "by Occam's Razor," and they warned me "Spock does not swear."

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Video Essay: How the Picard Writers Learned the Right Lessons from The Last Jedi

Book Review: In The Garden of Rusting Gods: A Collection by Patrick Freivald

In The Garden of Rusting Gods: A Collection by Patrick Freivald

Paperback, 217 pages

Published September 2019 by Barking Deer Press

It is hard for me sometimes to write at length about short story collections. Plotting and structure are so much of what interests me in storytelling. In a collection like this one, it is much more about the atmosphere and tone, not to say plot and structure don't matter in short stories because they do. Just style and tone are so much more important in short fiction.

Freivald was a writer that I noticed just because he had an intense personality online, and a few people I respect swore by his work. That was all I really knew. I understood he had a science background, which I thought was cool, so I debated on starting with a novel or collection and came down to the idea of reading a collection. I do think that is a better way to get a feel for a writer as a whole.

There is a grim invention that dances just below the surface of all these stories. Some writers start with characters, some ideas. Freivald is a talented writer with only this collection to judge from his style feels idea based, that they are constructed neatly around a germ of a concept. Freivald is an idea machine and one story after another has intriguing elements that do one of my favorite things in horror fiction - cringe.

The opening title story provides a high concept setting that very subtly created a world that reminded me of a cyberpunk anime combo kinda thing. In a short number of pages, we are given some great world-building that never settles for info-dumps. Through-out the book but especially in this opening story the reader is trusted to use their own minds. Over-writing is a crutch many writers raised on Stephen King rely on, not Patrick Freivald. I suspect many reviews of this book will point-out that this opening story could hold the weight of an entire novel and that is very, very true.

I love when collections show writers using different muscles and voices. in the second half the book had a few shorter more experimental pieces including one of my favorites "Trigger Warning." I loved it when Freivald used the noir style in the offbeat and darkly funny piece "The Extermination Business." Other stand-outs included the disturbing Twelve Kilos and the bizarro sci-fi story Foam Ride.

The best thing I can say about this book is it sold me on Patrick Freivald and has pretty much locked in at some point I will read his novels. The only negative for me was the cover sorta didn't work for me but that doesn't really matter. Each story came with a header illustration, so overall it is a neatly put together book and the editing is top-notch for a small press. Mostly horror with neat twists on old favorites like zombies and werewolves but enough Science Fiction ideas to bring a fresh feeling to the whole package. Thumbs up.