Mike’s Prattle

Miscellaneous

Alastair Reynolds – Revelation Space; Lucius Shepard – “How Lonesome Heartbreak Changed His Life;” Fritz Leiber – Destiny Times Three, “The Dreams of Albert Moreland,” “Mr. Bauer and the Atoms,” “Alice and the Allergy,” “Diary in the Snow,” “The Man Who Never Grew Young”

Posted by Mike on November 1, 2007

It feels good to finally get some reading done, it’s been quite a while since I finished a book. The length of time it took me to finish Alastair Reynolds’ highly acclaimed debut novel was mostly related to not having much time to do so and not a reflection of its quality. I’m behind the eight ball on this one, but it’s sort of a hard sf/space opera combo about future humanity, both natural and augmented, and its encounter with some ancient secrets. It revolves around three characters, all initially far apart with different aims, a weapons expert on a posthuman startship, an archaeologist closing in on the secrets of a dead alien race, and a soldier turned assassin who closes in on the archaeologist. These three narrative strands start to converge as all three become embroiled in a profound mystery about an ancient universal conflict called the Dawn War, the previously mentioned dead species called the Amarantin and a mysterious entity called Sun Stealer. While it takes a little while to get going, it’s almost always engaging, well written and scientifically intelligent, with an increasingly developing plot that goes to some neat places. I’m definitely continuing with this series and its related books at some undetermined future time. In some ways it’s not all that far off from Jack McDevitt’s Hutch series, although that seems a lot more old school in comparison with this.

Finishing that off let me get back to a few prattle mainstays, the work of Lucius Shepard and Fritz Leiber. Shepard’s “Lonesome Heartbreak” seems to have been a story written early in his “comeback phase” about a journalist, drifter and girlfriend in Vietnam who begin the story musing on the differences between cultures and end in an unusual stand off that smacks mightily of being partially non fiction. Minor Shepard, yes, but always enjoyable.

Now I’m back on the Fritz Leiber trail, which slowed down when a novel and novella came up on the list. Leiber’s best work is usually novella or shorter (with a couple notable exceptions). While Destiny Times Three does deal with some issues that presage his Changewar series, starting with The Big Time, it was apparently edited for length, which apparently cut out some female viewpoint characters, leaving the story a little on the strangely incomplete site. It deals with parallel earths and the impending war between two of these parallels and wraps up in a way comparatively unusual to modern takes on the same ideas, such as the Sliders TV show.

Getting back into the shorts is a lot more fun. “The Dreams of Albert Moreland” is one of Leiber’s early classics about a chessmaster and an unknown game that is waged as he sleeps, his opponent veiled and dark. Like other contemporary Lovecraftian stories, this one reachers a dark conclusion that’s perhaps a bit pat, although not one that lessens the creepy imagery the story is redolent with.

“Mr. Bauer and the Atoms” and “Alice and the Allergy” are two very short Weird Tales pieces that strangely enough never made any version of the Night’s Black Agents collection that collects most of Leiber’s early works from that venerable publication. I’m somewhat surprised that the Lovecraft mythos types haven’t repackaged and released either by eliminating the Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories (both of which have been reprinted frequently) and gathering the rest of his wartime/weirdtale material. Then again, neither of these are strong enough to compare. “Bauer” seems a response to the newly discovered atomic energy, positing a man who thinks he might become a bomb, and without it in front of me, I barely remember “Alice.”

“Diary in the Snow” is also a very Lovecraftian story with a lot of similarities to “The Whisperer in Darkness.” A writer goes to stay with a friend in an isolated cabin in order to rejuvenate his career only to see his developing story start to reflect in reality as strange patterns are left on the windows and his friend starts to show concern. The events are recorded in a diary…

And, bringing me current, another short piece that, like the previous story, was new to the Night’s Black Agents collection. “The Man Who Never Grew Young” masks a man who lives time backwards seeing Earth history from a totally different perspective. Quite inventive, although it still feels a bit crammed into the framework.

I’m keeping a bibliography of these stories as I go (there’s an early version on the blog somewhere) and hope to post the update at some point.

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One Response to “Alastair Reynolds – Revelation Space; Lucius Shepard – “How Lonesome Heartbreak Changed His Life;” Fritz Leiber – Destiny Times Three, “The Dreams of Albert Moreland,” “Mr. Bauer and the Atoms,” “Alice and the Allergy,” “Diary in the Snow,” “The Man Who Never Grew Young””

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