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Archive for November, 2009

Fritz Leiber – “Appointment in Tomorrow” (aka Poor Superman); “A Pail of Air”; “When the Last Gods Die;” “Dr. Kometevsky’s Day;” “The Foxholes of Mars;” “Yesterday House;” “I’m Looking for “Jeff”;” “The Big Holiday;” “X Marks the Pedwalk;” “Time in the Round;” Borderlands

Posted by Mike on November 26, 2009

This line of Fritz Leiber stories takes me from roughly July 1951 to somewhere in 1953 (as well as one a decade later). A few of the stories in this order are not here as I read them earlier, either as part of library check outs or the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series.

“Appointment in Tomorrow” or “Poor Superman” by the time it made The Best of Fritz Leiber is one of those 1950s stories obsessed with the McCarthy era and the whole impending nuclear war that always strikes me as dated in the modern age where the USSR was dismantled and the epithet “socialist” apparently meaning “liberal” in the modern age, which I guess shows to some extent that McCarthyism maybe never went fully away. One of Leiber’s obvious interests is the whole war between science and magic, a theme visited in his Gather, Darkness! novel originally written in 1943. Here it’s all mashed up as a future US is dominated by an organization with a supercomputer. However much is not as it seems as the story unfolds the secret story of the country being controlled by a group of people not interested in science and the scientists who have finally had enough and attempt to confront them. I honestly found it tough to keep interest in the story as it definitely verged on the preachy side.

“A Pail of Air” I liked a lot better, the Earth pulled out of its orbit by a “dark star” ends up killing most of its inhabitants due to the freezing of its atmosphere, except for a small family living in a somewhat preprepared building who periodically dons space suits to bring back frozen oxygen in pails. Of course the young boy whose perspective we see from sees an unusual light on one of his trips implying he’s not alone…

“When the Last Gods Die” is one of those Leiber short shorts that reminds me something of Lord Dunsany’s work, sort of vast epic and poetic but ultimately not terribly filled out. “Dr Kometevsky’s Day” wasn’t great, a futuristic short where the eponymous Dr’s prophecies about planets disappearing appears to be coming true when the moons around Mars disappear and a group of people, all married, notice it. I found that the group marriage concept was probably better explored in a previous story “Nice Girl with 5 Husbands.” “The Foxholes of Mars” was also very short and more like Last Gods, having to do with a future war and its effects. “Yesterday House” I’ve totally forgotten without a reminder, but I remember liking it quite a bit (will have to come back and fresh).

“I’m Looking for “Jeff”” is a creepy ghost story about a woman’s ghost who only certain people in a tavern see who seems to cause trouble with those who do. Her goal like many a spectre is to unleash revenge on the man who killed her, the eponymous Jeff, via the seduction of another bar patron. This one might have fit right into Night’s Black Agents had it not been written so late. And finally “The Big Holiday,” a surprisingly upbeat short short about the inhabitants of an off world town and what they do periodically to celebrate. This takes me up to right before The Green Millenium novel, which will give me a chance to pause a while with Leiber.

Two more, from library books, first the short short “X Marks the Pedwalk,” about the war between pedestrians and drivers and the rules of road rage and what happens when it’s taken a step too far and the attempts to change the rules. It just ain’t like it used to be… Second, “Time in the Round” from Galaxy May 57 (and the Third Galaxy Reader), another future vision where entertainment comes in the form of viewing past time events and a trio of kids who decide to view it, one too young and bloodthirsty who manages to circumvent the strictures keeping him out and the resulting chaos.

So I’ve got to mention the video game Borderlands, which was something of an addiction for a couple of weeks, a loot heavy first person shooter/role playing game hybrid on a planet that’s something like a futuristic wild west. Many of the NPC characters had almost redneck-like accents that were hilarious, particularly the car boss Scooter, who was virtually classic and amazingly I never got tired of. It’s a simple story, you’re trying to find the pieces of a key to open an alien vault that supposedly has secret weaponary or some such thing. Honestly the whole finale really wasn’t much to my taste, but I think maybe I hadn’t upgraded my weaponary enough to make the penultimate stage of the game all that fun (I honestly took off running when I was close enough to the vault). Then I though the boss was too difficult at first, but fortunately there was a teleport I could use to go reload and come back. When I did I figured out that all I needed to do was use a certain area of the map for cover and the boss was pulverized no problem. I also found the car battles a lot more difficult than the straight shooting ones. But for the most part it was just extreme fun throughout the game, one of those “alright just one more mission” games that keep you up late. At the time I’d even put Lost Planet on hold to play it and then after this reading got the best of me, after I got lukewarm with Dragon Age: Origins. But I assume I’ll return to that one when the latest reading frenzy ebbs.

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Marion Zimmer Bradley – The Planet Savers, “The Waterfall;” John Varley “The Ophiuchi Hotline;” Roger Zelazny “The Salvation of Faust;” Return to Castle Wolfenstein; Aleister Crowley – The Book of Thoth

Posted by Mike on November 23, 2009

I’ve been reading a lot lately, it’s actually pretty easy to get into the mood when you start hitting gold and starting with this installment I have definitely hit a rhythm. The Planet Savers is the very very first Marion Zimmer Bradley Darkover book, a series that is very large and one which I’ve never seemed to find much consensus on as to how good it really is. What it basically turned out to be was something of a mountain climbing adventure as a group of humans and Darkover natives attempt to find a cure for a periodic disease on the planet. As it turns out the protagonist is hiding something of a mystery in his own being that actually turns out to be fairly fascinating in the end. I expected to like this a lot less than I ended up which bodes well for later books in the series. It’s definitely a product of the time period or at least the influence of the classic age of science fiction when not everything had to be some sort of deep psychological and layered manifesto, and sometimes I tend to appreciate that. “The Waterfall” was a short story thrown in the same omnibus from a bit later down the line, 76-ish, that was a bit of witchery in a way and kind of creepy as a member of Darkovan nobility seduces a guard on an escapade, which doesn’t work out too well for the guard in the end.

I have to claim “The Ophiuchi Hotline” as the book that really started my reading in earnest. In fact I’m not totally sure I hadn’t read the book in my childhood as it gave me some deja vu and I know I did read quite a bit of Varley back then, probably before I more fully understood the adult themes in his writing, such as the Gaean trilogy. Ophiuchi is the first novel in the Eight Worlds series following a half to a full dozen short stories and it’s about at this time that Varley’s writing is peaking like noone’s business. The whole series really does strike me as a viable future universe where things are so advanced that human sexuality is totally different and cloning abundant (and actually doesn’t even seem particularly dated today). It starts with the protagonist in jail and facing execution for cloning crimes only to be broken out by a shady politician who needs her for research. Deaths are abundant and through the book the protag becomes more than just one operating person. In many ways this is the book that threads together a lot of the Eight Worlds concepts, such as the symbiotes that live in the rings of Saturn; the large underground environments found under the surface of Pluto; the Ophiuchi Hotline itself, a transmission from a different star that’s been feeding humanity most of its future technology for quite some time and has just sent an invoice for its services; and the outer solar system hunt for black holes, the primary means of generating energy for a humanity that has been ousted from its planet by gas giant-based invaders. I’ve since gone on to read the next several stories that all concentrate on some of these specifically (not to mention even characters from the book) so it’s all on my mind. It was impossible not to rocket through the book it was so good, a credit to Varley’s smooth and measured prose. No wonder he was one of the great writers of the 70s and 80s and now I seem to be in the peak of the work and it’s like one home run after another. Few writers are this good on novel #1.

The Zelazny story is a short work based on the Faust myth, basically Faust wanting out of his deal and the resulting state of affairs. I found it a touch confusing but it was colorfully rendered. Wouldn’t have picked it up had it not been in an anthology another Leiber story was in.

And a short step to video games. Wolfenstein, of course, was one of the very early first person shooters, in fact I seem to remember playing the very original even before it was a FPS way back when. Return is an Xbox title and for both the Xbox and the 360 probably the most primitive game I own, somewhere betweem, say, Quake 4/Doom 3 and the previous games in those series. It was fun enough, sure, like most of these games, but the graphics seemed very dated and for once distracting. Course I got to play through some of this with the nephews so it’ll be a bit more memorable than it might have been otherwise. And it managed to unlock the previous Wolfenstein 3D when I finished it so that might be fun later. Oh and I should mention it was terribly easy, even the bosses were little problem.

And finally, Crowley’s Book of Thoth, his latter work on his own tarot set which, for some reason, tends to scare a lot of people, even including people who use other tarots and for some reason I just don’t get why. Maybe I’m just getting too skeptical about this stuff to think of it in terms of Ouija poltergeists and such. Book of Thoth is terribly advanced though, definitely past my ability to truly get what I could out of the book. As it is with most western occultism, everything is couched in symbols, often symbols within symbols, so it definitely read as graduate work, not to mention every few pages saying something like “this can only be truly understood by the most advanced members of the OTO.” Whatever you might say about Crowley he had an almost genius level understanding of a dozen world occult schools to the point where he was synthesizing them into one system, which is something very prevalent in his tarot. In just one card one might encounter tantric, Greek mystery school, kabbalah, alchemic and several other concepts all meshed into one card. Everything has meaning, the colors, the directions, facial expressions, you name it. Of course the issues that held me up as a previous Golden Dawn student are his embellishments on the system based on his Book of Law experiences and the whole change of an Aeon paradigm, which struck me as needing an extraordinary amount of faith to go on, but that’s the thing about Crowley in general, you study him enough and you’re likely to gain surprising and revelationary insights on symbols that show his teachings to be a lot more subtle and well thought out that one might have originally thought. I’m just at the point now where I’d rather be living my life than being embroiled in such intense esoteric work, which strikes me as totally all consuming at this point and nearly as faith based as any other religion.

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Two things…

Posted by Mike on November 5, 2009

First, the new Magma is out. Oh happy day. I’d state the title but my Kobian spelling and umlauting is awful. But if it’s anywhere near a fraction as good as KA is (and considering I’ve heard the whole thing live anyway I suspect it will be), I’ll be very, very happy. They’re still one of the greatest bands of any age and I ordered my CD post haste. Can’t wait. Besides, a skit in Kobaian by Christian, Stella and Vander? Is this the first crack in the exterior? Are those age lines in Christian’s scowl or a hint of a smile?

Second, video game crack is Borderlands. As my pad gets messier and my obligations and other dreams are pushed aside, as I neglect friends and family, as even the new Dragon Age: Origins waits untried, all I can think of is just 30 more minutes please. OK maybe an hour. Oh how did I ever live without a tivo. Is it full yet? No. good.  Oh did that expensive incense stick just burn all the way through without me noticing it? Oh wait that was a few days ago. Let me shoot just one more skag. OK and those bandits. But I could get a much better shotgun. Mine can electrify but the one I have for level 22 is even better. No, I don’t need sleep anymore, they’ll just have to put up with the snoring at work. But wait maybe I can buy a second 360 for work, if I just keep the volume down. Kee-hee another varmint toast. OK I need y’all to clear out, I’ve got a lot of things I need to catch up on and no please don’t turn on the lights…

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