Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category


Here, at minimum, are the posts that we’ll put up over the next month or so:

  • A review of Neal Stephenson’s masterful, very thought-provoking new near-future sci-fi novel Fall, or Dodge in Hell, that’s in many ways is reminiscent of his near-future political thriller Reamde;
  • Quite possibly one or two other sci-fi book reviews (we tend to review only books that we love or those that particularly irritate us);
  • A long look at the reasons why the USA has ended up with a grotesque authoritarian as president, and who and what’s to blame;
  • Excerpts from both of our upcoming nonfiction titles, Death Wins All Wars: A Memoir of Draft Resistance in the 1960s, by Daniel Holland (September 2019), and The Great Evil: Christianity, The Bible, and the Native American Genocide, by Chris Mato Nunpa (October 2019);
  • A long look at economic inequality in the USA, and how those who do useful work are systematically screwed;
  • A good-sized excerpt from Zeke Teflon’s sci-fi sequel to Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia;
  • Anything else we find both funny and/or insightful (preferably both).

Stay tuned.


“You stand at the threshold of the Temple of Mota, Lord of Lords . . .

“He could not recall such a god, but it did not matter. These sallow creatures had a thousand strange gods. Three things only do slaves require, food, work, and their gods, and of the three, their gods must never be touched, else they grow troublesome. So said the Precepts for Ruling.”

–Robert Heinlein, The Day After Tomorrow (1949)

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Amusingly, “mota” is border Spanish for marijuana.

The quote itself is quite reminiscent of Edward Gibbon’s comment in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

“The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.”

 


Our newest title, Venezuelan Anarchism: The History of a Movement, by Rodolfo Montes de Oca, is now available. It should be of major interest to those interested in anarchist history and also to those interested in the history of Venezuela. Both Venezuelan Anarchism and our previous Venezuela title, Venezuela: Revolution as Spectacle, by Rafael Uzcátegui, provide essential background information for anyone who wants to understand the current political situation in that tortured land. Daniel Baret, author of Los sediciosos despertares de la Anarquia (Anarchy’s Seditious Awakenings) has this to say of the book:

“Rodolfo Montes de Oca has unearthed an unknown history. He shows the arc of Venezuelan anarchism from its most distant antecedents to the contemporary. It’s an ambitious examination that can only be compared to Frank Fernández’s Cuban Anarchism: The History of a Movement.”

We just sent the files to the printer for advance review copies of our September title, Death Wins All Wars, Daniel Holland’s memoir of draft resistance, organizing, and protest during the Viet Nam war.

R.M. Ryan, the author of There’s a Man with a Gun Over There, says this of the book: “Daniel Holland’s memoir of his days as a draft resister in the late 1960s offers a step-by-step account of ordinary bravery in the face of unconscionable lies by the US government. Men like Holland faced prison sentences as the price of their resistance. Filled with an improbable combination of sweetness, good humor, and fear, Holland’s story reads like a letter from the front lines of the anti-war movement.”

Paul Krassner, legendary Yippee activist and editor of The Realist, has this to say: “The absurdity of today’s political and ideological world demands Resistance. The way Daniel Holland responded to the absurdity of the Sixties may well provide a guidepost. Travel with him now to the past and see what the future may bring.”

We’re currently at work on our other Fall book, Chris Mato Nunpa’s The Great Evil: Christianity, the Bible, and the Native American Genocide. This book pulls back the veils on a nearly unknown and shocking chapter in American history. We’ll be sending off the files for advance copies within the month, and we’ll release the book in September. This will be the last book we’ll release this year. (Once that book is out, health permitting, I hope to begin regularly posting here once again in the usual areas: politics, religion, atheism, music, humor, sci-fi book reviews, and anything else that seems of interest.)

Next year, we’ll release T.C. Weber’s Zero Day Rising, the final book in T.C.’s well crafted political sci-fi/near-future thriller “Sleep State Interrupt” trilogy, plus, just possibly the as-yet-untitled sequel to one of our other sci-fi titles, Zeke Teflon’s Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia, and a nonfiction book, 24 Reasons to Abandon Christianity, a greatly expanded version of my e-book 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity. (Free html version of 20 Reasons here.)

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Radicalized, by Cory Doctorow front cover(Radicalized, by Cory Doctorow. Tor-Forge, 2019, 304 pp., $26.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

Radicalized consists of three novellas and one longish short story — all described as “tales” on the dust jacket, probably in part to avoid quibbles over terminology. It’s highly entertaining and provides a good example of science fiction at its best; it shows just how relevant, how useful science fiction can be. It stands in stark contrast to the escapist, often scientifically illiterate space opera, big-dumb-object stories, coming-of-age tales, superhero juvenilia, and medievalist court-intrigue/sword-and-sorcery dreck that dominate the field.

Radicalized‘s four near-future stories deal in turn with the inhumane treatment of immigrants in the U.S. and potential nightmare scenarios due to the ever-spreading Internet of Things (which Boing Boing, Doctorow’s site, refers to as the Internet of Shit); systemic racism as seen through they eyes of a very familiar superhero (here dubbed “The American Eagle”); healthcare nightmares endemic to our for-profit healthcare system and a possible radical response to those nightmares; and an entitled, arrogant member of the super-rich who intends to ride out social breakdown in a fortified compound.

All four stories are well plotted, feature believable, sympathetic characters (but for the super-rich jerk in the final tale, who’s all too believable, but not sympathetic), Doctorow gets the science right, and there’s more on-the-nose social and political commentary in this slim volume than there is in a dozen average sci-fi novels combined.

Highly recommended.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (large pdf sample here). He just finished translating Rodolfo Montes de Oca’s Venezuelan Anarchism: The History of a Movement, is currently working on the sequel to Free Radicals, a nonfiction book on the seamier sides of Christianity, two compilations, and an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals front cover


(The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders. Tor, 2019, $26.99, 366 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

(Warning: mild spoilers follow.)

I wanted and expected to like this book, due to its author. A couple of years ago I read in an anthology one of her short stories, which I thought was both inventive and funny. More importantly, I admired her work editing the io9 sci-fi site; while she was editor there was always something worth reading: news about upcoming sci-fi novels, well written pieces on science by the likes of Annalee Newitz and George Dvorsky, plus occasional insightful social commentary.

Of course, most of the material on the site was awful, junk on superheroes and manga and the like, but there was enough meat to make the site worth perusing frequently. Now that Anders has left, the site features 100% dreck.

So, I had fairly high expectations when I opened this book, among them that Anders would have a lot to say politically and socially, that the story would be well crafted, and that there would be at least some humor in it.

Those expectations crashed and burned. This is one of the most ineptly written novels I’ve ever read. Contrary to expectations, Anders has nothing to say politically or socially. Nothing. And as far as craft? OMG.

She had a very promising social/political set-up (rigidly authoritarian city vs. a totally “free” city), and she totally wasted that opportunity. Instead of exploring the ways a free society could be organized (anywhere from anarcho-capitalist to anarcho-communist), she chose to do no exploration whatsoever, just (badly) describing it as boss-run. It would be hard to come up with a more meager description of an alternative economic/political system.

Beyond that, the action sequences are poorly written, often difficult to follow and awkward. At one point, during a pirate attack, two of the protagonists take two-thirds of a page for a heart-to-heart melodramatic talk about their feelings.

Even beyond that, Anders does nothing to bring her supposed horrors to life. Nothing. For instance, the homicidal “bison,” who play a key role, have mono-filament mouths and are big. And that’s it. No description beyond that.

As well, there are altogether too many coincidences and unexplained events.

Add to that that the two alternating p.o.v. characters, Sophie and “Mouth,” are entirely duochromatic (Sophie — hopelessly naive and romantic — and “Mouth” — hopeless, longing, and angry.) That’s it.

There’s also a weird lesbian tension throughout the book that’s never resolved and in the end is quite irritating. Who cares? But please stop hinting around and just fucking do it. Please.

As well, the physical world is ineptly described. At one point, a “typhoon” passes in moments, and a “sea” is supposedly “fished out,” apparently by fisherfolk in small boats.

You get the idea. It seems as if Anders just slapped this book down on the page, didn’t bother to revise the first draft, and Tor didn’t bother to edit it.

Very much not recommended.

 


Head On, by John Scalzi. TOR, 2018, $25.99 335 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

I ran out of reading matter a couple of days ago, so I picked up a copy of one of John Scalzi’s new ones. He’s almost always reliable for a good read, so here we go:

This is a very enjoyable near-future techno-thriller. I liked it a lot better than its much-praised prequel, Lock In.

This book is near-pure escapist sci-fi, with utterly unrealistic, hero, incorruptible FBI agents — not the guys who infiltrate and entrap environmental activists, shoot and frame Native American activists for murder and then send them to the hole, forever. Oh no. These are the good guys.

Despite this loathsome set up, lauding the forces of repression, this is a good book. The primary character is much more than a cipher, and the primary secondary character (Vann) is well drawn.

Following the set-up, Scalzi follows with a beautifully complicated, detailed plot, with all details clicking into place, regarding professional sports leagues and their criminal financial manipulations. Scalzi skillfully guides the reader through the labyrinth.

Writing skill is not the problem here. Political reality is.

Recommended with serious reservations (Scalzi’s butt kissing of the powers that be). Enjoyable as long as you’re aware of it.


Astounding front cover(Astounding, by Tim Nevala-Lee. New York, Dey St., 2018, $28.99, 532 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

While the subtitle mentions Heinlein, Hubbard, and Asimov along with John W. Campbell, this is primarily a biography of Campbell centering on his activities as editor of Astounding Science Fiction (later Analog), the largest-circulation and most influential science fiction magazine in the 1940s through the 1960s; the book has a special focus on Campbell’s relationships with the authors he published, his influence on their work, and on the authors’ relationships with each other.

The level of detail in this exceedingly well documented 500-plus-page book is, well, astounding, and the amount of work Nevala-Lee did to produce it must have been equally astounding. The dust jacket copy notes that the author drew on “unexplored archives, thousands of unpublished letters, and dozens of interviews.” It shows.

This is not, however, a dry academic history. Nevala-Lee does a fine job of bringing to life the decidedly oddball quartet listed in the subtitle, along with their wives and girlfriends (some of whom did much uncredited work) and many other sci-fi authors of the time. Nevala-Lee has not, however, produced a hagiography: the portraits of all of these figures are nuanced, bringing out both their attractive and unattractive traits. The attractive traits include. in all but Hubbard, dedication to work and writing, the authors’ and Campbell’s mutual support, and in Campbell’s case a messianic belief in the transformative power of science fiction. The unattractive traits include spousal abuse and pathological lying (Hubbard), right-wing authoritarian politics (Hubbard, Campbell, and Heinlein) and denunciations of associates to the FBI as “communists” (Hubbard). (For a good dissection of Heinlein’s most authoritarian work, see Michael Moorcock’s famous takedown of Starship Troopers, “Starship Stormtroopers.”) Even Asimov, who comes off as by far the most sympathetic of the quartet, had a serious flaw: engaging in serial sexual harassment.

For those interested in cults, there’s also a great deal of material on Hubbard’s and Campbell’s formulation of dianetics — basically a rehashing of Alfred Korzybski’s tedious and trivial “general semantics” concepts along with (though they wouldn’t have known the term) abreaction therapy (which can be quite dangerous), all with a “cybernetics” overlay — and their subsequent falling out prior to Hubbard’s coming up with the term Scientology, founding of that “church,” and installation of himself as that money-making machine’s glorious leader.

This brief summation only scratches the surface, and anyone interested in science fiction and its history should have a great time delving into this well researched, well written book.

Highly recommended.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, a nonfiction book on the seamier sides of Christianity, two compilations, and an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover