Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2015 Evelyn C. Leeper.


"26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" by Kij Johnson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/19/2009]

"26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" by Kij Johnson (Asimov's Jul 2008) is a fantasy in what I think of as a Ray Bradbury/Charles Finney mold--there is a magical circus. I suppose that is actually a much more common theme than just those two authors, but they come to mind first. However, Johnson never really develops the idea into anything.


"The Man Who Bridged the Mist" by Kij Johnson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/22/2012]

"The Man Who Bridged the Mist" by Kij Johnson (Asimov's 10-11/11) is okay, but it just does not seem very science fictional. There is some other-worldliness in the mist and its denizens, but really, it is just an engineering story that also looks at the social change brought about by that engineering.


"Mantis Wives" by Kij Johnson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/28/2013]

"Mantis Wives" by Kij Johnson is creative enough, but also unpleasant to read.


"Ponies" by Kij Johnson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/15/2011]

"Ponies" by Kij Johnson (tor.com 11/17/10) is short, but disturbing. Yes, it seems to have an agenda, which I usually find off-putting, but in this case the agenda is not obvious. I can come up with at least three possible parallels to the story--and, no, I won't tell you want they are, because I think the story works better if you come up with your own interpretations. To those who say this story is neither science fiction, nor any sort of "realistic" fantasy, I would respond as other have that it is really a horror story, and could not be written without the speculative element. That speculative element may be very thin, but it is necessary. (And in case you are wondering, at 1255 words, this is not the shortest piece ever nominated for a Hugo--that honor goes to "Evil Robot Monkey" by Mary Robinette at 972 words in 2009.)


FANTASMAS: SUPERNATURAL STORIES BY MEXICAN AMERICAN WRITERS editied by Rob Johnson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/02/2012]

FANTASMAS: SUPERNATURAL STORIES BY MEXICAN AMERICAN WRITERS edited by Rob Johnson (ISBN 978-1-931-01002-3) is an anthology of nineteen stories distinguished from magical realism (according to the introduction by Kathleen Alcala) by having a basis in oral tradition, an influence from folk religions, the use of vernacular forms, and the influence of United States life and culture. (In that sense, there is a similarity to Neil Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS, which repositions European folk religions into the United States.) While it may seem that these stories often have familiar stereotypes (curanderos, for example, or various pre-Columbian tropes), it is also true that as soon as one identifies a literary movement or genre, one is likely to find a thread running through it, and this may be somewhat stereotypical.

(FANTASMAS is published by the deceptively named Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue--deceptive because the book is not in fact bilingual, but is entirely in English.)

To order Fantasmas: Supernatural Stories by Mexican Ameircan Writers from amazon.com, click here.


WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM: THE NATURAL HISTORY OF INNOVATION by Steven Johnson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/18/2012]

WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM: THE NATURAL HISTORY OF INNOVATION by Steven Johnson (ISBN 978-1-59448-771-2) has a structure that lends itself to summary by chapters:

Reef, City, Web: In reefs, in cities, and in the World Wide Web, there is "superlinear scaling": doubling the size of a reef more than doubles the variety of species, and similarly for cities and for the Web.

The Adjacent Possible: What is possible is constrained by current conditions, but each piece of progress makes even more possible. Johnson uses the analogy of a room with four doors, each opening into another room with four doors, and so on. A simpler example is that before high-quality metals are developed, you cannot make delicate machinery. But once you have brass and steel, a lot more becomes possible.

Liquid Networks: This is mostly about the idea of allowing people to form ad hoc connections--as with open-plan offices--that may encourage ideas. This to me is more aptly termed "fluid networks".

The Slow Hunch: We think of science and technology as being full of "Eureka!" moments, but in fact most big ideas come about gradually. Even if at the end there is a sudden "coming-together" of all the pieces, it took time to assemble the pieces.

Serendipity: Ideas often occur when we are not looking for them. Many scientists say they got their ideas, or their solutions to problems, when they stopped working and went for a walk.

Error: Evolution only happens when errors are introduced into DNA. If DNA replication were perfect, there would be no change. And many ideas come from "failed" experiments or accidents.

Exaption: Creativity is greater when many different disciplines are brought together simultaneously, either in a group or within one person.

Platforms: This chapter would have made more sense if Johnson had not relied so heavily on the examples of jazz and of Twitter, because I am not all that familiar with either. It seems mostly an extension of the "adjacent possible" he talked about earlier.

The Fourth Quadrant: (I cannot summarize this because it seemed to consist of a lot of confusing diagrams with orthogonal characteristics defining quadrants, but why these particular characteristics?)

As Jorge Luis Borges once said, "Writing long books is a laborious and impoverishing act of foolishness: expanding in five hundred pages an idea that could be perfectly explained in a few minutes. A better procedure is to pretend that those books already exist and to offer a summary, a commentary." Or as Mark said, this book might have made a good ten-page article.

To order Where Good Ideas Come From from amazon.com, click here.


CHRISTOPHER LEE FILMOGRAPHY by Tom Johnson and Mark A. Miller:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/21/2005]

At $55, Tom Johnson and Mark A. Miller's CHRISTOPHER LEE FILMOGRAPHY (ISBN 0-786-41277-1) is probably too expensive for the casual reader or film-goer. (We got ours used at a convention.) But it is a valuable resource, not just for people interested in Christopher Lee, but also for people interested in the filmmakers that Lee has worked with, and in the business in general. For example, Lee recounts a couple of times when he was given a script with a part which he agreed to play, and then later discovered that his innocuous speeches were inter-cut with scenes of a Satanic orgy or some such, making it appear he had actually been in that scene. (Or the time that a still from a movie of him as a detective leaving a pornography store was printed in the newspaper purporting to be of him as himself in real life leaving a pornography store!) For each film there is a list of credits, a synopsis, commentary on the film, and comments by Lee himself. (There are a few films for which Lee doesn't comment, usually minor films in which he had very small roles.) Recommended, but expensive. (If McFarland brings out a trade paperback edition, that will be more reasonably priced.)

To order Christopher Lee Filmography from amazon.com, click here.


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