Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1996-2012 Evelyn C. Leeper.


"Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders" by Mike Resnick:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/05/2009]

"Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders" by Mike Resnick is good enough, but it is yet another story of growing old, and one does begin to tire of them. It is also yet another story of what one would suppose to be sleight-of-hand to be real magic (hardly a spoiler--you could see that coming a mile away), and again, this is not fresh.


ALTERNATE SKIFFY edited by Mike Resnick and Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Wildside Press, ISBN 1-880448-54-8, 1997, 123pp, US$9) and INSIDE THE FUNHOUSE edited by Mike Resnick (AvoNova, ISBN 0-380-76643-4, 1992, 246pp, trade paperback):

In their introductions, Resnick and Nielsen Hayden tell two different stories of how this anthology came about. Both are obviously from alternate universes. But Resnick has cruised these waters before--see the comments on Inside the Funhouse at the end of this review.

This seems to me to be a sort of cousin to Resnick's Alternate Worldcons and Again, Alternate Worldcons. The main difference to me is that these stories seem more professional and less "fannish." In fact, one had already appeared in Interzone: Dave Langford's excellent G. K. Chesterton pastiche, "The Spear of the Sun."

There are a few other stories which stand well on their own. Gregory Feeley's "Scatchophily" has Samuel Beckett and James Joyce in an unlikely situation, but Feeley's writing style, including subtle literary puns, compensates for that.

Nick DiChario, who burst upon the science fiction scene with his Hugo-nominated "Winterberry" in Resnick's first alternate history anthology (Alternate Presidents) turns in "Mission 51-L," in which a science fiction author rather than a teacher is chosen to go into space. It has a realistic feel as a possible history, in addition to examining several famous (and infamous) science fiction authors.

Anthony R. Lewis's "Plus Ultra" has Hugo Gernsback heading up the League of Nations rather than Amazing Stories (a fairly low probability event, given Gernsback's background) with results more colored by wishful thinking than likelihood. Still, this at least tries to stay in a serious path rather than straying into the cutesy byways that some of the stories head down.

Barry N. Malzberg can always be relied on to produce a good story, and his "Science of the Mind" delivers, with Theodore Sturgeon attempting to invent a religion. (Well, at least he had the name for it.) And eluki bes shahar's "My Object All Sublime" makes some interesting observations on media fandom and book publishing and marketing.

The rest of the stories vary in quality from passable to real groaners. Some seem to have been created by saying, "Let's take author A and move him arbitrarily to situation B." Some seem to throw in gratuitous comments about science fiction authors who have nothing to do with the story.

Let's face it, either you were interested in this book as soon as you heard about it, or you're still not interested. It's quirky and focused enough that the function of a review is more to announce this than to review it.

If you are interested in this, the best way to get it is by ordering directly from Wildside Press, 522 Park Avenue, Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922. Add US$3 for postage in the United States, and 6% sales tax if you live in New Jersey.

Resnick previously edited Inside the Funhouse, a reprint anthology of "SF stories about SF." Not all of those were alternate history, but a few were and are worth mentioning here: Patricia Nurse's "One Rejection Too Many," Frederik Pohl's "The Reunion at the Mile-High," Allen Steele's "Hapgood's Hoax," and Barry N. Malzberg's "Corridors."

To order Alternate Skiffy from amazon.com, click here.


ALTERNATE TYRANTS edited by Mike Resnick (Tor, ISBN 0-812-54835-3, 1997, 337pp, mass market paperback):

I'm a big fan of alternate history, but even I have my limits, and I think I've reached them. In fact, I have problems with this book on two levels, both its contents and its format. Since in general people care more about the content, I'll start there.

The first two Resnick alternate history anthologies (Alternate Presidents and Alternate Kennedys) were quite good and their stories garnered several award nominations. The third book (Alternate Warriors) was passable but definitely a step down. And Alternate Tyrants is still more disappointing. Of the twenty stories, only the Maureen McHugh ("The Lincoln Train") is noteworthy. It was, in fact, a Hugo nominee. I found the rest surprisingly unengaging, even the Kathe Koja and Barry N. Malzberg, who can usually be relied upon. But stories of rock stars as President (shades of "Ike at the Mike"?), gangsters as President, Einstein as the leader of Israel, and so on, while they sound promising, decline rapidly into cliché and predictability. Example: "Jubilee" by Jack C. Haldeman II and Barbara Delaplace is set in a 957 C.E. in which the turning point was the failed assassination of Julius Caesar. The characters speculate about what might have happened had the assassination succeeded. Okay, it is the millenial celebration, but why have a millenial celebration of a failed assassination anyway? And why have a spaceship called a spatiumnavis, when other vehicles are called freighters and vans?

Realizing that it is a capital mistake to theorize without data, I suspect the method of constructing this anthology may be partially to blame. It appears (from the introductory notes) that in many cases writers were given scenarios (or at least premises) to develop into stories. It is of course possible to write to spec (television writers do it all the time), but I can't help but feel that it is not the way to get the most creative results from fiction writers. And the fact that the stories are all copyrighted 1996 even though the anthology didn't appear until April of 1997 makes me wonder if perhaps it was decided to give the authors a chance to sell the first publication rights elsewhere first. This is okay, but the reference to "new stories" leads one to think this is an original anthology, while the copyright dates indicate perhaps not.

As for the format, this book has the worst of both the trade paperback and the mass market paperback formats. (It is, technically, a mass market paperback.) It has the higher price and larger, more-difficult-to-store size of a traditional trade paperback, but the cheap paper and environmentally unsound strippability of a mass market paperback. When I spend $12 for a book, I don't want it to feel like paper toweling.

In summary, much as I wanted to like this book, I cannot recommend it.

To order Alternate Tyrants from amazon.com, click here.


ALTERNATE WORLDCONS and AGAIN, ALTERNATE WORLDCONS edited by Mike Resnick (WC Books, no ISBN, 1996, 262pp, trade paperback):

This omnibus book contains both Alternate Worldcons (with seventeen stories) and Again, Alternate Worldcons (with eleven stories). Alternate Worldcons was conceived at ConFrancisco in 1993 and appeared at ConAdian in 1994; Again, Alternate Worldcons is new this year. (A third volume is a possibility. Quel surprise.)

As a fan of alternate histories and an attendee of Worldcons (so far, twenty-one of them), this would seem to be right up my alley. But these are not, on the whole, serious alternate histories. They are very "fannish," often dealing with people or events not known to most readers. Strangely enough, Mike Resnick is a character in many of these. There are a few that stand out, though. "ApocalypseCon" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a poem rather than a story and could hold its own in a "regular" anthology. While it's true that its subject matter is a bit specialized, I hope it does make a more visible appearance somewhere. The other notable serious work is "Letters in the Wall" by Barry N. Malzberg and Batya Swift Yasgur. (Malzberg appears frequently in alternate history anthologies, and usually blows away the rest of the stories. For some reason I don't see him in magazines as much, but for the life of me can't figure out why.) The third story of note is "The Man Who Corflued Mohammed" by Mike Glyer, a well-done fannish homage to Alfred Bester's "Man Who Murdered Mohammed."

But most of the stories require some knowledge of fannish personalities, Worldcon business meeting minutiae, and so on. Of course, the book will probably be found only at conventions or in very specialized stores, so it is targeted at its audience. If you have all the prerequisites, you may find this volume of interest. If so, and you can't find it locally, you can order it from Old Earth Books, P. O. Box 19951, Baltimore MD 21211-0951, or Blue Moon Books, Ltd., 360 West First Avenue, Eugene OR 97401, http://www.teleport.com/~hypatia, hypatia@teleport.com or BlueMoonBk@aol.com.

To order Alternate Worldcons and Again, Alternate Worldcons from amazon.com, click here.


"Article of Faith" by Mike Resnick:

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

"Article of Faith" by Mike Resnick (Baen's Universe Oct 2008) is an old idea, well-written, but still nothing new. And wouldn't a robot who has been asked to find logical inconsistencies and then sent to read the Bible ask about at least some of the contradictions in the Bible?


"Distant Replay" by Mike Resnick:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/27/2008]

Judith Berman has bemoaned the change in science fiction from a focus on the future to a focus on the present, or even the past. "Distant Replay" by Mike Resnick (ASIMOV'S Apr/May) is an example of this, as indeed are many of Resnick's recent stories. In "Replay" an old man meets a young woman who looks, acts, thinks, and even smells like his late wife--but as she was decades earlier. This sort of sentimental story appears to be popular with the Hugo voters--both Resnick and Connie Willis have a long string of nominations and wins for this sort of thing--but I think I prefer my science fiction more, well, science fictional.


"Down Memory Lane" by Mike Resnick:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/19/2006]

"Down Memory Lane" by Mike Resnick (ASIMOV'S Apr/May 2005) covers much the same territory Resnick has dealt with before in stories: aging, loss of memory, and so on--all the things that led Judith Berman to bemoan what she perceived as a transition away from the sense-of-wonder science fiction, or even just from the futuristic science fiction of years past. (I suppose there is an irony in being nostalgic for the science fiction that was written before nostalgic science fiction arrived!) At any rate, while this is a story that means well, I just cannot get enthused about it, and the ending, I think, is awfully similar to that of another very well-known science fiction work. Homage? I suppose so, but it just makes the story seem that less original.


THE BUNTLINE SPECIAL: A WEIRD WEST TALE by Mike Resnick:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/18/2011]

THE BUNTLINE SPECIAL: A WEIRD WEST TALE by Mike Resnick (ISBN 978-1-61614-249-0) is set in Tombstone in 1881. Our main characters here are the Earps, the Clantons, Bat Masterson, Johnny Ringo, Katie Elder, Curly Bill Brocius, Doc Holliday, Geronimo, Ned Buntline, and Thomas Edison. In this steampunk version of the tale, Indian magic works--or at least works well enough to keep the United States bottled up east of the Mississippi. One wonders, of course, why this Tombstone is so much like our Tombstone without the United States taking the Southwest from Mexico and then settling it, but I suppose one is not supposed to ask that question. (The first rule of alternate history is, "When things are different, things are different.")

Anyway, Bat Masterson runs afoul of Geronimo and his magic, while Johnny Ringo is the recipient of another Indian leader's magic. Edison is busy inventing very useful items for the locale (including lightweight brass armor and robot prostitutes), and Buntline builds them. (I get the feeling that these robots may not have been programmed with Asimov's Three Laws.) All in all, it's a lot of fun, even if the basic premise makes no sense. (I will say that it will probably appeal more to fans of Western movies and Western history than to the average science fiction reader, because knowing who all the people are is really helpful.)

(Oh, and the Alexander Award listed in the "About the Author" part? That was an award given by the science fiction group at Bell Laboratories, and is named after Alexander Graham Bell.)

To order The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale from amazon.com, click here.


"The Homecoming" by Mike Resnick:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/29/2012]

Reading "The Homecoming" by Mike Resnick (Asimov's 04-05/11), I came to the realization that Mike Resnick and Connie Willis have something in common besides their perennial competition for the Hugo. They both write primarily stories in which they are the main character. I don't mean that Resnick has literally disowned a son who transformed his body into something alien, or that Willis has actually traveled back to plague-ridden medieval England. But the basic character and personality of the protagonist of a Willis story is that of Willis--female, academic, more likely to be found in a cathedral or a library than climbing Everest or rafting the Colorado. And most Resnick stories feature a somewhat acerbic older man trying to come to terms with ageing and technological change, and not likely to be writing poetry or discussing classic screwball comedies of the 1930s. (Heinlein, and undoubtedly others, did this as well. Robert Charles Wilson and China Mieville are two authors who come to mind who do not do this.) "The Homecoming" is no exception, and while well done, has a certain sameness with other recent Resnick works, and also a certain predictability.


"A Princess of Earth" by Mike Resnick:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/17/2005]

"A Princess of Earth" by Mike Resnick ("Asimov's" 12/04) is a tribute to reading, or at least to one of the classic characters of science fiction. This has an even thinner premise than the other stories about reading this year.


"Robots Don't Cry by Mike Resnick:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/09/2004]

I agree with others that "Robots Don't Cry" by Mike Resnick verges on the overly sentimental, but Resnick manages to carry it off.


"Travels wth My Cats" by Mike Resnick:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/17/2005]

"Travels with My Cats" by Mike Resnick ("Asimov's" 02/04) has its main character reading a travel book about exotic places as a young boy, falling in love with it, and being later visited by the author's ghost. Again, this is an okay story that was probably nominated more for its paean to the power of writing and the promise of the future than for being a really high-quality story. Is it just me, or are a lot of these starting to seem formulaic and predictable?


THE WORLD BEHIND THE DOOR: AN ENCOUNTER WITH SALVADOR DALI by Mike Resnick:

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

THE WORLD BEHIND THE DOOR: AN ENCOUNTER WITH SALVADOR DALI by Mike Resnick (ISBN 978-0-8230-0416-4) is part of Watson-Guptill's "Art Encounters", a series of young adult novels about artists. (Resnick has also written LADY WITH AN ALIEN: AN ENCOUNTER WITH LEONARDO DE VINCI and A CLUB IN MONMARTRE: AN ENCOUNTER WITH HENRI DE TOULOUSE-LAUTREC.) A familiarity with Dali's work would be helpful for the reader, as much of what Dali describes from his dreams appears in one or more famous paintings of his. (The stilt- legged elephants appear in "One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate", but in also "The Temptation of St. Anthony".) The basic idea is that Dali can get to another world through a door at the back of his closet, and no, it's not Narnia. It is a world where everything in Dali's work that is so bizarre is normal and everything normal in our world (such as level floors, and effect following cause) is considered bizarre, (That makes this a fantasy novel rather than just biographical fiction, if you care.)

I am not sure that the mind of Dali is suitable for a young adult novel, but Resnick does the best he can, and fans of his will probably find this of interest.

To order The World Behind the Door: An Encounter with Salvador Dali from amazon.com, click here.


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