Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2012 Evelyn C. Leeper.


IN THE BASEMENT OF THE IVORY TOWER: CONFESSIONS OF AN ACCIDENTAL ACADEMIC by Professor X:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/23/2012]

IN THE BASEMENT OF THE IVORY TOWER: CONFESSIONS OF AN ACCIDENTAL ACADEMIC by Professor X (ISBN 978-1-670-02256-4) seems to be two different books stuck together. One is about Professor X's experience as a college instructor; the other is about his attempts to do some serious writing. The second seems more padding than anything else--given that he is writing this book under a pseudonym, it is hard to find his trials as a writer interesting.

His conclusions as an instructor are two-fold. Employers demand college degrees for jobs that do not really need them because they can, and because it gives them a good way to filter all their job applications. And colleges do something similar, trying to get as many applicants as possible, except that they are doing the reverse--rather than rejecting perfectly good applicants, they accept applicants who are clearly not qualified.

Professor X goes on at great length about how unprepared his students are--how they are unable to write a grammatical sentence, or construct a line of reasoning, or even find anything in the library. But for all his talk about how badly his students write, he never gives a single example, and after a while it becomes frustrating.

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Six-Word Stories:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/26/2007]

"Wired" magazine asked almost a hundred science fiction authors to write six-word stories. In the interests of giving people a better chance of having time to read all the nominees for the Hugo for Best Short Story, I figured I would review some of them, in hopes that the better ones might get nominated. My comments are in brackets.

[There is a copyright problem here: how can one quote just part of a six-word story? I figure I am entitled to quote a single word-- the first. I have also tried to limit each author to only one or maybe two stories--some sent in several--so the first word (or for a few, an interior word) and the author's name should be sufficient to identify the stories. The full article and all the stories, complete, can be found at http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/sixwords.html.]

Computer, ...
- Eileen Gunn

[This is concise and to the point.]

Osama's ...
- Charles Stross

[I initially read this as "Obama's time machine", which is also a science fiction story, albeit of a different sort.]

Internet ...
- Charles Stross

[This is similar to, but somehow not as good as, Gunn's. I think it is the whole "unfinished sentence" thing.]

It's ...
- Rockne S. O'Bannon

Steve ...
- Steven Meretzky

[After a while, these unfinished sentences seem like cheating. (Note: I have somewhat re-arranged these stories. These three were not consecutive.)]

Automobile ...
- Stan Lee

[This seems more like reality than science fiction. Then again, I think "Wired" included horror in the scope.]

Machine. ...
- Alan Moore

[This is an old idea--I was pretty sure I have seen this before. I had thought it was a Wiliam Tenn story, but in fact, it was Fredric Brown's "The End".]

whorl. ...
- Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel

[Ditto.]

Longed ...
- Margaret Atwood

[Atwood is right--she is not writing science fiction. There seemed to be a lot of this sort of story.]

Corpse ...
- Margaret Atwood

[Okay, this is at least reminiscent of Larry Niven, though it seems more urban legend.]

Starlet ...
- Margaret Atwood

[I think we finally have a definite science fiction story from Atwood.]

I'm ...
- Stephen Baxter

[This seems a very gentle humanistic science fiction story.]

He ...
- Steven Meretzky

[In spite of the fact that this has occasionally happened by mistake in real life, it still has a very science-fictional feel.]

... pregnant!
- Rudy Rucker

[This is both science fiction and horror.]

... skyscrapers ...
- Gregory Maguire

[I suppose this suggests a sort of magical realist world in which the people who jumped from the Twin Towers were able to fly safely to earth.]

Epitaph: ...
- Vernor Vinge

[This is more like a message than a story.]

... cost ...
- Bruce Sterling

[This sounds like a blurb for one of his books.]

1940: ...
- Michael Moorcock

[Yes, it is alternate history, but not very likely.]

Lie ...
- Richard Powers

[This sounds like a response to James Morrow's (Hugo-nominated) "City of Truth", but without any justification for the conclusion.]

... blood ...
- Orson Scott Card

[This seems inspired by the same mode of thinking that leads people to write "human" when asked their race on forms.]

H-bombs ...
- Howard Waldrop

[Someone once said that if the movie THE DAY AFTER was accurate, it would have been, "Introduce the characters, drop the bomb, pan the crater, roll the credits." Waldrop makes it even shorter.]

Rained, ...
- Howard Waldrop

[This is similar to the previous one, with a touch of J. G. Ballard thrown in.]

... humankind ...
- Ben Bova

Nevertheless, ...
- James P. Blaylock

[These were widely separated in the article, but seem to go together.]

TIME ...
- Harry Harrison

[H. G. Wells did this first, but Harrison has a certain conciseness.]

Tick ...
- Neal Stephenson

[This is science fiction?]

Batman ...
- Cory Doctorow

[I thought that Batman had designed the Batsignal and told them to use it, but apparently in some of the stories it was Commissioner Gordon's invention. I doubt that the symbol of a generic bat could be trademarked after the fact.]

Sum ...
- Charles Stross

[Clearly patent and trademark law is on at least some authors' minds.]

Heaven ...
- Robert Jordan

[George Carlin had a slightly longer version of this in a comedy routine many years ago: "Rocks fall from the sky! Earth in flames! Details at 11, but first: Is your pet psychic?"

Dinosaurs ...
- David Brin

[If they are physically present, what do they need the oil for? Assuming, of course, that Brin intends us to think that oil is dead dinosaurs. I think it is considered that oil is primarily the product of decaying vegetation. There is also the abiotic theory, which says that oil is not a product of dead dinosaurs or tress, but is constantly being produced in the earth.]

Temporal ...
- David Brin

[Somehow, I do not consider summarizing a classic science fiction story in six words the same as writing a six-word science fiction story.]

Mozilla ...
- Charles Stross

[There were other "techie-humor" sorts of stories. This may have been the best, but it is still pretty weak.]

Will ...
- Ken MacLeod

[This is distressingly like those stories consisting of authors' letters to publishers and vice versa.]

Clones ...
- Paul Di Filippo

[I do not think clones will be denied rights, any more than "test-tube babies" are now. However, I probably should not underestimate the power of human stupidity.]

MUD ...
- Paul Di Filippo

[I only vaguely know what "MUD" means, so I am obviously not the target audience.]

Warskiing; ...
- Howard Waldrop

[Admittedy sometimes Waldrop can be hard to understand, but here he has achieved a new pinnacle of achievement: complete bafflement in six words.]

Salinger ...
- Howard Waldrop

[This is back to a more normal level of bafflement. Waldrop loves to use literary figures in his stories, and if I were familiar with Salinger this would probably be more meaningful.]

I ...
- Steven Meretzky

[This reminds me of the story about the man who could not buy life insurance ("Prototaph" by Keith Laumer).]

Leia: ...
- Steven Meretzky

[This is not going to be an official part of the "Star Wars" mythos!]

And now a couple of separate categories:

Sam Goldwyn said, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union." Not everyone listened:

K.I.A. ...
- Richard K. Morgan

Bush ...
- William Gibson

Three ...
- Graeme Gibson

Democracy ...
- David Brin

Parallel ...
- Steven Meretzky

On the other hand, the following is the first Le Guin in a long time without an agenda.

Easy. ...
- Ursula K. Le Guin

Gregory Maguire decided to go self-referential with four of his:

Finally, ...

There ...

In ...

Commas, ...

And there you have it: dozens of short stories to consider that won't make Hugo reading lists unmanageably long. Alas, this technique only works at the short story level.


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