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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/20/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 51, Whole Number 1811
Table of Contents
Commentary on Commercial Space Crew Competition and Space Policy:
Dale Skran co-authored an op-ed on commercial crews in the May 12th issue of SPACE NEWS, available at http://tinyurl.com/void-commercial-crew>.
Dale also has an article on space policy and the NRC's report "Pathways to Exploration" available at http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2535/1.
Nick Sauer has written a brief history of the "Godzilla" franchise, available at http://tinyurl.com/void-godzilla.
The Nature of Science (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Just when I have come to terms with knowing all humankind has existed for just a cosmic second I learn that all along it has actually been a cosmic third. [-mrl]
Logic and Fantasy (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was discussing fantasy with a college friend, discussing horror literature. He mentioned that vampires are killed by sunlight. I told him that it was obviously not true. It is just a silly superstition that sunlight kills vampires. It obviously does not work. Why not, he wanted to know. With a smirk I responded because there are no vampires for sunlight to kill.
Dave said, I think, that he agreed that when talking about a world with vampires and werewolves in a story that it is a mistake to apply logic to a story. I think he was saying that stories with vampires and werewolves depend less than logic than stories that happen in our world.
I had to give that some thought. Somehow that bothered me a bit. I am often irritated when fantasy stories have things that happen that are completely in contradiction to the logic that had been followed previously. We approach any story expecting a certain logic, even if the story is a fantasy.
In my opinion, good fantasy and horror stories depend very heavily on having strict rules for the world of the story. If a story takes place in a world where just anything can happen, it is not very interesting whatever does happen. It is no more than the hand of the writer that shapes what happens.
In the novel DRACULA, Van Helsing carefully lays down the rules that vampires must follow. The story really depends such rules. Logic and rules is much more important in fantasy than in mainstream literature. Why? Suppose in the final confrontation Dracula is fighting Van Helsing when he sees Van Helsing is wearing a pink carnation in his buttonhole. Van Helsing tells the others in the hunting party "Oh, I forgot to mention pink carnations kill vampires." I know I would consider that a cheat because I, as a reader, have not been told this rule before. If just anything can happen in a story, what happens is much less interesting. The fantasy author makes a pact with the reader that such and such are the rules we will play by. Adding rules along the way seems like cheating.
Now even in some highly regarded fantasy stories do we have rules just added when they seem convenient for the viewer. In SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE we discover that Superman has the power to reverse time and undo something that has been done. So why has Superman never used this power up to this time? Why doesn't he go back and undo the murders of Batman's parents? But even if the author had thought of such problems, it simply is not fair to the viewer to add a new power to Superman just because it is convenient for the writer.
There is the same problem with the popular STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. In the middle of a battle we are suddenly told that Kirk on the Enterprise has the power to shut down the shields another Federation ship. Never mind how stupid and dangerous such a thing would be. Again it is a complete surprise.
On the other hand in, say, SPARTACUS when Marcus Lucinius Crassus (Laurence Olivier) is being bathed by Antoninus (Tony Curtis) we find out that Crassus has a homosexual streak. We accept that as just another facet of his personality. I do not complain that we have not been told this before. In realistic writing you can introduce new rules, but in fantasy it is a cheat.
Actually the idea that sunlight kills vampires, the rule I referred to above, was never in the book. It was invented by German director F. W. Murnau for his film NOSFERATU. That film really does cheat the viewer by changing the rules of how to kill a vampire at the very moment the story needed it. I would call that bad writing, but the world seems to have taken that rule as a given. I guess people like the film enough that they will take its rules and make then canon.
That bothers me a little bit also. If people like the film enough it does not matter if it does not make sense. In the book THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, L. Frank Baum has Dorothy in captivity and in a real pickle when by chance in a pique she throws of bucket of water on the Wicked Witch. (It is a little better motivated in the 1939 film with Dorothy putting out a fire.) Of course, Dorothy did not know it, but the witch was water-soluble and getting wet not only kills her, it also melts the body. This never did make any sense to me because it is pure literary device. The Dorothy did just the right thing without knowing it would work. (Many of the James Bond films seem to work the same way. James Bond throws one punch during Doctor No's launch and it just happens to be just the right punch so the whole evil facility is destroyed.) But people love the WIZARD OF OZ so much they do not mind that this rule was just thrown in out of plot necessity. In STAR TREK II Kirk uses Reliant's "prefix code" to remotely lower its shields. This was apparently a new capability invented to get the Enterprise out of trouble.
Not all fantasies set forward the rules that they are playing with, obviously, but failure to do so is just bad writing. Sometimes even a popular story can have bad writing. [-mrl]
PARASITE by Mira Grant (copyright 2013, Orbit, 504pp, ebook, ISBN 978-0-316-21893-1) (an excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
There are two things that appear to be true about Mira Grant: first, she's making a home for herself on the Hugo ballot, and second, well, she's twisted.
With regard to the first item, all three of her previous books, those in the "Newsflesh" trilogy, were Hugo nominees, as is her most recent outing, and the subject of this review, PARASITE, the first book in what is apparently called "Parasitology". I don't quite know how many books that's going to end up being, and I'm a bit too lazy to look it up, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's another trilogy[*]. With regard to the second item, since Mira Grant is really Seanan McGuire, I mean really, didn't we know that already? The "Newsflesh" trilogy dealt with zombies, although I really wouldn't call them zombie books. I think the zombies were there to help tell a bigger and more frightening story. PARASITE is about, well, parasites, and in particular tapeworms. Tapeworms that reside in your intestinal system and help you be healthy. Really? You don't think that's a bit twisted?
The tapeworm in question is called the Intestinal Bodyguard, developed by a company named SymboGen. The process is simple. You
swallow a pill. For lack of a better term, the pill hatches. It develops into a tapeworm that resides in your intestines. And as I said before, it keeps you healthy. Very healthy. No more doctors as we know them, no more medications, no more, well, anything--at least near as I can tell. The Intestinal Bodyguard is good for humanity, to hear the folks at SymboGen tell it. Things will be good from now on.
Oh, come on, really? This is Mira Grant.
Our protagonist is one Sally Mitchell, whose car was hit by a bus. She was dead. Clinically brain dead. She was on life support, and her doctor wanted to take her off life support and maybe help other people by harvesting her organs for transplants. And then something weird happened. She woke up. Alive, and fully functional.
Well, sort of. She'd lost her memories of the time before the accident. She had to be retrained to function as a human being again; you know, things like, walk, talk, eat, handle bodily functions, etc. She also had to learn how to make decisions and act as a rational human being. But the key was that she was a completely different person than she was before the accident.
And my, oh my, doesn't SymboGen have something to study now.
Meanwhile, weird things are beginning to happen to folks. Random, scattered people at first, and then in more and more incidents involving more and more people--well, the folks are coming down with a sleeping or sleepwalking sickness (Grant uses more than one term for it that does make things a bit aggravating) that causes them to act somewhat like...zombies, I guess is the best way to put it. No one *seems* to know what's going on.
Oh come on, really? This is Mira Grant (weird deja vu music can be heard playing in the background).
As you might guess, SymboGen is really interested in what's going on. So are a couple of other parties, two of which are Sal's (as she wants to be called now that she is no longer anything like Sally) father and sister, who work for a government lab. Another is Sal's boyfriend, who has his own reasons for being involved, which only partly have to do with the fact that Sal is his girlfriend.
Grant has given us yet another engaging techno-thriller involving government, corrupt corporations, science, conspiracies, and icky things. There's enough going on here to keep the reader involved from beginning to end. I certainly did not want to put the book down, and since I read the majority of it either in a car to and from Gwen's (you remember her, the other contributor to the Duel Fish Codices (and points go to the first one to figure out, if you all haven't already, what the Fish is all about)) graduation from college and on a plane to Reno, I didn't have to. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and read it more quickly than I read most books.
I did have a couple of nitpicks, and I'm not sure which one is more annoying and which one is well, potentially more deadly, and so may not be a nitpick. The first is that one of the three scientists that was involved in the development of the Intestinal Bodyguard disappeared sometime prior to the beginning of the story and has not been tracked down. This story takes place a few years in our future, and I have a hard time believing that with all the tracking that can be done *right now* this scientist could not be found. One Google search (by the scientist, thus leaving tracks in the interwebs, ought to do it). Second, and I'm going to give Grant the benefit of the doubt and call this a plot point that either folks haven't picked up on or I'm reading too much into, we learn that the Intestinal Bodyguard dispenses with the need for birth control. Wait, what? Is it automatic, or can a person turn it on and off? If it's automatic, doesn't that mean that there will be no more births? Hmmm.
One thing that wasn't a nitpick so much as a "come on, you can do better than that", I pretty much saw the big reveal coming a long time before the novel told us about it. I shouldn't be able to see things coming like that.
I really liked this book. Is it Hugo quality? I don't think so. Other than introducing a tapeworm that is good for you, I don't think Grant has broken any new ground in a spectacular way. Most of the rest of the stuff in this book is good, traditional thriller stuff with cool science thrown in. Now, not all Hugo winners break new ground--like NEUROMANCER did, for example--but I don't think this book is *that* good. It's a good, fast, interesting read. I don't think we'll be talking about PARASITE thirty years from now like we just might be talking about ANCILLARY JUSTICE and/or NEPTUNE's BROOD, and we might not even be talking about those thirty years from now either. [-jak]
[*] Actually, "Parasitology" is currently described as a duology, with the second volume, SYMBIONT, due out in November. [-ecl]
PARASITE by Mira Grant (copyright 2013, Orbit, $20.00 hardcover, 512pp., ISBN 978-0-316-21895-5) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Gwendolyn Karpierz):
I /love/ Seanan McGuire. And since--spoiler alert--Mira Grant is actually Seanan McGuire, it was a little bit inevitable that I pick this book up. I did not originally intend to, since the plot sounded ... entirely not my style--but then, so did zombie-hunting bloggers, and FEED was one of the greatest things ever. Plus, Seanan talked at MileHiCon about having a real tapeworm as research for this book, and I thought, "Wait, why did I think I could get away with not reading something Seanan wrote?" So (way back in December--consequently, forgive a somewhat lackluster review here) I read it ... despite my reservations, I suppose.
PARASITE is about a near-future society in which tapeworms have been developed to inhabit your intestines in a beneficial way, protecting everybody from disease, dirt, germs, babies, and other undesirable things. Unfortunately, such Intestinal Bodyguards (TM!) develop their own consciousness and start taking over the bodies they inhabit.
I'd yell "SURPRISE! Spoiled it!" but I'm pretty sure that's on the book flap. Alas, none of the main characters read the book flap, so the first way-too-much of this novel follows them trying to figure out what we already know. Even if it wasn't part of the blurb, it was still pretty obvious.
This book claimed to be a "CONTAGIOUS thriller!" but it really wasn't that thrilling. There was a lot of talking and driving and some screaming, and all the action scenes were ... pretty much the same. If it had been about half as long, I expect it would've been much better. I whipped through the first two or three hundred pages, and after that, I just sort of ... wanted it to be over, but still had two or three more hundred pages to go. For once, Seanan didn't manage to make me fall in love with any of her characters (how is this possible? what is this madness??), and I had a lot of trouble investing in them or the plot. It certainly wasn't a bad book, but I have a lot of high expectations for Seanan, and this didn't live up to them.
...also, /how many fictional diseases/ are called 'the sleeping sickness'? Why. /Why/. Why could you not have picked /anything else/, especially since this 'illness' was pretty much in no way characterized by sleeping? 'The sleepwalking sickness' made sense. 'The sleeping sickness'? /NO/. [-gmk]
RIGOR MORTIS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A victory of visual images over plotting, this is Hong Kong director Juno Mak's premier film and a tribute to Hong Kong horror films from the 1980s. An actor rents a room in a supremely ugly concrete apartment block. His plan is to commit suicide, but the supernatural world is not through with him. This is a film for the eye and not for the mind. The plot is minimal but the visual effects have been lavished on this film enough to smother the plot. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
There was a time when a special effects movie would be written one way. It would start our with a story and then say, "At this point the monster is born." That part would be given to the visual effects staff and they would create the effect. Later it might say, "At this point the monster is hit by a steam shovel." And the effects people would be given that image to create for the film. Of course, some of Ray Harryhausen's films would have the set of effects he wanted to create worked into the story. But the story would not have to be greatly modified and the plot of the film would still be paramount and the effects would have to follow it.
RIGOR MORTIS feels like it was not created that way and I suspect it was not. I think how it was made was that the effects people started by creating a collection of disturbing, violent, kinetic, and bloody images, as horrifying as they could manage. And they do show a great deal of imagination. The images were then sorted so that the strongest ones would be toward the end of the film. Then a story was written to tie the images together is a very loose plot. What does not quite fit the plot might be explained, but even that is not really necessary. The viewer leaves the theater with not a good feel for the story they just saw, but with hopefully indelible memories of the images.
Siu Ho wanted to be a movie star, but after a short career he finds himself out of luck and ready to give up on this life for the next one. He is also giving up on his wife and his young son. With only pocket change he rents a room in a surprisingly ugly apartment block. What it does have is a ceiling fixture from which he hangs a rope, and from the rope he hangs himself. But there are strange supernatural forces in the building and they have other plans for Siu Ho. They do not want to let him die so soon. They have other plans for him. Siu Ho gets to know the other tenants who have consigned themselves to living in this hellishly ugly concrete building which houses demonic ghosts--bloody and violent. The violent visuals have gallons of splashing blood and surreal imagination. It is hard for a Westerner not steeped in Asian supernatural tradition to know if the rules that the characters are following are real folklore or are mythology created ad hoc. They are more distraction from the plot than they are enhancements of it.
This film is a tribute to the 1980s series called "Mr. Vampire" in the West. Many of the actors from that series are used again here. Creatures are called "vampires" here also, though they are not vampires at all but Chinese hopping ghosts. This is a film that is constantly fiddling with the camera. It does enhance the weirdness of scenes artificially, but we are given images with the camera corkscrewing or looks up at characters from ankle level, all for no apparent reason. They just seem to want to upset the viewer.
RIGOR MORTIS is visceral but not intelligent. This is the kind of film for which you turn off your mind and let the scenery overwhelm you. And it will without benefit of drugs. I rate RIGOR MORTIS a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. It was released June 6, 2014, on Amazon and Xbox.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2771800/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/rigor_mortis_2013/
THE MOON'S SHADOW by Catherine Asaro (copyright 2003, Tor, audiobook copyright 2008, Audible Studios, 12 Hours, 40 minutes, narrated by Dennis Holland and Catherine Asaro) (an excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
As I was thinking about what I was going to write in this review of THE MOON'S SHADOW by Catherine Asaro, I realized that the saga of the Skolian Empire is, for me a lot like reading Miles Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold. They're fun to read (or listen to, I suppose), they have characters that we know and care about, and, most of all, they're almost like comfort food. We go back each time because we feel good being there, pretty much know what to expect from the book and the author, and we have a nice feeling each time we complete on of the books.
And yet, of course, they're different. We may like the characters, but in the Skolian Empire stories, characters, even our favorites, die. The word Empire suggests war and conflict. And indeed there is much war and conflict in the Skolian Empire stories, and war involves death. And while characters have died in the Vorkosigan books, rarely are they characters that we have grown attached to.
I suspect that's one of the strengths of the Skolian Saga books: Asaro makes us care about the characters, and then at times that are appropriate, she does the necessary--she kills them off. While the characters are very important parts of the stories, they don't rule the stories. The plot and storyline are still very important, and if the storyline says, "XYX character must die", then character XYZ dies.
That was a long way to go to get us to THE MOON'S SHADOW, which doesn't have heartstring-tugging deaths in it. What's different about SHADOW is that for the first time in the series, we get told a story from the Eubian side of the conflict. It's a refreshing change of pace which provided an interesting insight into how Asaro views the Eubian Concord.
THE MOON'S SHADOW is the fourth book of a group that simultaneously covers much of the same ground but from differing viewpoints, the others being THE QUANTUM ROSE, ASCENDANT SUN, and SPHERICAL HARMONIC. These four, as I've noted before, explore the aftermath of the Radiance War, wherein one of my favorite characters, Soz Valdoria, is killed. Our main character is Jabriol Qox III, son of Soz and Jabriol Qox (my fingers just do not want to type a Q that is NOT followed by a U) II. The children of that pairing were left on earth while Soz went off and started the Radiance War. A trader was engineered that returned Jabriol III to the Traders (as they are known), and, at age 17, he immediately ascended to the Carnelian Throne.
So, this is the story of young Jabriol growing in and growing up in his job. Jabriol must learn to rule an empire that he does not understand and which has a way of life, way of thinking, and a morality that he does not understand. He must deal with backstabbing politics, a wife much older than him, trying to broker a peace with the Skolian Empire, all the while trying, in his own way, to change the way the Eubian Concord operates. He must avoid assassination attempts and scheming relatives. On top of all that, he must hide who and what he really is--a telepath, a person that the rest of the Concord would consider a provider, a pleasure slave for the Aristo class.
Yeah, I'm glad I didn't have such problems when I was 17.
This story has a lot of good stuff going for it. As is usual with the Skolian books, we get a lot of great character interaction and development, and we come to care for the characters, even some of the Eubians. We get to see a 17-year-old boy grow up before our eyes as a man, and emperor, and a caring human being. We get to see relationships change and grow. And really, it *is* fun reading a book from the point of view of the other side of the fence, as it were.
One of the things that we've learned throughout the series is that the Eubians have a different way of communicating, especially at the highest levels of their class system. While Skolians and Earth folks speak directly, the Eubians speak in a roundabout manner, always talking around the point while getting to the point. In fact, depending on who is speaking to whom, speaking directly is considered offensive. It's interesting and fun to see Jabriol get frustrated with this communication method and at the same time grow to learn it.
The only thing I found frustrating (at first) about the recording is that we have yet another new narrator, Dennis Holland. So, not only have we changed narrators, but we've gone from female to male. I can't pretend to know how all the contracts and other legalities enter into the decision about who narrates a book, but I find the changes frustrating. Still, Holland grew on me as the book progressed, and I only found a few of his pronunciations of certain words grating. I could get used to him if he stays on the job (yes, I realize they've been recorded already, but "stays" seems a better word here).
All in all, another enjoyable entry in the Skolian Saga. [-jak]
ANTHEM (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Evelyn's comments on the nominated novellas in the 06/13/14 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
I appreciate that you put "Anthem" dead last in your rankings, and made sure to include No Award before it. I might have put No Award in twice before it, or left it off the list entirely. I'm boggled that it was even nominated.
I've read THE FOUNTAINHEAD twice and ATLAS SHRUGGED three or four times*--they can be read for enjoyment, as an exercise in temporarily swallowing a premise--but no power on earth will make me revisit that pretentious toxic brain sludge. Reading it was like being subjected to a dose of the solvent fumes from the alley behind a dry cleaning shop. Never again: I'm free.
[*I skipped through The Insulting Monologue at least once, so an exact count is tricky.]
I was not surprised to see that it got nominated. It is certainly probably the best-known science fiction novella of 1938 among the general population, and is still in print, and Rand does have a large following. Large political followings seem to be de rigeuer this year for nominees in the regular Hugo categories, so I'm not surprised to see it nominated in the Retros. I would be curious how its nomination count compared with, for example, "Who Goes There?" [-ecl]
Costco in Marlboro, NJ (letter of comment by Steve Milton):
In response to Mark's comments about Costco in the 06/13/14 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Milton writes:
The space previously occupied by the movie theater is the back parking lot for CostCo. Someplace that only gets cars when the store is ultra-busy. [-smm]
I assume there is some requirement that they be able to have enough parking at all times. It does not seem to me they would buy the land if they did not need it for some reason. [-mrl]
And Evelyn adds:
There are also other stores using that same parking lot. I suspect the land is actually leased rather than bought. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Over the last three weeks I covered the nominees for the Retro Hugos for Best Novel and Best Novella of 1938; this week I will cover the nominees for Best Novelette and Best Short Story.
Best Novelette (80 nominating ballots)
The novelette category is the most problematic of the fiction categories (and indeed had the fewest nominating ballots) because, of the five stories, three are pretty much unavailable now, having either no reprints, or a single reprint in something almost as unobtainable as its original 1938 publication. One wonders how the nominators chose them. Given that when I scanned the list of stories eligible from 1938 in this category it was a pretty obscure lot, my suspicion is that they were chosen on the basis of the author's reputation rather than the story itself.
"Dead Knowledge", Don A. Stuart [John W. Campbell] (Astounding Stories, January 1938; John W. Campbell's WHO GOES THERE? [Hyperion Press]): While "Who Goes There?" has been reprinted all over the place, this Don A. Stuart story is almost impossible to find. I was able to read it because I noticed a friend had a copy of the Hyperion Press collection WHO GOES THERE? on her shelf and when I mentioned I would like to read a story from it, she offered to lend it to me.
"Dead Knowledge" has a three-man team, which made me think of the Arcot, Wade, and Morey stories that were my introduction to Campbell (THE BLACK STAR PASSES, ISLANDS OF SPACE, and INVADERS FROM THE INFINITE), but other than this trope there is little similarity. There is, however, a resemblance to "Who Goes There?" in the notion of a menace that is not a being like ourselves, but rather a more inchoate, insubstantial, amorphous/polymorphous being.
[One quibble: The story keeps referring to the sun setting in the east on this distant planet. I would expect that east and west would be defined on other planets by how the sun rose and set, or rather, east would be the direction of rotation, and west would be the opposite.]
"Hollywood on the Moon", Henry Kuttner (Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1938; PDF at varietysf.org): This is available, but apparently only as a hard-to-read PDF of the original, and one that cannot even be downloaded to a Kindle. This is also apparently part of a series, though of short stories, not of novels. It is pretty lightweight stuff, the sort of thing that one saw in many "madcap" comedy films in the 1930s, with wise-cracking film producers, a stowaway actress, a telepathic kangaroo, and so on. I suspect it is the Kuttner name and the sparseness of the novelette field in general for 1938 that put this on the ballot.
"Pigeons From Hell", Robert E. Howard (Weird Tales, May 1938; Robert E. Howard's PIGEONS FROM HELL): You can tell from this that Howard was a wordsmith; it is not an "oak door," but an "oaken door." One thing that might make this less popular with the voters is the repeated use of the N-word. But this would be a mistake, because though it is used repeatedly, it is the Southern sheriff who says it. The narrative voice uses the word "negro", which was the polite term at the time. I would not use this to postulate any special progressiveness towards race on Howard's part, but to note that his language here is not a reason to reject the story.
The descriptions of the pigeons make me wonder if Daphne du Maurier was partially inspired by it, though I admit it is unlikely. One definite influence is the term "zuvembie", invented by Howard and used in comic books from 1954 to 1989 instead of "zombie", because the Comics Code Authority forbade the use of that word. But the story is a fine example of Southern Gothic even without any influences it may have had.
"Rule 18", Clifford D. Simak (Astounding Science-Fiction, July 1938): unavailable
"Werewoman", C. L. Moore (Leaves #2, Winter 1938; Robert Hoskins, THE EDGE OF NEVER): The initial publication of this story was in a small-press magazine--so small, in fact, that only sixty copies were printed! True, that would have been more than enough for everyone at the 1939 Worldcon to get a copy, but I am sure that did not happen, and this is another example of a story that would not have been nominated if regular Hugos had been given out in its eligibility year. Does that mean one should not vote for it because one is voting as if it were that year? I don't think so, and the existence of the electronic Hugo packet is evidence that availability should not be considered a factor.
Be that as it may, "Werewoman" is one of C. L. Moore's "Northwest Smith" stories. I have a quibble with the title: the prefix "were-" comes from the Old English "wer", or "man", so a "werewoman" would be a man who turns into a woman. This is not what is happening in the story. But apparently this is a term widely used to signify a woman who shape-shifts rather than a man. "Werewoman" is strong on atmosphere, but a bit weak on plot.
My ranking: "Pigeons from Hell", "Dead Knowledge", no award, "Werewoman", "Hollywood on the Moon". (I am not including the novelette I have not read. If I were actually voting, this would effectively place it *below* "Hollywood on the Moon", but since I am not actually voting, it does not matter. On the other hand, somewhere in the back of mind is the thought that if it was any good at all, it would have been reprinted more widely in the last 75 years.)
Best Short Story (108 nominating ballots)
It is interesting that they managed to have five nominees in this category, since three times in the last four years the regular Hugos have had fewer, due to the rule requiring any nominee to be on 5% of the nominating ballots. However, this is just a function of the vastly larger number of short stories published in 2013 than in 1938.
This category, more than any other, is an example of the above-mentioned problem with the Retro Hugos: people nominate on the basis of name recognition rather than actual knowledge of the works themselves. (This is also true of the Simak novelette and R.U.R.) They are all very early stories (often the first story) of authors who went on to become major names in the field. So how could you nominate something else? But in 1939, I bet a lot of science fiction fans would have chosen an entirely different slate of short stories.
(And what is it with the letter 'H'? Four of the five nominees start with an 'H'.)
"The Faithful", Lester del Rey (Astounding Science-Fiction, April 1938; THE EARLY DEL REY): This was del Rey's first story, and may well have served as inspiration for Clifford Simak's "City" stories, being a story of men and dogs in the far future.
"How We Went to Mars", Arthur C. Clarke (Amateur Science Stories, March 1938; COLLECTED STORIES OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE): This was Clarke's third published story, and nominated either because it was an Arthur C. Clarke story that was eligible, or because the British convention members have a different sense of humor than I do. By that I mean that the humor in it seems distinctly British, and the problem I have is that there is just too much of it. What was funny for a page or two wore a bit thin after seven pages. Then again, the British like Benny Hill. The story is written in that "we are all buffoons, but we don't know it" style. (I am reminded of a Bertie Wooster, only more so.)
"Helen O'Loy", Lester del Rey (Astounding Science-Fiction, December 1938; Robert Silverberg's SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME): This was del Rey's second story, and one much imitated by subsequent authors. The best-known would probably be the "Twilight Zone" episode "The Lonely", written by Rod Serling. This, more than most of the other stories, is still effective and is the most readable of the batch. Yes, the gender roles in it are dated, but that is part of the the point--they are to a great extent created by the then-current pop culture images of them.
"Hollerbochen's Dilemma", Ray Bradbury (Imagination!, January 1938; Sam Moskowitz's HORRORS UNSEEN): This was Ray Bradbury's first published story, and at under a thousand words, the shortest story on the ballot. (Indeed, Moskowitz's introduction is over half the length of the story itself.) It is one-third shorter than Kij Johnson's "Ponies", previously the all-time shortest Hugo nominee. At this length, it is "flash fiction" and so short that it can be little more than a gimmick story, but well-done. Whether something this flimsy should win a Hugo is the question, of course. I mean, "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door," is the ultimate catchy flash fiction, but I don't think most people would give it a Hugo either. (Frederic Brown's "Knock", in case you are wondering.)
"Hyperpilosity", L. Sprague de Camp (Astounding Science-Fiction, April 1938; Groff Conklin's OMNIBUS OF SCIENCE FICTION): Conklin at least gives you a footnote that says, "The original opening of this story has been eliminated, with the permission of the author, since it seemed to weaken its impact somewhat." That is a refreshing change from editors that do not tell you when a story has been changed, but it also means that yet another Retro nominee is not really available in its 1938 form. This is the problem people have often claimed occurs in the artist, fancast, and other categories--votes are cast based on something other than the works from the year in question. People listen to the latest 2014 "Jovian Overlords Training Sessions" podcast and then rank the 2013 nominee on the basis of that.
I read "Hyperpilosity" without noticing where it was first printed, and found myself thinking, "Typical ANALOG story." Sure enough, it was first published in ASTOUNDING. It is nothing extraordinary, but a good, competent story of the sort one found then.
My ranking: "Helen O'Loy", "Hyperpilosity", "The Faithful", no award, "Hollerbochen's Dilemma", "How We Went to Mars"
(Though if you ask me tomorrow, I might swap "Hyperpilosity" and "The Faithful".)
So there it is--my comments and rankings for the Retro Hugos. The good news is that these will almost definitely be given out. The bad news is that for the regular Hugos, things are not as certain. The "25% rule" says that any category not voted on by at least 25% of the ballots will not be awarded. The thousand new members for Loncon 3 since the nominees were announced were almost definitely due to interest in the Novel category (and in wanting to get the entire "Wheel of Time" series in the Hugo Packet). It is not unlikely that most of those people, if they vote, will vote only in the Novel category and possibly the Dramatic Presentation categories. Normally low-drawing categories such as Semiprozine, Fancast, and Fan Artist could easily fail to get enough votes to be awarded at all this year. Many people were talking about wanting to expand the Hugo voting base, and this may well be an example of "Be careful what you wish for." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Beware of a silent dog and still water. --Latin ProverbTweet
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