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The Bitter Guide to Science Fiction


Greetings! You have returned to bring joy & happiness to both our lives!

Well, first off, I'd like to thank my long-time readers who sent in their aurora nomination forms for the Bitter Guide. Thank you very much for taking your time to help support my humble work.

For the rest of you, there's a special spot in hell.

The more astute of you will notice that the BG is now syndicated! Yes, I am now being published on as well as the Canadian SF Resource Guide. Part two of Operation:SuperGroovealisticprosifunkification has commenced.

Oh, and if I seem rather cheerful today, it's summer, and I got some sun recently. If that's not a good enough reason, bite me.

Now, onto the books!

City is a book by olde-time sf author Clifford Simak. It's a series of stories that outline humanity ascending to Godhood (except some guys living in Switzerland; I'll skip the obvious lines) and dogs & robots taking over the world. Now, the first few stories are pretty interesting; there's the gradual disintegration of urban society (completely ignoring the fact that there's A LOT of people living in cities, so how do they just make the move out to the country?), a crippling societal agoraphobia that binds men to their homes (women are... Nah, too easy) just as they're starting to go to the stars, and the genetic experimentation that gives dogs intelligence & speech. But by the end, when the stories deal with dimension traveling dogs & hivemind ants building giant cities & Cthulu (or rather, the generic 'evil from beyond!')... It starts to get loony.

I'm not a huge mystery fan (my demon-ex's mother was a mystery fan, so I reacted with the normal logic of the jilted, hating all that reminded me of her), but I will say that I love the works of Sharyn McCrumb. Mainly because in her book Highland Laddie Gone she makes righteous fun of Scottish people (Ohhh, I hate the Scots. Ohhhh. What an evil people. Them and the Irish). Anyway, McCrumb has a series of (well, two) books set in a science fiction setting; by this, I mean in a setting full of people involved with Science Fiction. The Jay Omega books are about a university professor who keeps getting dragged into the surreal world of Science Fiction fandom. The first, Bimbos of the Death Sun, involved the murder of a diminutive, wrathful SF author (who wasn't at ALL based on HE). In the second book, they get dragged along to the reunion of a group of SF writers that gets interrupted when one of their members returns from the dead. It's not bad, and it derides the ghods of fandom wonderfully (and don't think I've forgotten them. I still have my list...). The ending is, like some of McCrumb's other books, kind of placid, but not too bad. It's more like Murder She Wrote than Miami Vice (and MSW at least had an occasional car chase), but still enjoyable. My only major quibble with McCrumb's books is that she feels the Appalachians are such a fascinating place; I can forgive it, seeing as she's from there, but it gets kinda tiresome after a while.

Okay, new Tanya Huff book: Summon the Keeper just can't lose for me. First, it's a Tanya Huff book. Second, it's set in my hometown of Kingston (okay, it's set near my hometown of Napanee), which, unlike the Appalachians, is a genuinely fascinating place. StK is a stand-alone book about a member of an ancient society (the keepers) that monitor sites where evil breaks through dimensional barriers. This book tells the story of a Keeper (and her sassy talking cat ) who find a gateway to hell in the basement of a Bed and Breakfast. To be deadly honest, the book's flow wasn't that great. The scenes with various monster types visiting the B&B felt like filler (although they weren't badly done, they seemed to just be there to say 'hey, isn't this WEIRD?' and didn't contribute much to the main plot), although the Greek Gods coming up in a mini-van was kind of cute. The book isn't perfect, mind you. It feels like a novella that got excessively padded, and the ending had me going back over it to catch any details I'd missed, but I blame that on reading it on a busy weekend.

I'm a fan of Orson Scott Card's books (and plan on reading the Alvin Maker books as soon as I find them), and enjoyed Ender's Game. So it didn't come as a shock to me that Ender's sequel, Speaker for the Dead, is just as good. In it, Ender Wiggin, the genius prodigy who saved Earth by destroying the evil Buggers, has spent 3000 years trying to repent for his sins (i.e. saving human civilization). He's been doing this while traveling space as the Speaker for the Dead, who shows up and talks about the life of dead people. Of course, traveling through space means he ends up there 35 years after they die, which means that the cold cuts from the wake have gotten a little stinky. In Speaker, Ender is summoned to a world where a xeno-biologist has been slaughtered by a new race called the Pequinos, or piggies. The books is a pretty good SF story with a really interesting Alien race. The one flaw with it? I kept seeing the Pequinos as Piglet from the Winnie the Pooh stories. I'd like to then thank Mr. Card for giving me nightmares about vivisected Piglets for the past few weeks. Perhaps in his next book Grover will get caught in a trash compactor?

Peter David is a relentlessly cool writer. I enjoyed his run on The Incredible Hulk and kinda regret never getting The Atlantis Chronicles. So, I was kind of happy to pick up a couple of his old novels at a UBS the other day. I read Knight Life in a couple days. It's an interesting little twist on the King Arthur Returns story. Merlin is a snotty juvenile (turns out he does age backwards), and Arthur decides that he needs to run for President, but since that's too difficult to do, he runs for mayor of New York instead. Now, it goes along with the normal stuff, but the twists are nice. Morgan Le Fay is a big ass drunk lady drowning her self-pity in Micheloeb, and Mordred is once again a villainous cad, only this time he's a lawyer. The book has the occasional chuckle, and a good plot (with a nice little idea for electoral cheating), but it suffers from a cheesy ending and a pair of characters that seem like a standard comic relief duo crossed with Charles Manson. It's kind of left open for a sequel (Arthur for President!), but it doesn't look like that'll happen.

I had Software by Rudy Rucker recommended by a reader a while back. Unfortunately, I can't say it was really my cup of tea. In Software, the state of Florida has been cordoned off as a reservation for ancient baby-boomers, while robots now run the lunar colonies, growing organs in exchange for raw materials. Now, the lunar robots are preparing to revolt, and at the same time want to make their creator immortal (poor things; we get an immortal creator right off the bat). The plot of the book feels kind of random, actually. Things happen that don't really make sense; the main character gets a robot body, and learns to feign drunkenness (wow. I guess he just wasn't paying attention in the sixties). Then, he explodes, and forms a cult. It wouldn't have been too bad if it all hadn't reminded me of Heinlein so much.

Of course, that's not it for the bitter guide. That's just all you're going to get this month. So, until next time, send lawyers, guns, and money.

Justin Mohareb, c/o "Toronto as a city carries out the idea of Canada as a country. It is a calculated crime both against the aspirations of the soul and the affectations of the heart." Aleister Crowley

Other columns at RPGnet

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