Modern Classics of Science Fiction (1992)

Edited by Gardner Dozois, and originally published as The Legend Book of Science Fiction (1991), this weighty anthology reminded me why I stopped reading science fiction in the 1980s.

Gardner Dozois (pronounced doze-wah) was most famously the editor of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine between 1984 and 2004 (the publication was re-named Asimov’s Science Fiction in 1992).  He has also been editor of The Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies since 1984.  As a writer he began in the late 1960s, sticking mainly to short-form pieces, and winning Nebula Awards in the early 1980s.
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Brian Aldiss, 18 August 1925 – 19 August 2017

Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, Michael Kustow, and JG Ballard at the 1968 Brighton Arts Festival.

By an Aldissian cosmic coincidence, I missed notice of Aldiss’s death for several days, even as I was reading his ‘The Worm That Flies’ in Gardner Dozois’ 1991 Modern Classics of Science Fiction.

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Old friends: Clash by Night (1980) by Henry Kuttner and CL Moore

The spectacularly ugly cover of clashing colours and motifs.

If one of the domains of science fiction is to extrapolate a present phenomenon into an imagined future outcome, the anthology of stories by husband and wife writing team Henry Kuttner (1915-1958) and Catherine Lucille Moore (1911-1987), Clash by Night, is an exemplar of the genre that has weathered time more handsomely than most.

Published in 1980, but containing stories that were already decades older, I lost my copy to the Brisbane flood of 2010/2011, along with hundreds of other books.  To my knowledge the book has not been reprinted, and the authors are now largely forgotten in the Sturm und Drang attending the rapid, enforced obsolescence that is a hallmark of the internet-driven cult of the new.  Fortunately I was able to replace this one recently, and made it my bedside reading for a few nights earlier this month.

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Conspiracy echoes in Charlottesville

US President Donald Trump’s prevarication on calling out white supremacists as terrorists and subversives resonates with the chilling 2001 BBC film, Conspiracy, about the Wannsee conference at which SS General Reinhard Heydrich bullied other representatives of the Nazi German hierarchy to accept the SS’s ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘Jewish question’.

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Skorzeny’s register oddly à propos again

Skorzeny-c1940s-Walter-Frentz

By a string of coincidences I came across Otto Skorzeny’s memoirs again a few days ago. They are freely available through the Internet Archive as a scan of the book, and several execrable versions of the OCR. Worse, it is a badly translated, hardly proofread book, filled with run-on sentences, typographical and grammatical mistakes, missing words and inconsistent formatting.

But all that seems almost appropriate when considering the book as a whole. As an historical artefact and symbol of the story it represents. But more of that later.

My original online search was for Israeli counter-intelligence activities. This yielded up the names Dan Raviv and Yosse Melman as authors of several books on Israel’s espionage operations. One of the searches under those names offered up a link to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, featuring an article the pair had written about Otto Skorzeny, advancing as declassified insider-information the almost bizarre suggestion that he had been an Israeli hit-man! A story so bizarre, on the face of it, that it couldn’t have come out of Hollywood. And yet it’s an apparently accurate account of an Israeli mission to neutralise German rocket scientists working for Egypt in the 1950s and ‘60s. A mission overseen, among others, by Yitzhak Shamir, former head of the Mossad, and former Israeli Prime Minister.

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On re-reading The End of Eternity

End of Eternity book cover

Isaac Asimov, The End of Eternity. Originally published by Doubleday, 1955. The cover illustration is from the 1959 Panther edition.

NOTE: This book is now so old and well-known that I will not take any care to obfuscate the plot for those who haven’t read it.

I’m always on the hunt for bedside reading material: light and fluffy stuff that won’t suffer for being used to put me to sleep, but that won’t just bore me to distraction.

Unlike years ago, my bedside reading ‘stack’ is now just a tablet with an ebook library. That encouraged me to start duplicating old paperback faithfuls with digital counterparts. A recent spurt of acquiring old science fiction as new ebooks included a swag of Asimov. That guy was a factory!

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Cloud Atlas in Clown Town

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By one of those synchronicities of action and interconnected information that others like to call ‘coincidences’, ‘weird’, or even ‘fate’, I had just finished re-reading the Cordwainer Smith short story ‘The Dead Lady of Clown Town’ (1964) when I happened to watch Cloud Atlas (2012) again.

I was surprised to find a similarity of theme and content I had not heard mentioned before.

The Cloud Atlas script is credited to its directors: Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, and Andy Wachowski. That it is based on David Mitchell’s novel of the same name is less well advertised, as is the influence on him and the Wachowskis of mystic and/or philosopher Ken Wilber. In the segment telling of the rebellion by ‘fabricant’ Sonmi-451, cloned for slave labour, against a society she regards as unjust for consigning her and others to a less than human status, to be treated like animals, and killed off at whim.

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All judgement flees: cretinism gets a ‘hip’ new brand

Maybe it was always there and I didn’t see it, or didn’t care. Or maybe it is a more recent phenomenon. Perhaps a bit of both: it might have been that I didn’t care for the isolated instances of bad or missing judgement, but now that they are popular, populist, and even ‘trendy’, I find myself galled almost daily by their intrusive ever-presence.

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Thirty years tracking Hannibal Lecter

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Imagine a world in which Hannibal Lecter was unknown.  It existed until 1981, when Thomas Harris published the novel ‘Red Dragon’.  My own relationship with the Hannibal Lecter myth now spans three decades and takes in unimaginable changes in the world as well as in myself, which is to be expected in the span of almost half a life.  That relationship began when I was an undergraduate student, still naïve and inexperienced in the ways of the world with which I coincided.  That’s why I think of it as a personal experience.  A journey that has significance to me because of the way I experienced it, not as an impersonal series of film reviews.  A journey that did not come about as unaffected by changes in the real world, and the fictional ones I traversed.

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The Expanse (2011 – )

Expanse still

The series of books is definitely entertaining, and often genuinely engaging, even if each 600-page book is probably a third longer than it needs to be.

Authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, writing collectively as James SA Corey, pad their narratives with long character ‘insights’ that are often counterproductive in exposing the authors as not quite as insightful as they may think they are. Or as being slightly contemptuous of an audience they regard as simple-minded enough to think of other people as simple-minded.
Nevertheless, they have a winning formula.

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