Saturday, October 08, 2016

The Big Book of Science Fiction (3)

The Big Book of Science Fiction

Part Three of my real-time review continued from HERE.

Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
Vintage Books 2016
When I real-time review this 1210 page anthology, my comments will appear in the thought stream below.

23 thoughts on “The Big Book of Science Fiction

  1. .

    Part Three of my real-time review continued from HERE.

    AYE, AND GOMORRAH by Samuel R. Delany
    “So now she knew I knew she knew I knew, and I wondered how we would play out the Proust bit.”
    For those in the know, this is THAT story about spacers, fast-motion astronauts (this book teaching me about it as a Zhuravlyova crossed with FL Wallace and others ), spacers degenderised to be able to manage such necessary spacing, but with the frelks partial to such spacer meat, frelks who morphed into our era of modern frelks or freaks, millions of them infected, a plague from which only few of us (you and me) are immune, but with a purging (for those affected), a slow-motion catharsis potentially derivable from this First Cause story’s early example of mercenary concupiscent engagement of child-like spacer and frelk – in a Muslim country – a dangerous vision indeed, and only by reading and re-reading it, and understanding it properly, can we make the new spacers become ‘knowing’, via internet-space grooming, and thus unwanted, undesired. Aye, the Proustian memory quenched, eventually?
    “‘You are a child,’ she said. ‘I love you.'”
    • “It is not only by dint of lying to others, but also of lying to ourselves, that we cease to notice that we are lying.”
      “But sometimes the future is latent in us without our knowing it, and our supposedly lying words foreshadow an imminent reality.”
      ― Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah
  2. THE HALL OF MACHINES (1968) by Langdon Jones
    “My research has become, to a degree, obsessional. I now find that my normal routine has been disturbed to quite a large extent over the last three years. I have devoted a complete room to this work, my ultimate intention being to shape the material into a comprehensive book.”
    Never shy of personalising my reviews (in the hope of co-triangulation with other such reviews of a particular book or work), I do see this stunning text of structural dystropes – almost a HOUSE of Leaves-like examination of a Tate Gallery Art Installation called a Hall – as equivalent to this interconnected labyrinth of electronic dreamcatching or hawling as gestalt real-time book reviews, a labyrinth that grows and grows, while threatening to collapse… “making electric music together” on this screen you’re watching now.
    It also seems appropriate to read this work for the first time today, on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, either “…and the whole thing dissolved into dust…” or “…and always will be, increasing in size!”
  3. SOFT CLOCKS by Yashio Aramaki
    Translated by Kazuko Behrens and stylized by Lewis Shiner
    With everything soft like the persistence of time –
    “Cars and planes would be infinitely safer.”
    “The desert was melting, reshaping itself. It formed two humanlike figures, which sank waist-deep in the sand and began to melt into each other.”
    “…impossibly long and distorted […] from Salvador Dali’s ‘Temptation of Saint Anthony.'”
    Vi versus Vi.
    Another text seemingly, obliquely destined, today, to be read on the anniversary of 9/11. A story hidden beneath the plot’s veneer of one dietary psychosis against another, a battle for the survival of the universe, cancelling each other out, a surreal catharsis, as the narrative doctor, dealing with the Martian sickness, has a mutual crush with his young woman patient Vivi, technophobic granddaughter of DALI.
    The narrator is the doctor chosen to choose her suitor for marriage, during a party on Mars. Hidden faces hidden by the soft clock burqas… In a world where you meet various artist groupings like Chiriconians, monochromists, fauvists, cubists etc. As they interact and create soft planes…
    Otherwise, the other intricacies of the off-the-wall plot went straight over my head, like the planes and aeroplanes in Dali’s own ‘Hidden Faces.’
    • A quote from Salvador Dali’s only novel: HIDDEN FACES (1944) –
      “Then an unheard-of being, unheard-of beings, will be seen to rise, their brains compressed by sonorous helmets, their temples pierced by the whistling of air waves, their bodies naked, turned yellow by fever, pocked by deep vegetal stigmata swarming with insects and filled to the brim with the slimy juices of venom, overflowing and running down a skin tiger-striped and leopard-spotted by the gangrene of wounds and the leprosy of camouflage, their swollen bellies plugged to death by electric umbilical chords [sic] tangling with the ignominiousness of torn intestines and bits of flesh, roasting in the burning steel carapaces of the punitive tortures of gutted tanks.
      That is man!
      Backs of lead, sexual organs of fire, fears of mica, chemical hearts of the televisions of blood, hidden faces and wings — always wings, the north and south of our being!”
      My other quotes from this Dali novel here –
  4. image
    THREE FROM MODERAN by David R. Bunch
    “…just a little serving man, really, a victim who could do with some praise.”
    “So we’re covering all with the sterile plastic, a great big whitey-gray envelope…”
    “And my jammy-rams and I are in between, the artistic effort really…”
    A “soil-fornicating” scenario, as we enter the world of Moderan from ours of Mondrian, a bit of us behaving like Don Quixote, at first seeing the Jammy-Rammers, machines that tamp, dowse or hawl the ground, a cyborg-incipient conflux that at first makes no sense, and even less sense later, whereby we need to stop them tamping at the same patch of ground, as I often do when hawling books or conceiving the world of nemonymous night, and later we feel convinced that we are more than just a DQ talking to some senseless Sancho Panza, but we are an important part of a genuinely cohering world beyond its cover of plastic dadaistic art. imageThe words of the text themselves often do their own jammy-ram, too, with incantatory repetitions and exhortations and self-encouraging “determine, determine, DETERMINE” roundelays. We reach our stronghold but meet mincing flesh people, nailing mice, as we do, and our own flesh-strips seem all important then not important at all.
    This story rearranges not only the surface of a conceivable world, but also, arguably, the nature of literature as a world in itself. It is another revelatory discovery for this book of a new fiction work for me, and, no doubt, for others, too. The language flows like a dream with real hawling rocks and tampers within it. What I always used to call an all-American thumper monster.
    Translated by Joel Stern and Maria Swiecicka-Ziemianek
    “…cover mountainsides with a special emulsion…”
    …seems to mate with the plastic covering pictured above for the previous review, as well as some of the many strangely-named creatures in the Lem, like the rollipede, being scions of the jammy-ram monsters of Moderan. But none of these endearingly invented captivating creatures have — according to the even more endearing illustrations explicitly peppered throughout the text — any straight Mondrian lines at all. They’re all certainly a chip off the old block belonging to the REVA-MENDER himself, I say!
    I was entranced with disgust, however, by the otherwise comic concept of man’s touristy nature polluting the universe and adversely affecting these creatures. I was particularly taken, just as two among many examples, with the co-evolution involving man’s boozy taverns and an alien plant’s propensity to collect human ears as a sort of getting back at our propensity to keep a scrapbook of dried wild alien plants! It was the human graffiti, though, that adversely steffied me the most.
    “The worst offenders are women: by travelling fast they slow the passage of time and age less.”
    “No eyelids on your ears. No Off switch on empathy.”
    I sense that this absorbing and magnificent work in its own right may well also be the nub of this whole anthology book and of this gestalt review itself. Two handfuls of well-characterised scientists surveying a far greenish planet for possible colonisation, a southern reach if compasses can mean anything at all in space, a “defensive-aggressive” mixture of gender, race, knowledge, temperament – one of them, the obstreperous central empath, the curmudgeon reva-mender – as if the unreliable one from “Lost in Space” – is thin-skinned both literally and metaphorically, eventually discovering this story’s “only fear” as a taproot off the more famous ‘only connect’ – where his world is not ‘Lost in Space’ but a far more recent Gaia or gestalt from LOST, explicitly and implicitly.
    This very gestalt review might aspire to be the Gaia-maker for this whole book, but that takes no account of my own passive-aggressive behaviour (a behaviour coined by this story?) or of my “abysmal solipsism” – or my staying-power.
    “What about those root-nodes…”
  7. GOOD NEWS FROM THE VATICAN (1971) by Robert Silverberg
    “Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen all of them. Shiny boxes. Wheels. Eyes. And voices coming out of their bellies…”
    An interesting contrast with this story’s reference to “the Tristan chord.” Only in music can you find God, I say! Meanwhile, this is a provocative work written in the politically incorrect past about the future, a future that extends, into a future beyond the future, beyond our more modern present times, beyond our politically correct times of gender and race, when all religious leaders (including a hilarious eviction of the chief rabbi pontificating about angels!) await the Vatican’s white smoke announcing the new Pope, expected to be a robot…
  8. WHEN IT CHANGED by Joanna Russ
    “Lydia was explaining the difference between parthenogenesis (which is so easy that anyone can practice it) and what we do, which is the merging of ova. That is why Katy’s baby looks like me.”
    On Whileaway, men died out over thirty generations ago. As with the above quote’s example, we garner some clues as to how the women have been managing and marrying and giving birth. Men, dressed ‘gaudily’ as the woman narrator tells us, suddenly now arrive out of the blue – and the interface of gender issues are mildly interesting and the female only society is often amenable to my own type of utopian propensity. Although well-written, I have no idea why, as a STORY, it has been included in this anthology – other than to fulfil the book’s didactic mandate?
    I expect many would rather read the 12-novel series ‘Warriors of Love’ mentioned earlier in this review here. There, the birth method is what I think is commonly called gynogenesis…
    “We’re built to dream outwards.”
    This story is its own fake egg put in the reader’s nest. A extrapolation of human-alien sex as well as Brexit and Trump – and ‘Sirians’ … “that tallness, that cruel thinness” Like Assad?
    It is a Joycean monologue. It is something I sit upon to hatch out.
  10. WHERE TWO PATHS CROSS by Dmitri Bilenkin
    Translated by James Womack
    “…the reason the mangors became nomadic creatures, half plant, half animal,…”
    Another human colonisation of an alien world, where this book’s endemic human biologist becomes a primary action man. Despite this being a translation, this gives new meaning to the portmanteau words ourban and ambush, and possibly the slavish (?) mangor itself. Slavish only in the sense that it is tied not by its moveable legroots but by a fixed dependence on empirical memory of fighting previous enemies where the template does not always work with new enemies like these humans. The humans themselves are tied to some inner practical audit trail, too, that eventually lets them down. A meaningful Swiftian moral. All are subject to whatever scientific, climactic, empirical, philosophical or mental ‘storms’ beset us. The storms’ supremacy is in their ability to stay mindless, I guess, outside of what they contain.
  11. STANDING WOMAN by Yasutaka Tsutsui
    Translated by Dana Lewis
    “‘No calling a dogpillar by its original name,’ I said. ‘Isn’t that a strange law?'”
    At first a pet animal, then human, as versions of the mangors in the previous story (and the taproots in LeGuin?), here as half plant, vegetising toward a state of complete planthood. All mixed with a society where loose words condemn you to such a state of existence. Like found talking to one of these creatures
    -as-pillars-or-trees. But this work is far more than that. It has an absurdist-poignant power that also teaches us a lot about human relationship, here a man and his wife, the latter being planted because of loose talk. Utterly beautiful, utterly unbearable.
  12. THE IWM 1000 by Alicia Yánez Cossío
    Translated by Susana Castillo and Elsie Adams
    This short short said to be first published in 1975 is utterly a work of genius or a complete hoax inserted here as it is in Area VanderMeer and it being such an uncannily accurate prophecy of today’s social media and Google.
    I suppose I could have checked Google to find out which was correct but that would seem to be simply cheating or inherently undependable. So, let’s call it a hoax.
    “You don’t want a zombot among you, Diderits — an unhappy anproz.”
    This is a remarkable word-flirtatious vision of manufactured cyborgs as permanent but still entropic salvagings of human beings from accidental or other death, but they need treatment with sharers before having full relationships again with their delayed exes. These sharers are other forms of such cyborgs, although the word cyborg is never used, and we are given a marvellous genius-loci of a half-brothel, half-therapeutic hostelry, an SF version of that in Mann’s Magic Mountain, with all sorts of separately serious and hilarious “maso-ascetic” shenanigans, withheld eroticisms, bone-massagings, contrived plots of induced jealousy with jewels, “misconceived machines”… A symphony of Proust, Mann, Salvador Dali’s only novel Hidden Faces, and, dare I say, Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist and Lorca’s Blood Wedding…
    I have been a secret sharer, too, with each of these real-time reviews being my own therapy to myself as well as to the work my review is reviewing, by tying in the author him- or herself into the cage of its gestalt by means of what is effectively brainstormed by this great 1970s story. A skein of interconnections towards a mooted immortality of the spirit or self if not its body, too, unless it is both of them by dint of this SF miracle of metal and synaptic bodily residue, red-winged blackbirds notwithstanding.
    “You go outside in order to reenter.”
  14. SPORTING WITH THE CHID by Barrington J. Bayley
    “Anyone finding himself in the presence of a Chid should on no account attempt to have dealings with it, since if he does he will almost certainly misunderstand its intentions. Instead, he should at once remove himself from the vicinity of the Chid.”
    This is another revelation, another big discovery for someone like me who has only dabbled in SF in the distant past – and again sporadically in the last few years while real-time reviewing or dreamcatching as I now call it. I am an erstwhile fan of Philip K. Dick, Samuel R. Delany, Jack Vance and some others. I have otherwise been more a reader of horror, weird fiction and so-called literary works.
    This Bayley work, on the surface, is seemingly whimsical but horrific, in a very striking way, starting with the concept in the previous story by Bishop of a human SF-salvaged from death (here death by a scythe-cat), leading to half-vegetable and half-animal concepts like this book’s earlier Mangors. It concerns an alien race called the Chid with whom humans are warned off from dealing, but two human men seek help to salvage the fresh corpse of their friend with the Chid’s surgical skills. Instead the Chid want to play games, brain-race, as it were, and it is genuinely shocking how the brain-races turn out, with various organs of the body given an autonymity of their own, even from the point of view of the consciousness of the human brain when separated from its normal bone-cave in its body. To the point of desperation. As if some strange ineluctable temptation has led to this…. to this downfall of an individual man as well as, by association, possibly the whole of mankind itself to allow certain things to happen.
    Which brings me to another perceivable potential level in this story stemming from the chance, at a first glance, of the story’s title being easily misreadable, as if this is a perhaps unintentional, but preternaturally induced, warning for mankind in the 1970s when it was written that a plague was about to emerge or become more open, a plague that would infect seemingly increasing proportions of mankind – or it was always there lying dormant? The story often presents an oblique analogy of this warning in discrete sections of text, as semi-unintentional analogies often do come out as oblique and arguable, I guess. Many examples of text within the overall text do demonstrate these inchoate attempts to pre-empt and later foster a needed awareness and political correctness that in turn would — in general public hindsight today by all of us from perceived as well as inferred happenings in real-life — reveal a dark desire that some of our fellow members of the human race must have felt lurking within them since time immemorial, even if most of them, until the arrival of the Internet, never acted on them. Never sport with the chid. A sad message for those whose children have been exposed to and endangered by the Internet. (Thankfully, my own children grew up in the 70s and early 80s.)
    There is no excuse even if it isn’t your brain you are using or it isn’t your innards you are exposing…”feeling that he was in the presence of something unclean.”
    • Having slept on it, this is indeed the most demented story you are ever likely to read and/or (based on later empirical evidence separate from the reader and on a number of discrete texts within this story) a deviously accidental or semi-intentional prophecy or warning. Also compare my review of ‘Aye, and Gommorah’ at the top of this page.
  15. The next story appears in this massive anthology and also in the same editors’ almost equally massive anthology entitled THE WEIRD. Below is what I wrote about this story in 2011 when real-time reviewing that book…
    [[ Sandkings – George R. R. Martin
    “They seem to limit their growth to fit available space. If I moved these to a larger tank, they’d start growing again.”
    And, I’m sure, that is exactly what happened to the book that contains all these stories, including this one! At first, it is what I would personally call an old-fashioned SF story, yet within this ‘tank’ of a tome, it takes on scary proportions with many implications. Its initial connection with the fog/mist trope of the Basso and  its “feed him a litter of unwanted kittens” echoing the cruelty to pets in Aickman and Tiptree; this particular ‘zoo’ or gestalt-experiment turns out to be a war-game insectoid hive-mind that grows completely and utterly out of proportion (like my own gestalt-experiment with real-time reviewing this book?) – with didactic but creatively manipulative self-aware self-God ‘religious philosophy’ and God’s own induced iconoclasm implications (wasn’t another George Martin the ‘God’ behind the Beatles as a more benign form of the same phenomenon?) leading to a Du Maurier / Hitchcock birdlike-siege preventing the protagonist’s escape.  “A cruel idiot god” a la Azathoth. And another ‘spiderous symbiosis’, at one point, as a guest brings a spider to test out the integrity of the protagonist’s Sandking edifice of castles, maws, mobiles, colours – and, eventually, a hungry house, again, literally! A major read for me. “…she had not mentioned the prank to anyone.”  (21/11/11 – three hours later) ]]
  16. WIVES by Lisa Tuttle
    A strong fable almost in the Modest Proposal mould, one of women as adapted from a planet’s alien inhabitants, adapted by colonising and warring Earth men, strikingly adapted indeed, with one dissenting, self-distasteful and eventual sacrificial voice among the aliens for whom the (mis)-perception of common good by the other ‘women’ has serious repercussions. A telling moral regarding gender politics over the years in our social history of human relationships, and arguably still applicable today. More didactic than story-telling, perhaps, and cohesive with this book’s perceived editorial gestalt.
  17. THE SNAKE WHO HAD READ CHOMSKY (1981) by Josephine Saxton
    “It was self and not-self, this snake that she felt herself to be.”
    Not anthropomorphisation, not Ionesco’s theatrical ‘Rhinoceros’ or Orwell’s satirical ‘Animal Farm’, this is a new genre of in-built randomly triggered booby-traps (like collapsible balconies) to mimic life’s unexpected chances, such unpredictable things even in a pre-written text, a text that ends with a snake’s ‘skintight’ to mimic those in WIVES… It is about a trio of scientist peers (Janos, Marvene, Selly) deploying facets of collaboration as well as rivalry, where the act of manplaining patronisingly was invented, I guess — in a world of purchasable dinner parties (during one of which Selly mimics a cat as George Galloway once did in Celebrity Big Brother), a world of socially and genetically engineered lower and upper classes, and animal and human scientific experimentation, a divide and a rule fable, a world where we have debates with talking snakes about the inherentness of language. It leaves me punch-drunk but tutored in some crazy didacticism that is still working its way through my veins. A constructively dreary story as well as a hilariously provocative one, especially for someone like me who is another non-aesthetic eyesore like Selly.

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