A surreal picture by Richard Wagner is on the cover of the Jan-Feb issue of the British SFF magazine; I like this type of photo-realistic painting showing impossible things. The book reviews include Corvus by Paul Kearney, the sequel to The Ten Thousand, which I reviewed here in October 2008. The reviewer makes similar observations to mine about Kearney's writing, when I wrote: "The strength of the book is in its battle scenes, of which there are many. The author belongs to the gritty realism school of writing, and the fear, panic, confusion and brutality of battle are powerfully evoked, as are the campaigning problems of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, and body lice. The result is a gripping account which draws in the reader and had this reviewer shivering with the tension of the build-up to the final climactic battle."
There are also reviews of three books from the 1950s, made available again by Westholme Publishing in their "America Reads" series of classic works: The Flying Saucer by Bernard Newman, One by David Karp and Limbo by Bernard Wolfe. By and large, the reviewers feel these haven't worn too well, with One receiving the highest accolade - a rather tentative and qualified approval. Another of the new works reviewed which caught my eye, Buntline Special by Mike Resnick, is set in an alternative history in which the power of the native American medicine men has held the European invaders at the line of the Mississippi. Resnick's name is one I've been familiar with for a long time, but I can't recall ever reading anything by him. This one sounds entertaining, though.
The film and TV reviews include Tron Legacy (ho hum) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (a stage-setter for the finale), both of which I hope to see before long; I rather liked the original Tron, which for some reason has been withdrawn from circulation by Disney. A DVD set of The Avengers Series Six revived fond memories of the bizarrely fantastic plots, but this series didn't have Diana Rigg in it (except to say farewell in the first episode) so where's the a-Peel?
On a sadder note, the obituaries record the death of John Steakley at the age of only 59. He was the author of Armor (1984) and Vampires (1990), the latter being made into a film. I still have a copy of Armor on my shelf for a re-read some day, an intriguingly different take on militaristic SF.
Now to the short stories, of which there are five:
Noam Chomsky and the Time Box by Douglas Lain, illustrated by Richard Wagner. A portable "time box" has been invented which allows owners to travel back in time and interact with people there, although no substantial changes are possible no matter how hard they try. The box also has a reset button to allow the traveller to cancel his interventions and go back to the start to try again. The main character has the obsessive notion that he could make subtle but important changes by going back to the 1960s and forcing an interaction between the linguist Noam Chomsky and the fantasist Terence McKenna (he of the 2012 catastrophe theory), and his account of his many efforts to achieve this is written in the form of a series of blog entries. Really strange, but earns points for originality.
Intellectual Property by Michael R Fletcher, illustrated by Mark Pexton. A time when people can have - quite literally - plug-in memories in form of a flash-drive like device which is inserted into the head. When the device is removed, they lose all memory of what happened or what they learned while it was in - until it is reinserted. The protagonist is an innocent young woman normally, but unknown to herself becomes a deadly secret agent when her plug is inserted by her employers. An intriguing plot device, but it takes some time to work out what is going on.
By Plucking Her Petals by Sarah L Edwards, illustrated by Mark Pexton. A medieval fantasy in which magic can be used to make permanent changes in people's appearance. One low-level practitioner of such magic becomes embroiled in affairs which are way above his head.
Healthy, Wealthy and Wise by Sue Burke, illustrated by Ben Baldwin. A clash of cultures in the near future between a Spanish woman who needs expensive medical treatment, and an American student doing field work who she has to host her in return for receiving the treatment. The action is seen from the viewpoint of the student's "Friend", a highly capable AI in her phone who observes everything that is going on, monitors her physical and mental health, translates when required, and generally advises and takes care of her. An upbeat and engaging tale - who wouldn't want a Friend like that? I can't help thinking that it would rapidly encourage a strong psychological dependency, though.
Flock, Shoal, Herd by James Bloomer. This won the James White Award (open to non-professional writers). A distant future in which government agents can conceal themselves to carry out their work by adopting other human or animal bodies, or even multiple bodies. One such agent goes in search of a former lover who has learned to transcend the limitations of this system and become something else entirely. Like the Fletcher story above, the tale skips across events like a flat stone across water, so the reader has to concentrate to keep up; but it's short enough to read again straight away.