The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Brain Candy

Posted on | September 10, 2019 | No Comments

— compiled by Wombat-socho


Many years ago, when I was living in Minnesota and involved in an amateur press association yclept Stipple-APA, one of the other contributors used the term “brain candy” in reference to SF that didn’t make you think too hard, but was nonetheless entertaining, and didn’t make you feel like you’d wasted your time and money.

This week’s first contender in the brain candy category is an Ace Double I picked up at a local VA clinic’s exchange table, Mack Reynolds’ The Five Way Secret Agent/Mercenary From the Future. The first is set in a future where the negative income tax provides everyone a more or less comfortable living, but private investigator Rex Bader wants something a little more…and winds up in what comes close to being a screwball spy comedy where’s he’s hired to do a little espionage for a huge multinational corporation, the CIA, the Mafia, the KGB, and a group of libertarians who can’t decide whether or not they really want to be revolutionaries. “Mercenary From The Future” seems to be set in a similar future to “The Five Way Secret Agent”, except caste lines have become formal and various legal disputes are being settled by combat. The rules limit the combat to pre-1900 technology, and our hero, hard-luck Captain Joe Mauser, deliberately signs up for what looks like the losing side in a corporate battle. Joe’s got a trick up his sleeve, but will it be enough to beat the legendary commander Stonewall Cogswell?

I have very mixed feelings about the late Harlan Ellison. From personal experience and what others have said, the man was a thoroughgoing asshole, but on the other hand, there was no question that he could write, and write well. I always thought of him as a horror writer who tended to use SF tropes, but most of his stuff was marked SF, and he’s known for doing the script for one of Star Trek’s most famous episodes, City On The Edge Of Forever. While unpacking some of my all too numerous book boxes, I came across Dangerous Visions, a collection of what were considered rather provocative tales from the New Wave. It hasn’t aged well, in my opinion. Most of the thirty-two authors in the collection are old hands like Larry Niven and Frederik Pohl; none of the “new talents” except Laumer, Zelazny, and Delany are remembered at all. One can regard Dangerous Visions as a typical artifact of the New Wave – a few mediocre literary talents bulked up by works by authors that were never really part of their movement. Partners In Wonder, on the other hand, being an anthology of collaborations between Ellison and fifteen (mostly) topflight SF writers, is a much more solid work, with very few disappointments, and I would definitely recommend it over the more famous Dangerous Visions.

Larry Niven’s N-Space is an interesting combination of short stories, essays on SF and science, and novel excerpts, plus a really thorough bibliography. I don’t know for the life of me why Tor hasn’t released it as an e-book, but then Tor does a lot of stupid things. Dragon Award Winner Brad Torgerson credits it for making him the studly hard-SF author he is today, and are you going to argue with the iron-thewed, clear-eyed Powder Blue Care Bear of the Evil League of Evil? I thought not.


Did I mention I have an anthology of SF short stories out?


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