The Other McCain

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

Something Old, Something New

Posted on | March 15, 2021 | Comments Off on Something Old, Something New

— by Wombat-socho

You might think that with St. Patrick’s Day (or as we Irish like to call it, Amateur Night) coming up, this post would be about Irish authors, books about the various Irish Brigades, and suchlike things. Maybe next year.
Silicon Valley delenda est.

Things have slowed up in the tax mines, so I’ve actually been able to get some reading done. The book I’ve been spending most of my time on these past couple of weeks is James Blish’s Cities In Flight, the classic collection of his novels about the Okie cities, entire Earth cities freed from a tyrannical Bureaucratic State by antiagathic drugs and the spindizzy, an antigravity device that can serve as a spaceship drive but is much more effective grouped together to lift an entire city and its industries. Written between 1950 and 1962, the four novels (They Shall Have Stars, A Life For The Stars, Earthman Come Home, and The Triumph Of Time) for the most part deal with the adventures of New York, New York and its mayor, John Amalfi, as they wander through human space doing jobs for various human colonies that don’t yet have enough of an industrial base to do those jobs themselves. They Shall Have Stars is a prelude to these adventures, describing how the last and greatest American engineering project, the Bridge on Jupiter, leads to the invention of the spindizzy and to the founding of the first extrasolar colonies. I personally prefer Earthman Come Home, which pits New York against several historical enemies of humanity: the rump of the Hruntan Empire, the legendary Vegan orbital fort, and finally, the most notorious Okie city of all, hiding in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud. 

Thunder Run is the sixth of Peter Nealen’s Maelstrom Rising series of technothrillers, and it moves the action back to Poland, where apparently the Russians (at least some of them) may be getting more involved in the EU/Poland War, and not in a way that benefits the Poles. Haven’t finished it quite yet, perhaps because it’s a little too close to reality at the moment.

Inferno by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle is an audacious reboot of Dante’s Divine Comedy – well, the first third of it, anyway. Allen Carpentier is an SF writer who winds up in Hell after a stupid drinking bet goes awry, and he spends a good part of the book frustrating his guide by insisting that no, this isn’t really Hell…until he is forced to realize that yes, this is actually Hell, he’s actually in it, but there’s a way out. Along the way we meet all kinds of sinners, some of a kind unknown to Dante Alighieri but plenty that he’d recognize just fine, even if the sins have been slightly updated to keep up with the times. The sequel, Escape From Hell, follows Carpenter* on a second journey through Hell as he tries to guide other repentant sinners out. His companion is Sylvia Plath, who he has to free from the Wood of the Suicides, and they meet more Americans along the way down…including some folks from the first book (and otherwise) who have taken jobs in Hell and seem content to do so.  I find I like the sequel better than I did when it first came out, and wonder if I simply read it too fast to appreciate some of the things that happened. Well, the book (almost) ends with a bang when Allen and Sylvia meet a famous physicist in the Ninth Circle, but all’s well that ends well, and Escape From Hell definitely does. 

What can one say of the mighty P’thok, Gilgamesh of the Trea’nad people, who stole ice cream and cigarettes from the ferocious feral monkey-boys of Terrasol and changed his people forever? What can one say of P’thok, who singlehandedly (and entirely on purpose!) saved Christmas? One can say, buy the P’thok Chronicles and RTWT!  The best part of the book, of course, is that it is merely the introduction to Ralts Bloodthorne’s epic First Contact tale, which is over 400 chapters long at this point and can be found on the r/HFY forum of Reddit. Imagine a space opera full of high technology, evil on a scale barely comprehensible by the human mind, courage, cowardice, deranged humans cosplaying as Orks and Hello Kitty 40K characters and superheroes in real life, one last mad immortal cyborg warrior who just wants to be left alone, not one but several flavors of Berserkers…if Doc Smith, Edmond Hamilton, Keith Laumer, Gene Roddenberry, and Fred Saberhagen had had their brains uploaded to one mighty WordBorg, perhaps they might have produced something like this epic. Gloriously pulpy, loaded with violence both up close & personal as well as big enough to shatter entire stellar systems, and yet occasionally…there is tenderness, love, and tragic sacrifice to be found. I can’t wait for the whole thing to come out as a series of books someday.

*This is not a typo.  

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