Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Ghosts And Time Travelers

Fantasy and science fiction concepts include ghosts and time travel. I have just read about a ghost and been fooled into thinking that he was a time traveler. See here. There were enough clues to Freddy's supernatural status.

There must be circumstances in which time travelers would be mistaken for ghosts, e.g., appearing and disappearing in deserted houses etc. The hero of HG Wells' "The Chronic Argonauts" moved into an empty and shunned house, time traveled within the house, was attacked as an intruder by the previous occupants, defended himself and fled into time leaving a man dead. In the absence of any evidence of an intruder, two young men were convicted of the murder of their father, which was why the house was empty and shunned.

When Wells' Time Traveler first glimpsed a wraith-like Morlock, he speculated that the latter was a ghost and further theorized that there would be more ghosts around by 802,701 AD. He had previously played some trick with a "ghost" on his dinner guests.

In Clifford Simak's The Goblin Reservation, a University Time Travel Department advertised a public lecture, "'How It Happened I Did Not Write The Plays' by William Shakespeare" while the Supernatural Department had conjured a ghost that was so old that he did not remember whose ghost he was. When Shakespeare met the ghost, the ghost remembered that he was Shakespeare.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016


Book reviews should inform and sometimes do.

On p. i of SM Stirling, Dies The Fire (New York, 2005), Harry Turtledove informs us that this book asks how we would fare if we suddenly lost 250 years of technological progress. Stirling imagines not that a physical catastrophe destroys civilization but simply that the technology stops working. This premise is improbable but the question is important.

Science Fiction Weekly informs us that Stirling writes "...with the skill of a Poul Anderson." The comparison is both significant and valid.

Publishers Weekly informs us that the novel has the dual themes of "...myth and technology..." These themes are fundamental and Andersonian.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Kinds Of Sequels

A cliff-hanger ending requires a sequel whereas a happy ending completes and concludes a narrative sequence. In the latter case, a sequel remains possible but then must initiate a new narrative. Thus, Poul Anderson's The Star Fox (London, 1968), about a war against an alien species, has a happy ending. The second novel, Fire Time, features a war against another alien species - and a genuinely different alien species, not a mere repetition.

Anderson's happy endings are good for mankind and for the individual hero. First, as regards mankind:

"'If man is going to live throughout the galaxy, he's got to be free to take his own roads, the ones his direct experience shows him are best for his circumstances. And that way, won't the race realize all its potential? Is there any other way we can, than by trying everything out, everywhere?'" (p. 201)

This passage projects a fulfilled further future for mankind but also makes us want to read another sequel set in that further future.

As regards the hero - Gunnar Heim, having won the war, has become a citizen of the colony planet, New Europe (like New York or Nova Scotia writ large):

"'...a whole new world, elbow room, infinite possibilities.'" (p. 202)

When he has retired as the New European minister of space and the navy, Heim will:

experiment with pelagic farming;
prospect other planets and asteroids;
start a merchant spaceship yard;
do more -

- a natural leader in peace and war.

SM Stirling's Nantucket Trilogy Volume III ends with a major war won and several characters, now rich, planning the farms that they will build and own in South America. But another kind of sequel is also hinted at. The main villain has been killed but his daughter has survived and plans revenge...

The message may be that there will always be war? I do not agree that there will always be war but I do agree that we must always be prepared for unforeseen disasters, including renewed conflicts. Even if our descendants build a peaceful utopian civilization in the Solar System, they will never be sure that the Merseians or the kzinti are not going to arrive in the next interstellar invasion fleet - or the Draka from an alternative timeline? A utopian civilization should:

know its own history;
understand historical change and the role of the unpredictable in historical processes;
be prepared to adjust to major changes.

Larry Niven showed in "The Warriors," that technology can be turned back to destructive purposes. Lasers used for propulsion or asteroid defense can be turned against invading spaceships. The optimum human being will be someone who fully enjoys all the benefits of technology while also being able to adjust to the requirements of survival in the event of the loss of technology.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

ZERO: Origins

JS Collyer, Zero (Nottingham, 2014).

Every action hero needs an origin story to explain his:

powers or abilities;
any other details.

See here and here.

In Zero, the Service made a "'...youth unit...'" an offer they couldn't refuse. In return, the Service got:

"'...a young, nameless orphan with intelligence and potential.'" (p. 167)

Thus, later, Ezekial Webb, wound up as commander of the Zero. His first name reflects the dominant religion in the Lunar 1 colony and his surname is that of the founder of the colony transferred to many of its orphans.

Webb says:

"'The Zero is all I've ever had. It's who I am.'" (p. 112)

Another character describes him as bought, programmed and owned by the Service. (p. 168) This is an understated origin story.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Zero Versus The Splinters II

Does the Zero crew mount dangerous operations with insufficient planning and backup? They seem to.

(i) Captain Hugo, operating unaccompanied inside a Splinter stronghold, is easily apprehended and has to be rescued by his insubordinate commander, Webb, who, if he had obeyed orders, would not have been there.

(ii) The team destroys not only the warehouse that had been their target but also the adjoining apartment block.

(iii) Sending the ship and the rest of its crew to safety, Hugo and Webb stay on Lunar 1 to "'...annihilate...'" (p. 153) the Splinters but without a plan and arming themselves only with weapons bought from illegal dealers.

(iv) Their intelligence gathering consists of going to a bar to meet someone who has fenced for the Splinters before.

(v) In the bar, they are in danger of being spotted and recognized by the man they are after.

This sounds a bit disorganized to me.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Zero Versus The Splinters

JS Collyer, Zero (Nottingham, 2014).

The Zero is docked on the space colony, Lunar 1. Crew members spy on a warehouse and conclude:

"'The warehouse is a Splinter stronghold...'" (p. 132)


three simultaneous night patrols armed with Haven-made AG19s;

cameras and motion-sensors around entrances and exits;

foot traffic, none of it civilian, between the warehouse and the apartment block next door;

the top apartments seem to be civilian residences but probably to protect the warehouse from attack.

Further, the names and credit codes used to secure the warehouse and apartments show that the same group also controls at least a dozen other buildings and depots. The warehouse is big enough to contain a large stockpile of weapons.

The Zero's move: "' an isolated blast that'll take out the whole building...'" (p. 134)

Not alert the authorities to raid the warehouse and arrest its owners?

This reminds me of The Man From UNCLE. UNCLE learns that an overtly legitimate business is really a THRUSH stronghold. Therefore, UNCLE agents covertly sabotage the stronghold without informing or involving the local police. A vast secret war is waged in the background. We will learn who the Splinters are and the significance of "Haven" when we need to.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

ZERO: Characterization

I forgot to mention here that the Zero in flight is not in free fall. The crew sit, stand, walk, sit down etc as if they were on Earth. Again, this implies an artificial gravity field inside the ship.

Zero is character-driven which I have not really mentioned yet, preferring instead to focus on the social and scientific backgrounds. The Zero captain and commander, Hugo and Webb, continue to disagree and argue even when engaged in a clandestine operation. We appreciate this conflict while understanding that external details like the purpose of the operation will fall into place in due course.

Webb was born and brought up in the entirely artificial environment of a space colony. When he murmurs, "'Christ,'" (p. 56), we expect trouble. They are dodging sensors and security guards. Instead, he explains:

"'It gets me every time...Not just trees. Everything. The green. The life. Fuck, the smell of it. Of Earth. Do you mean to say you were actually born here?'" (ibid.)

Everything that we take for granted "gets" a cold blooded killer from outer space: well observed characterization.

When another character later remarks:

"'What, miss a showdown between Kaleb Hugo and Ezekiel Webb? You couldn't get tickets to that show for all the credit in Sunside.'" (p. 109)

- this means something to us because we know by now that Hugo and Webb mean something to a lot of people in the Orbit civilization. They have become series characters early in their first novel.

ZERO: Miscellaneous

(i) The moral issue to which I alluded is more serious than I suggested. Webb, the Zero commander says:

"'You get used to it...Shooting people in the back. It gets easier.'" (p. 62)

Oh no, it shouldn't get easier. Even Ian Fleming's notoriously "licensed to kill" character found cold blooded killing increasingly difficult - and nearly got himself killed as a result.

(ii) Is space dark or full of light? Poul Anderson describes many brightly colored stars and galaxies and used phrases like "a wilderness of stars." Collyer emphasizes the darkness between the stars:

"...there was nothing but the candle-flames of stars amongst the vastness of space." (p. 39)

"Hugo stood for a moment longer, gazing out into the darkness beyond the viewscreen..." (p. 47)

(iii) Clearly the spaceships are not rockets. They do not blast off:

"The Zero hummed and he felt her rock underneath him as she lifted off the ground." (p. 39)

The crew "...used thrusters and dampers to steer the ship..." (p. 25)

Since artificial gravity has been used to colonize the Moon (see here), I deduce that ships lift and move through control of gravity fields. The sub-lieutenant looks through "...fuel inventories and tech checks..." (p. 46) Does manipulation of gravity involve the consumption of fuel? Or is fuel used for something else?

(iv) A vast interconnected computer network used to be an sf idea. Now we live with it and it is still in our sf. The Orbit civilization has a "...solarnet..." (p. 100), although presumably this has a light speed limit?

Monday, 20 June 2016

ZERO: A Moral Issue

JS Collyer, Zero (Nottingham, 2014).

The deal with Zero is: enjoy covert action and character interaction (we do) while absorbing the complicated background information as it is gradually revealed to us. This has to be a spoiler alert. If I am going to unravel this interesting futuristic scenario while still reading the book for the first time, then I will discuss details that others would prefer not to know until they have read the book to its conclusion. And I might get some of the details wrong but will then correct them later.

As far as I can discern so far:

there has been a "Whole World War" (p. 47) (thus, we might say, not a WWIII but a WWW);

there is an interplanetary civilization called the Orbit;

the Orbit defense/security/enforcement agency is called the Service;

the Service has Headquarters in Sydney and a Command Centre in space (this implies that the center of civilization moved to the Southern Hemisphere and/or off Earth after the WWW);

the Zero, ostensibly a "...a pirate ship..." (p. 47), is really a covert Service ship (does piracy work in space?);

Colonel Luscombe of the Service assigns the Zero to investigate "...Albion Integrated's revenue stream..." (p. 43) (will AI turn out to be run by an AI?);

the only way to access the relevant data is physically to burgle the AI command centre on Earth;

while doing this, the Zero commander casually kills an AI security guard.

Stop! Morality alert! Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys here? Is this "Service" really a Service or an instrument of oppression? That is all that I have got so far. Well, there has been a defeated Lunar Revolution as well but right now I am mainly concerned about the moral issue of our heroes (?) casually killing someone especially since they could presumably just have rendered the guy unconscious.

This has become my way of engaging with a text. It takes a while. But I get a lot more out of it than if I just read the text straight through.

Sunday, 19 June 2016


JS Collyer, Zero (Nottingham, 2014).

I have developed the (bad?) habit of posting about a book while still reading it for the first time. Not only is this easy and enjoyable but it also means that, instead of reading an entire text, then writing a single review of it, I stay with the text for several posts, focus on details that might otherwise have been missed and ask questions that might be answered by further reading.

In Zero, what is the spaceships' means of propulsion? So far, the text has focused on space combat, criminal activity and undercover work, not (as yet) on explaining the hardware - but there is plenty of time for that.

Zero is not set tomorrow or the day after but further in the future. There has been time for:

artificial gravity;
cities with "spacescrapers" on the Moon;
a Lunar Revolution.

The tech includes "'...gravgen units.'" (pp. 30-31) Gravity generation? Are the ships propelled by artificially generated gravity fields? Further reading will tell.

Friday, 17 June 2016

ZERO: First Impressions

Star Trek, Blake's Seven and other popular sf series have familiarized us with combat spaceships and their crews. JS Collyer's Zero, Volume I of a series, clearly belongs to this sub-genre. Collyer's space-faring civilization seems to be interplanetary, not as yet interstellar. There is an armed force called simply "the Service," as in James Blish's "Beep"/The Quincunx Of Time.

An author of this kind of futuristic sf needs to describe a future society as if from experience. Thus, Poul Anderson gives us the impression that he is a veteran of faster than light interstellar combat. Robert Heinlein opened a novel with the line:

"If a man walks in dressed like a hick and acting as if he owned the place, he's a spaceman."
-Robert Heinlein, Double Star (New York, 1957), p. 5.

Collyer matches Anderson and Heinlein when, describing two members of the Zero crew, she writes:

"They walked with the wide gait of men used to space decks..."
-JS Collyer, Zero (Nottingham, 2014), p. 16.

Of course they did. We know how spacemen walk, don't we? At least for a moment we feel that we do. I have read only a few pages but must break off to go and watch Superman IV. Obviously, there will be more on Zero.

Monday, 25 April 2016

War World: The Burning Eye

War World, Vol I: The Burning Eye (New York, 1988), created by Jerry Pournelle, "A New Shared Universe," with the editorial assistance of John F Carr and Roland Green, published by Baen Books, dedicated to Jim Baen.

A map of the moon, Haven.

A Chronology from the Moon landing in 1969 to the Great Patriotic Wars, the End of the CoDominium and the Exodus of the Fleet in 2103.

A Table of Contents.

Prolog: "Discovery", unattributed, pp. 1-8.
"Haven": Description; Early History, unattributed, pp. 9-12.
A note on the Bureau of Relocation, unattributed, pp. 13-15.
Nine stories by different authors, each preceded by an unattributed note, the first being the one on BuReloc.
"Discovery," unattributed, pp. 361-362.
An unattributed note, pp. 363-366.

I will at least read the stories by Poul Anderson, SM Stirling and Harry Turtledove and the explanatory notes and check through the rest. I am reminded of Anderson's deposed psychotechnicians exiled on an outer moon in the Solar System.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

More Martians And Invasions

The previous post traced a conceptual thread through Wells, Lewis and Anderson. We can also do this with Lewis, Bradbury and Heinlein. All three show immortal beings on Mars. In Lewis' Out Of The Silent Planet, Earthman travel to Mars with evil intent. In Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and Heinlein's Red Planet, human beings colonize Mars.

In Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land, a man raised by Martians founds a Terrestrial religion whereas Lewis' Elwin Ransom returns from Mars and Venus to become the Pendragon of Logres and the spearhead of extraterrestrial intervention.

In Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, as in Nigel Kneale's Quatermass II, alien invasion involves mental control whereas, in Jack Finney's Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, it involves body duplication and, in Larry Niven's and Jerry Pournelle's Footfall, it involves asteroid stikes.

In Olaf Stapledon's Last And First Men, Martians invade Earth and Terrestrials invade Venus and Neptune. In Sleeping Planet by William Burkett, extrasolars invade Earth but are soon defeated whereas, in the Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher, extrasolar invaders have ruled Earth for generations but are eventually overthrown.

And I think that Clifford Simak has some alien invasions?

Through Space With HG Wells And His Successors

In The War Of The Worlds by HG Wells, Martians invade Earth and Venus.

In Star-Begotten by Wells, Planetarium Club members discuss cosmic rays and Martians before one of their number summarizes and criticizes The War Of The Worlds, mistakenly attributing it to "'...Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, one of those fellows...'" (New York, 1975, p. 48), then proposes instead Martianization of human beings by cosmic rays.

In the Ransom Trilogy by CS Lewis, a scientist visits Mars and Venus, in the latter case as the spearhead of a planned demonic invasion. Lewis parenthetically comments that "...Mr Wells' Martians [are] very unlike the real Malacandrians..." (Voyage to Venus, London, 1978, p. 7).

In The War Of Two Worlds by Poul Anderson, Martians militarily conquer Earth but are being covertly manipulated by extrasolars.

In "Soldier From The Stars" by Anderson, humanoid extrasolars conquer Earth economically by selling their superior military services to the highest bidder among Terrestrial governments.

Later, I will add a few more alien invasions but I think that this is a neat progression through Wells, Lewis and Anderson. See here.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Nuclear Warfare In Science Fiction

 Novels involving nuclear warfare:

The World Set Free by HG Wells;
On The Beach by Nevil Shute;
Ape And Essence by Aldous Huxley;
Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury;
Twilight World by Poul Anderson (see here).

In CS Lewis' The Hideous Strength, first published in 1945, World Wars I and II "'...were simply the first two of the sixteen major wars which are scheduled to take place in this century.'"
-Lewis, That Hideous Strength (London, 1955), p. 157.

Robert Heinlein predicted "Mutual Assured Destruction" in "Solution Unsatisfactory" and described free men continuing to fight after a nuclear war in "Free Men."

In Isaac Asimov's future history, a far future radioactive Earth probably resulted from a near future nuclear war - although Asimov revised the history later.

In James Blish's A Case Of Conscience, populations wind up living underground in permanent city-sized nuclear air raid "Shelters," even though nuclear war is avoided.

In Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium future history, the Great Patriotic Wars of 2103 end the CoDominium and are followed by the Exodus of the Fleet so they sound like a delayed World War III.

In SM Stirling's Draka timeline, the three major wars of the twentieth century are not numbered but named - the Great War, the Eurasian War and the Final War.

Harry Turtledove describes Anson MacDonald (Robert Heinlein) fighting on after Stirling's Final War.

In Alan Moore's V For Vendetta, "England prevails" under fascist rule after opting out of a nuclear exchange whereas, in the same author's Watchmen, a faked inter-dimensional invasion prevents a nuclear war.