Publishing schedules are funny. It's anything but steady. There's fits and starts. You can go for months without much interesting going on, and then one month everyone decides to put out their biggest product. This October was such a month. It seemed everybody had something big coming out, and there's no way one guy can cover it all. Even with two columns in the month, I still couldn't get to stuff like the newest Timothy Zahn and Terry Goodkind's final Sword of Truth book. So, mostly this column is covering stuff I didn't get to last time, stuff that's already been out for several weeks. But first, there's something I feel I got to mention. Mike Capobianco, president of the Science Fiction Writers of America (the organization that represents, well, I guess it's self evident...) has released a solidarity statement endorsing the WGA's strike against Big Media. But reading it over, am I the only one who noticed a very interesting subtext going on? See, this comes less than two weeks after the SFWA Copyright Exploratory Committee, which was hastily assembled following the disastrous cock-up that led to the dis-banding of the organization's e-piracy committee, released its recommendations for dealing with digital rights management. As we recall, the misuse of the DMCA, not to mention the strong-arm tactics on behalf of even writers who had even released the material under creative commons license, ignited the blogosphere and had some people calling for the resignation of the SFWA's leadership. (Which, granted, was a bit of an overkill.) So when Capobianco talks about how "writers and other creators are having their work distributed digitally without seeing any benefit at all." and how "these precedents will hurt creators as digital distribution the predominant method for distributing and accessing content", it almost feels like he's not just talking about the WGA. Is he trying to lend a little bit of moral authority to SWFA's anti-piracy actions by somehow tying it into the WGA's struggle to keep the tradition of residuals alive in the information age? Is he maybe wagging the finger a little bit at the Scribds out there who are peer-to-peering SFWA members' works without their approval? Probably not. I'm sure I'm just imagining. Anyhooo, moving on.... STAR TREK ACADEMY: COLLISION COURSE by William Shatner, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens FLEET OF WORLDS by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner REWIRED: THE POST-CYBERPUNK ANTHOLOGY edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel PIRATE FREEDOM by Gene Wolfe STAR TREK ACADEMY: COLLISION COURSE by William Shatner, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens Pocket Books I can honestly say that I never would've guessed that Kirk met Spock in a strip club after stealing a car on the Starfleet Academy campus. Or that they entered Starfleet because they were both sentenced into it by a judge. You could say that's a twist as unexpected as, say, William Shatner getting shut out of the new Star Trek movie and consequently deciding to write his own version. In Shatner's version, Kirk once dreamed of becoming an explorer like his dad. Before Tarsus IV happened. Before Kodos the Executioner. We know a little bit about it from "The Conscience of the King". We know about about the famine and the crimes against humanity that Kodos committed. But we never really saw it through Kirk's eyes, the fourteen year old boy who survived a massacre, who survived starvation and killing squads, who wondered where Starfleet was during it all. What we get in Collision Course is fairly powerful, exploring how it shaped his personality and made him the bane of regulations that we all know. Now three years later, he and his brother have run away from the family farm in Iowa and are now in San Francisco, with him working odd jobs and his brother turning more and more to petty crime. All this time Kirk has nurtured a deep and burning hatred for Starfleet, or for any authority for that matter. But then again, if he hates them so damn much, why run away to San Francisco, and why start dating a cadet at Starfleet Academy? Because I don't see much honor in that, Will. It makes little sense, unless Kirk hasn't really let go of his dream, unless his contempt for the organization is matched only by his hypocrisy in still wishing, despite everything, that he could be one of them. At the same time, Spock is dealing with his own demons. He's Sarek's dirty little secret. No one on earth can know that Spock is really a half-breed, and so he and his mother never leave the Vulcan embassy. Isolated and alone, he's turned inward. Before he had hit nineteen, he had authored academic papers on everything from physics to archeology. Maybe this was to try and earn the respect and attention of his father, or maybe it was because it was his only way of escape. Because both he and Kirk share one commonality: They're both running away from something. Whereas Kirk is running from memories of Tarsus IV, and the boy who once believed you could make a difference, Spock is running away both from his humanity, and his family heritage that is his only link to Vulcan. Both their paths collide (hence the title), when they find themselves both unearthing different pieces of a similar mystery. Spock has discovered that someone is stealing Vulcan relics out of the embassy and selling them, while Kirk discovers that his girlfriend at the Academy has been framed for stealing dilithium out of the engineering lab. In the process of trying to prove her innocence, proving that someone must've used her pass codes without her knowledge, he ends up breaking into a car, and (when the space fuzz shows up) stealing it. Spock is at a 'love bar' trying to find out who's been buying the Vulcan artifacts, when Kirk bumps into him. They're both arrested for the crime. Spock isn't worried, because seeing how he's innocent, it would be illogical for him to be found guilty. But no such luck. When they're sentenced, they're given a choice, to serve out their sentences in a penal colony, or in Starfleet service. Sarek of course, pulls some strings so that his son can serve out his sentence at the Vulcan Science Academy, but Spock turns down the special treatment, beginning the schism between the two that will last for decades. Kirk, on the other hand, would rather go to prison than become part of a corrupt and stagnant and bureaucratic system like Starfleet. But circumstances intervene. There's too many coincidences. The conspiracy that links them altogether may also link back to the shadow that has haunted Kirk all these years, and may be being manipulated by forces within the highest echelons of Starfleet who see promise in the two of them, who may be grooming them for much grander plans. Kirk and Spock have no choice but to play along, to find out who's pulling the strings and why. There's plenty for a fan to nitpick. Since this is the Reeves-Stevens, whose last job was consulting on the final season of Enterprise, there's an abundance of nods to the failed series, which probably no doubt is pissing off purists as we speak. And of course since William Shatner is writing this, Kirk is the flawless lantern-jawed badboy, always smarter than everyone else, and always cool under pressure. He hacks quantum algorithms just as easily as he seduces a woman pointing a laser rifle at him. But that's how Kirk always was. You can't fault Shatner being consistent. And like all prequels, the convoluted plot is all too convenient, with the plot-by-numbers being a checklist of things that have to happen to set up the events that we know happen pre-TOS. And even though cameos are kept to a minimum, it wouldn't be Trek without a climax involving a certain newly refit Constitution Class starship. One minor quibble is the title, which I thought might imply that this is Kirk and Spock in their academy days, when in fact it's only the prelude to that. With the salami effect being what it is in publishing today, with novels becoming trilogies and trilogies being open-ended series, this is just book one. The sequel, STAR TREK ACADEMY: TRIAL RUN will probably come out just in time for the release of the new movie. By then we can better judge who has told the more interesting story. STAR TREK ACADEMY COLLISION COURSE was released October 16th. FLEET OF WORLDS by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner Tor/Scifi I still think of Larry Niven as the old master of the Big Dumb Object. This isn't easy when Edmond Hamilton was writing about giant dead suns used as military bases, and James Blish had uprooted entire cities into space via his spin-dizzies. I was maybe thirteen or fourteen when I read an article of his called 'Bigger than Worlds' from an old Analog. I remember him describing all the different ways of inhabiting space, from flying wheel colonies to blown up 'bubble asteroids', to dyson spheres, to Alderson disks, to hollow tubes that would loop around suns like 'cosmic macaroni' to building shells around the entire milky way. He ended it by pointing out an intermediate solution, a step between huge structures and terrestrial 'flatlander' life, a solution he dubbed 'the ringworld'. A giant ring one million miles in diameter that would rotate 770 miles per second for gravity. Maybe along with the Deathstar, it's one of THE enduring images of grand scale SF. But it wasn't the only literal 'world building' in the Known Space universe. It's almost impossible not to be just a little awe-struck when the Pierson's Puppeteers' home system is described. It's one of the many reasons I was always disappointed that we never got a Ringworld movie. (Which we'll probably never get, since most people will probably think it's a rip-off of Halo.) Ages ago, as the waste heat of their civilization caused the global warming on their home planet of Hearth, they were forced to move their world away from their sun, before finally leaving their sun altogether. They arranged their system into a Klemperer Rosette, a group of planets that orbit a common center of gravity. We already know that the Fleet of Worlds is on a trajectory heading outside the galaxy, outrunning a burst of radiation from the galactic core that will eventually sweep through the entire galaxy, sterilizing it. But the burst isn't the only thing they flee. The Puppeteers, who refer to themselves as Citizens, are also fleeing the repercussions of centuries of meddling in the evolution of other species. Since the Puppeteers disappeared, they've been hunted by the humans, who need their General Products hulls for space travel, among other things. Set two hundred years before the crew of the Lying Bastard make their historic voyage to Ringworld, right around the time when Louis Wu was being born, Larry Niven has returned back to Known Space to finally put the Fleet of Worlds, and the Puppeteers, center stage. Nessus is on a mission to prove to the Concordance that their human slave population can be used as scouts, to fly out ahead of the Fleet, Silver Surfer style, and find the safest routes for them to travel. The Puppeteers, being herbivores, are a race of cowards. Only the insane, like Nessus, are risk takers. The group of humans he's assembled as scouts and explorers were selected for their intelligence and all-too-human curiosity, which turns out to be a two-edged sword. It isn't long before they begin to question things like who they are, or where they really come from. The official story that they grew up with, that centuries ago the Puppeteers encountered the derelict human ship of their ancestors, damaged and floating in space, has too many holes in it. And any information about it is either safely hidden or erased. The narrative is split between Nessus and his machinations within Puppeteer society and human space, and the human colonist search to find out who they really are, and what it means to be human. It's hard to keep an existing universe fresh, especially one that's been going on for nearly forty years, but in some ways it succeeds. For one thing, Niven and Lerner do their best to update the technobabble, which I suppose isn't too hard since early on Niven didn't really get into the nitty gritty of things like how a stasis field suspends time or what ringworld foundation material actually is. Here we discover that GP hulls are finally explained as being a nanotech supermolecule. (Okay, still a bit of 'handwavium' but at least he's making an effort.) And it seems the duo have been reading rec.arts.sf.science since they go to great lengths to explain why stepping disks (Puppeteer teleportation devices) don't violate the conservation of angular momentum. So yeah, it's fanwank. But any prequel set in an existing universe is expected to be fanwank for the most part. That can't be helped. I have no idea if this is going to be even remotely interesting to the first time reader who's unfamiliar with the Known Space universe. FLEET OF WORLDS was released on October 16th. REWIRED: THE POST-CYBERPUNK ANTHOLOGY edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel Tachyon Defining cyberpunk itself has never been easy, so defining what comes after is going to be even harder. So, if these sixteen stories are any indication, what is "post-cyberpunk"? How is it different, and how has it changed? Well, judging by what's presented here, you can make the following deductions: It's more self-assured, but just as self-aware. It's funnier, less pretentious, less angry, more angry. It's wider in both space and time. It's snarkier and more able to laugh at itself, because it no longer has anything to prove. Its stage is the globe entire and not merely the decaying city center. Information for its own sake isn't necessarily cool anymore, but information is still power. And battles are no longer between cowboys and corporate oligarchies, but between third world gene rippers and big agri-business, between the ongoing march of climate change and the people who can't just leave when their city is drowned, and between system administrators and the entropy that they fight everyday so that I can write this review and you can read it. Some people are out to change the world, some people to overthrow it, and some to just survive it. Above all else, as the editors point out in their introduction to Cory Doctorow's concluding piece, cyberpunk has finally stopped its rebel without applause act and has finally grown up. I myself was never the hugest fan of The Movement. By the time I first started really getting into reading as a tween, cyberpunk as no longer a movement but an institution, long since being co-opted by imitators and band wagoneers. Cyberpunk was now officially "Poochie". And as for those that followed in its wake and scoured the bones of its carcase...they wore its tropes not knowing why they were there, and went through the motions without the underling philosophy. And so my first acquaintance with cyberpunk was disdain, bordering on disgust. Instead I was reading what Bruce Sterling had coined 'The Boring Old Fucks'. (But maybe that's because I'm a boring young fuck.) When I finally went back and took a look at the revolution that came and went before I was old enough to read, my perspective had already been altered by Neal Stephenson, Greg Egan, Paul DiFilippo, and Charles Stross. So this anthology was particularly of interest to me, since I came of age in the post-cyberpunk world. The stories themselves range between the brilliant to the confounding. Judging by the pedigree in the acknowledgment section, and judging by the reputation of the selections, you wouldn't expect there to be many duds. And there aren't. There are many familiar faces. (Too many?) One paradox in a retrospective anthology like this is that if the stories are any good, they've probably already been collected and reprinted elsewhere. (I think I must now have Lobsters in something like eight different separate books, just for one example.) So you're not going to gasp “How could I have missed that!” a lot while reading this. Of all the stories of virtual worlds, downloaded minds, and big idea computing that Egan's done, it's interesting that they chose 'Yeyuka'. Though I'm in no way complaining. Like 'Reasons to Be Cheerful', it's a nice reminder that when Egan isn't writing about where physics meets metaphysics...he can actually write about people too. The Gwyneth Jones short is the kind of post-Le Guin fem fiction that she says she's tried to move on from, though I have no idea why. And although I never thought there was anything cyberpunky about 'The Calorie Man', it's always nice to see Paolo Bacigalupi get some props. (And he really isn't THAT much of a downer...) One plus with these retrospectives, depending on who's doing the editing, is when the introductions and essays are almost as interesting as the stories included. Case in point anything edited by Hartwell and Kramer. And I suppose Kessel and Kelly's introduction here, “Hacking Cyberpunk” is probably as decent of a postmortem on The Movement as you'll find. Even better is the inclusion throughout of snippets of correspondence between Kessel and Bruce Sterling over the years, interspersed between the stories in a kind of director's commentary. So, in the end I'm still not sure what the hell exactly 'post-cyberpunk' is. Nor am I sure if it actually matters. If the subgenre exists, and if it's not just a retrograde label to categorize something after the fact, then there's no single identifiable over-arching vision anymore, no guiding hand banging away angrily in the pages of a self-published zine. What we're presented with instead is a dozen arguing voices, a parliament that replaced a monarch. So if there's one epitaph you could choose to put on the tombstone of The Movement, it might be this: Things are a lot more interesting now. Vincent Omniaveritas would roll over in his non-existent grave. PIRATE FREEDOM by Gene Wolfe Tor/Scifi Neil Gaiman has a few things to say on how to read Gene Wolfe. Things like “trust the text implicitly. The answers are in there.”, but “Do not trust the text further than you can throw it, if that far. It's tricksy and desperate stuff, and it may go off in your hand at any time.” He also cautions to “reread. It's better the second time. It'll be even better the third time.” And above all else: “Be willing to learn.” So in that spirit, I'd like to add a couple things too, a few rules of thumb for reading an unreliable narrator: 1) If someone professes more than once that something isn't true, it is. 2) While it's a safe bet that the events described really took place in some form, the motivations of the participants and the roles they played are suspect. Trust, but verify. 3) Pay less attention to what's being said than what's being left out. 4) If it's Gene Wolfe writing the unreliable narrator, forget it. He knows the rules better than you. He invented them. Just think of Gene Wolfe's mind as Errol Morris's Interrotron, where the human predilection for self-deception finds itself naked and helpless. So applying all the above to PIRATE FREEDOM, what do we see? Well, let's start with the obvious. Father Christopher is a priest. We gather that he's the son of a powerful wiseguy from New Jersey, sent to a monastery in a post-Castro Cuba because his father didn't want him entering the family business. There he's educated and prepared to become a man of the cloth, should he choose that life. But on the eve when he is to make his decision whether or not to enter the priesthood, he finds himself transported back in time several hundred years. We aren't told the hows and whys, and Christopher doesn't seem to care. With nowhere to go, or even any indication where (or when) he is, he tries to find work. Eventually he winds up on the loading docks, and then on the merchant ship Santa Charita. The ship is seized by Captain Bram Burt and his pirates, and when he's given the chance to join the pirate crew but he refuses. So he's taken aboard as a prisoner. Captain Burt sees something in young Christopher and is sure he'll come around. When he doesn't, he's eventually dumped on Hispaniola. Apparently there's not much walking-the-plank in Gene Wolfe's pirate history. Instead, when people don't tow the line, they're just left on the nearest island. Chris fends for himself, and after surviving out in the wild, he gets involved with a band of French Buccaneers. Captured and thrown off the island by the Spanish, threatened with death and with nowhere to turn, Chris and his buccaneers have limited options. Despite his vows, he leads the band of buccaneers to raid the spanish ship, where he becomes a pirate after all. Like Michael Chabon's GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD, also just released, it's a deliberately anachronistic history/adventure tale in the guise of SF. That's not a bad thing mind you. But it does remind me of something I realized a while back. I've come to the conclusion that whatever genre Gene Wolfe seems to be writing in (science fiction, fantasy, horror, science fantasy..), he actually has only ever written in one: mystery. All his stories are puzzles. Sometimes the protagonist is the detective, but more often than not we are. True, in Pirate Freedom there's plenty of Arthur Conan Doyle moments where Captain Chris paces about his cabin, furrowing his brow about the identity of a stow away, or the curious case of a series of murders on board, only finally stumbling upon some solution that had been staring everyone in the face all along. But you get the feeling that these are more red herrings, even a slightly telegraphed denouement in the final pages. They all serve the purpose of making you think you understand what's going on, that you've solved the puzzle, because since it's Gene Wolfe you'll be looking for some underlying subtext, something to connect the dots. But if it's there, he sure as shit aint going to be the one to tell you. If you want it, you'll have to work for it. Just to illustrate this, there's a great scene where Captain Christopher explains how he loves maps, how he'd study them for hours, even knowing that they were usually wrong or inaccurate in some way or another. I suppose in that way you could say that reading Gene Wolfe is like trying to make sense of an old map. It's not a fixed set of directions. Where you think you're going is not the same as where you'll end up. And Gene Wolfe isn't going to be your OnStar. Maybe that's the only rule you need to know. And ultimately, you'll have to make the voyage yourself to find out. A map is useless to the sedentary. PIRATE FREEDOM was released November 13th. 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