Jesse Hudson

GUEST REVIEWER

After learning his letters from the names stamped on the old woodstove parked in the kitchen, Jesse Hudson’s love of the written word was born. He can still recall scouring library shelves for that HARDY BOYS he hadn’t read yet, tucking fingers between pages trying to find the longest storyline in CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE books, and of course, that first time he read the literally moth-eaten copy of his mother’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

Not a “sci-fi or die” kind of guy, Jesse reads in most fields. He proclaims a good novel is a good novel based on theme, story, and style and dislikes matrices of genre (though he admits it’s very useful wandering a bookstore). Mysteriously yet to be explained, there remains a numinous force that has drawn him to the more imaginative side of literature the past two years. Ursula Le Guin, Stanislaw Lem, China Miéville, Gene Wolfe, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and several others have all made a strong impression with their ability to unearth the root of humanity — quality prose and imaginative story their spade and bucket.

Jesse currently lives in Poland where he works for a big corporation by day and escapes into reading by night. He posts a blog which acts as a healthy vent for not only his bibliophilia, but also his love of culture and travel: Speculiction.

The Affirmation: Literary science fiction does not get much better

The Affirmation by Christopher Priest

I’ve heard Christopher Priest’s 1981 novel The Affirmation described as regressive, an ouroboros eating its own tail, a Moeibus strip. While there is undoubtedly an M.C. Escher quality to the book — a blurring of reality — the beginning and end are simply too different to form a contiguous whole reverting back on itself. They’re opposite ends of a spectrum in fact, and the appeal of the novel is immersing one’s self in the subjective reality Priest slowly unwraps and getting lost in the world of memories as a result.

The true nature of The Affirmation requires thought; the easy part is relaxing throughout the journey. Priest patiently and precisely lays down the text — words like railroad ties on a Sunday train ride to the country — the story moving effortlessly along. The sublime prose lulls the reader into the deceivingly mu... Read More

Excession: Does anyone do far future better than Banks?

Excession by Iain M. Banks

Let’s skip the highty-flighty, atmospheric float of intros and get right to the point. Iain M. Banks’ 1996 Excession is gosh-wow, sense-wunda science fiction that pushes the limits of the genre as far into the imagination — and future — as any book has. The AI ship-minds, post-human world-is-your-oyster humanity, and incredible roster of engine speeds, galaxies, drones, weaponry, biological possibilities, planets, orbitals, etc., etc. of previous books have been topped. Banks took a look at the savory milieu of the Culture, cocked his head and asked: “How can I up the ante?” The titular ‘excession’ is the answer.

Arthur C. Clarke’s brilliant Rendezvous with Rama sees humanity attempting to quantify and understand a BDO (big dumb object) that comes sailing th... Read More

Valentine Pontifex: A worthy conclusion to Valentine’s tale

Valentine Pontifex by Robert Silverberg

In Lord Valentine’s Castle, Robert Silverberg created an exotic planet filled with peoples and landscapes, all bursting with imagination. Silverberg also gave his audience a strong, lovingly crafted main character in Lord Valentine, a man recovering after his throne was wrongfully swept out from beneath his feet. The conclusion of the tale, Valentine Pontifex, is the other side of the coin, however. How does Valentine deal with the weighty exigencies of leadership, all the while getting older? Not as fresh or original as Lord Valentine’s Castle, Valentine Pontifex is nevertheless a fair read that continues to define Silverberg’s take on science fantasy on the vast planet Majipoor.

Ten years have passed since Lord Valentine retook the throne that was rightfully his, and in the time s... Read More

He Who Shapes: A short rich read from one of the strongest voices in SF

He Who Shapes by Roger Zelazny

In the mid to late ‘60s, the sci-fi world was Roger Zelazny’s oyster. Possessing an abundance of fresh ideas delivered with a deft hand, the author took the genre by storm — This Immortal, Lord of Light, and Creatures of Light and Darkness gained notable attention and won awards. Published amidst these unique novels was, however, a book of an entirely different range and frequency. More personal and cerebral than mythic or heroic, The Dream Master (1966) instead features Zelazny’s interests in the psyche, subconscious, and to a small degree, spiritualism. The novel is based on the novella He Who Shapes, which Zelazny would later state is his preferred version and is the subject of this review.

He Who Shapes is the story of Dr. Charles Rend... Read More

Moving Pictures: One of the most pleasant stops on the Discworld tour

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

Citizen Kane is considered by many connoisseurs to be the greatest film of all time. Channeling the idea of empire through the life of a mysterious magnate, it is a drama telling the bittersweet story of the glory days of wealth, the inevitable fall, and how its biggest dreams are left unfulfilled. Half a century later, with numerous new forms of media having been adopted into mainstream culture, comes Terry Pratchett. Practically creating a new form of media of his own, he decided to overlay Hollywood onto the template of Citizen Kane. The weight of elephants behind it, 1990’s Moving Pictures is the same bittersweet result.

Capturing the magic and innocence of the burgeoning film industry in Ankh-Morpork, at the outset of Moving Pictures the Guild of Alchemists discover the secret to capturing pictures on film. Studio... Read More

The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story: Unique in many ways

The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story by Stephen Donaldson

Though better known for his ongoing epic fantasy series, THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT, THE UNBELIEVER, Stephen Donaldson has also taken a foray into science fiction. The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story is the first in THE GAP CYCLE and a very difficult read if it is not understood that the book is mere stage setting for the four books which follow. Essentially the exploits of a sadistic psychopath and his victim, the novel will (rightfully) not win sympathy from many readers, but must instead be approached with a view to the larger framework of character development Donaldson imagines the series to be. Criminal and victim may be the assigned roles now, but what of the future?

The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story is unique in science fiction for a... Read More

Inversions: A CULTURE novel that isn’t a CULTURE novel

Inversions by Iain M. Banks

Like ExcessionUse of Weapons, and The Player of Games, Iain M. Banks' 1998 Inversions continues to prove that the reader should expect the unexpected because, with Inversions, Banks explicitly aimed to write “a CULTURE novel that wasn’t a CULTURE novel.” It is likely to be categorized as fantasy by someone who knows nothing of the Culture — there is a medieval feel to the royalty, court intrigue, sword fights, beautiful damsels, boys growing up to become men, and a few “supernatural” events that bend the story beyond realism. However, astute readers will recognize something deeper happening beneath the deceptively simple façade and realize that Inversions is something more. That something more is not only the Cu... Read More

The State of the Art: Stories by Iain M. Banks

The State of the Art by Iain M. Banks

The State of the Art is a collection of short fiction written by Iain Banks between 1984 and 1987. Surprisingly, it is the only such collection the author has published. Given Banks’ fifteen mainstream novels and twelve science fiction novels, one would expect a much larger output of short stories and novellas. The following is a brief summary of the eight stories (most of which are science fiction stories, three which are CULTURE related).

“Road of Skulls” — Not a story in any conventional sense, the collection opens with the bickering of Mc9 and a companion whose name “he’d never bothered to find out” while they sit on the back of a cart being pulled over a road paved with enemy skulls. A short, macabre tribute to storytelling.

“A Gift from the Culture” — Wrobik Sennkil, recently detached from the Culture and at... Read More

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch: A good mind twist

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick

Perhaps Dick’s most misunderstood book, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is not wholly an examination of the reality of reality. Despite that the characters’ experiences often transcend concrete objectivity, the book is more than metaphysics. It is an exploration of morality, and if may be surmised from the parallel events of Dick’s own life, perhaps even an act of catharsis.

The universe of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is not as we know it. Global warming has turned Antarctica into a beach and humans inhabit the solar system. Colonists living on other planets — often drafted like soldiers to leave Earth — participate in communal fantasies augmented by a drug called Can-D to escape the spiritual desolation of their lives. Channeled through Perky Pat and Walt dolls (like Barbie and Ken), the dolls,... Read More

The Man in the High Castle: A triumph of speculative literature

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

He wasn’t the first to create a work of alternate history, but Philip K. Dick’s 1962 The Man in the High Castle is amongst the very best offerings of the sub-genre, and it is relevant to an ever-globalizing world. A thought experiment rather than a traditional novel, the book explores the idea: what if the allied powers lost WWII? What would a world ruled by Nazi Germany and Japan be like?

The year is roughly 1960 and America has been divided into three parts: a Japanese controlled west coast, an American interior, and a German east coast. The US as we know it could not be more altered culturally. In the Pacific Coast State, white Americans are second class to the Japanese, and the Chinese are considered even lower. Yi Jing, or, the Book of Changes is the ruling belief system and plays a prominent role in the lives of most of... Read More

Martian Time-Slip: In the upper echelon of Dick novels

Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

It’s easy to be skeptical when you crack open a book by Philip K. Dick; his output is hit or miss. The psychotic craziness of Dick’s personal life so often leaked into his writing that on more than one occasion his work features plots and themes derailed by a chaos seemingly external to the text. In the moments Dick was able to focus his drug and paranoia-fueled energies into a synergistic story, the sci-fi world benefited. Martian Time-Slip, just falling shy in quality to The Man in the High Castle or A Scanner Darkly, is one of these occasions.

The setting is Mars thousands of years in the future when the red planet is experiencing its second wave of civilization. The Bleekmen (Dick’s less than subtle name for Africans) are being pushed to the wastelands while those of European descent terraform the planet ... Read More

Dr. Bloodmoney: Or How We Got Along After the Bomb

Dr. Bloodmoney: Or How We Got Along After the Bomb by Philip K. Dick

Based on the overwhelming success of The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick set about writing another alternate history/future. Choosing the Cold War as its crux, he imagined a US wherein the post-WWII threat of nuclear catastrophe manifests itself. Dr. Bloodmoney: Or How We Got Along After the Bomb is the (conveniently sub-titled) result.

With only a few main elements in common with that first big success, most of the characteristics of Dr. Bloodmoney set it apart. The Man in the High Castle was realistic save the alternate history aspect, but Dr. Bloodmoney finds Dick slowly blending in more and more of his typical motifs — precogs, schizophrenia, and telekinesis — and building toward a surreal conclusion. Though falli... Read More

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: A book that lingers

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

There are a variety of ways in which a book lingers with the reader after they’ve finished. Emotional impact, imagery, character empathy, the message, and other elements have the opportunity to impress us to the point we may be unable to forget a book despite plot details fading with time. Philip K. Dick’s 1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? caused this kind of reaction in me. None of the aforementioned elements, however, are the reason his 37th novel hangs in my mind. It is simply the questions he asks and the myriad implications that follow.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the story of Rick Deckard, an android bounty hunter who experiences a crisis of faith as the emotional proximity to those he is supposed to be “retiring” becomes clouded. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, man has begun inhabiting ... Read More

The Martians: A MARS story collection by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Martians by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson’s MARS trilogy is a landmark of science fiction. The books visualize the terraforming of the red planet from a desert wasteland to a verdant living space while Robinson examines humanity from economic, psychological, political, sociological, and ecological viewpoints, culminating in the most in-depth look at colonizing Mars as has yet been written. The quantity of material was so great in fact, that Robinson published the story collection The Martians three years after Blue Mars. Collecting material spilling over in the creative effort, it features short stories published from magazines, cuts from the novels, Robinson’s notes, musings, and others — 26 pieces in all. The time and setting of the selections is scattered throughout the three novels. Some stories fill gaps not explicitly described, some are alternate ... Read More

Crystal Express: Stories by Sterling

Crystal Express by Bruce Sterling

Crystal Express is a 1989 collection of short stories by Bruce Sterling, originally published between 1982 and 1987. Five of the stories are set in his Shaper/Mechanist universe made popular in Schismatrix, three are general science fiction, and four lean toward the fantasy genre. The stories are grouped along these thematic lines, and the following is a brief summary of each story.

Shaper/Mechanist:

“Swarm” (1982) — Certainly one of Sterling’s initial forays into the Shaper/Mechanist universe if not the first, “Swarm” is poorly written (it has almost a cartoon presentation), but does a solid (if overt) job of delineating the differences between Shapers and Mechanists. It tells the tale of two people trapped inside an asteroid filled with Investor youth and their plans for genetic modification.
“Spider Rose... Read More

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