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.

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

Emphyrio: One of Vance’s more ideological pieces

Emphyrio by Jack Vance

After establishing himself as a writer of short fiction, Jack Vance began to shift toward novels in the 1960s. Given more space (ha!) to create, his unique voice rounded into form and imagination, and the decade can be marked as the upswing of his career — particularly given the exclamation point the TSCHAI: PLANET OF ADVENTURE series places on the end. Tucked neatly in the middle of the publishing of these four novels, however, is a stand-alone novel: Emphyrio. Interestingly, the title is not taken from the name of a locale or culture, as is usual with Vance, but from a legend innate to the tale. Singling it out further, the book is one of Vance’s more ideological pieces; there are ominous elements of socialism and the value of historical knowledge is expanded. The capricious storytelling, vivid setting, and resourceful hero remain classic Vance, however.

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Dinner at Deviant’s Palace: Orpheus and Eurydice with a post-apocalyptic spin

Dinner at Deviant's Palace by Tim Powers

Tim Powers is an author who seems to forever fly under the radar of popular readership. And there doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason. His stories are well crafted, his prose lean and brisk, and his sense of the fantastic always vivid and invigorating. His fifth novel, Dinner at Deviant’s Palace, has all of these qualities on display. Recently brought back to life by Open Road Media after two decades out of print, the novel has everything a genre fan could love.

With echoes of Stephen King’s The Stand, Dinner at Deviant’s Palace is a post-apocalyptic novel in an American setting. The story occurs in the crumbling remains of L.A. long after a nuclear catastrophe, humanity having reverted to pre-industrial times. Cults roam the land, ... Read More

Creatures of Light and Darkness: Not Zelazny’s best

Creatures of Light and Darkness by Roger Zelazny

In the early part of his career, and in an indirect sense throughout it, Roger Zelazny combed Earth’s cultures, religions, and legends for story material. His brilliant Lord of Light and This Immortal riffing off Hindu/Buddhist and Greek mythology respectively, he established himself as a writer who combined the classic themes of myth and legend with more modern, imaginative tropes of science fiction and fantasy. His 1969 Creatures of Light and Darkness is no exception.

Egyptian myth and cosmology is the source material for Creatures of Light and Darkness, an epic tale of warring gods where space and time have little meaning — or all the meaning, if the story is viewed as a whole. Stakeholders in universal power, Osiris, Set, Anubis, Isis, and a variety of other deities from E... Read More

The Left Hand of Darkness: An important thought experiment

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Given science fiction’s near infinite palette of available colors, it was bound to happen one day. Thankfully, Ursula Le Guin was the one. The idea: androgynous humans. Winner of several awards, the social significance of science fiction has never had a stronger proponent than The Left Hand of Darkness, the meaning of gender never so relevant to mankind.

Genly Ai is an envoy sent to the planet Gethen to convince the nation of Karrhide to join Earth’s Ekumen (a politically neutral organization supporting the dissemination of knowledge, culture, and commerce). What he encounters are the native Gethens, an androgynous people who go into kemmer once a month, physically adapting to the features of any mate they encounter during that time. Mixed up in the local politics is Estraven, a Gethen Genly meets as part of his inter-planetary task, and the two sub... Read More

Pyramids: A stomach-jiggling delight

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

It seems there is no subject too big or too small, too esoteric or too familiar, that Terry Pratchett won’t tackle in DISCWORLD. His 1989 Pyramids, seventh in the series, sees the author exploring Egypt and just entering the groove that would become more than forty novels in the DISCWORLD setting. The humor in Pyramids is some of Pratchett’s best, but the book still leaves something to be desired for plot. As such, I’m guessing it won the 1989 British Science Fiction Award for historical grounding, wordplay, stabs at theme, and accomplishments to date, rather than consistent storytelling or characterization.

Pyramids is the tale of Teppic, son of Teppicymon XXVII who is king of the desert land Djelibeybi. Teppic was sent to the Assassin’s Guild in Ankh-Morpork for grooming into an “e... Read More

Thief of Time: Trademark storytelling, symbolism, setting, and wit

Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

Thief of Time is Terry Pratchett’s 26th official entry into the DISCWORLD series. Published roughly six months after The Truth and six months before The Last Hero, Thief of Time finds Pratchett in good form, extemporizing on the scientific quest to put time in a bottle versus more transcendental ideologies revolving around passive regard to the great clock of life (pun intended for those who’ve read the book!).

Thief of Time opens ... Read More

The Centauri Device: A simple story deliciously told

The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison

M. John Harrison’s 1975 The Centauri Device is a rare beast in science fiction. Short (200 pages), prosaic (the language is at most times brilliant), and with literary aims, it is sure to draw the disapproval of any genre fans expecting the easy-to-digest hero’s story typical of space opera. Harrison’s offering to the sci-fi world is instead one for connoisseurs who appreciate well-written stories with a driving — though it at times seeming fantastical and obtuse — purpose.

The Centauri Device is on the surface a rather simplistic story. John Truck, belying his name, is an average Joe living the life of a loser space trucker, hauling freight, legitimate and otherwise, planet to planet whenever contracts arise. He lives on Earth while the universe around him is at war. On one side are the IWG, ... Read More

Earthlight: Imaginative descriptions of life on the moon

Earthlight by Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke is one of the most influential writers of science fiction. His quiet optimism, faith in science, and ability to tell straightforward but intriguing tales endeared him to a generation of fans that continues to this day. Earthlight, his sixth published novel, follows directly on the heels of his successful Childhood’s End, and though rather simplistic in presentation, adheres to the author’s style in perfect fashion.

Earthlightis the story of Bertram Sadler, an undercover agent for the CIA sent to the moon to ferret out a suspected spy. Though dependent on Earth for all of their metals, several of the solar system’s planets have been inhabited and are united under the banner of The Federation. Tungsten, uranium, and the like are all in short supply and prices on Earth determine much of the... Read More

Blue Mars: A superb conclusion

Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson’s MARS trilogy is one of the grandest thought experiments in literature, let alone science fiction. While Red Mars sets into motion mankind’s inhabitation of the red planet, and Green Mars delves into terraforming and social and political aspects of the inhabitation, it remains for Blue Mars to make the final statement regarding man’s potential on Mars. Blue Mars continues evolving the series’ main ideas, bringing our own society into sharper focus by comparison. Fully contextualizing life on Earth, Blue Mars expands to solar system size, and is thus a grand finale in more than just story.

Wasting no time, Blue Mars picks up events precisely where Gr... Read More

Green Mars: Examines terraforming and social evolution in even greater depth

Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars was a big, bold thought experiment on the environmental, political, and social aspects of colonizing Mars. Perhaps the most in-depth look at the topic (a sci-fi one if there ever was) to date, the novel was only the beginning. The story of the First Hundred and those who survived the revolution of 2061 continues in Green Mars, where Robinson examines terraforming and social evolution in even greater depth.

Green Mars begins with the introduction of two new main characters. The first is one of Hiroko’s many love children, Nirgal, who lives in hiding with the other rebels under the polar ice cap because the Underground is still being hunted by the Transnationals. The second is a businessman named Art Randolph, who begins the story on Earth. Working for the most moderate and progressive of the Transnationals, a business entity called ... Read More

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents: YA Discworld

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett

Given the light-hearted yet poignant nature of Terry Pratchett’s DISCWORLD, it is surprising that so few of the dozens of books in the series are Young Adult oriented. One of these is The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, and it can readily be enjoyed by adults, as well.

Playing with the legend of the Pied Piper, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is the story of Maurice the cat, his band of talking rats, and the teenager Keith with whom they travel city to city. Running a scam, the preening, egotistical Maurice works as a middle man for Keith and the rats, the former earning money by playing the pipe to eliminate the rats who have made themselves a nuisance under Maurice’s guidance, the group sharing in the spoils.

Coming to the city of Bad Blintz in Uberwald, however, their plan runs afoul when they encount... Read More

Red Mars: Sets the bar for Mars colonization novels

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Mars has been a subject of science fiction since its earliest days: Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, Philip K. Dick’s The Martian Time-slip, Edgar Rice Burrough’s The Princess of Mars series, Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sands of Mars, C.S. Lewis’s SPACEtrilogy, Ben Bova's Mars, and many others have in one way or another imagined what life might be like on our neighboring globe. Representing ... Read More

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