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 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

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.

Read More

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

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