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.

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

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

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