Unpulped #4: Apollo at Go by Jeff Sutton (DNF)

Apollo at Go

Cover Story:

An African mask? Some sort of spear? A seedpod shooting through the air?

I imagine this cover was just indicative of its time (early 60s) but the only thing I can say for certain about this cover is that it does not scream HARD SCIENCE FICTION. At least not very loudly.

Back Cover:

Lt. Col. Joseph Faulk, U.S. Marines, is to lead three men on the first flight to the moon. Here is all the suspense endured by Space Team One as they wait to know which of their number will go. Here are all the technicalities of blast-off; the waiting, the tingling drama. The starkly realistic picture of flight to the moon, and the problems of lunar landing and take-off.

Year Unleashed:

1963

Year of First Non-Literary Moon Landing:

1969

What Happens:

Astronauts leave Earth to go land on the moon. They do so. Then they come back.

As you might picked up from the big DNF in the post title, I did not finish this book. I barely dented this book. I was about fifteen pages in (densely typed pages, mind you) before I discovered I wanted to do anything other than read this book through to the triumphant, predictable end.

Representative Quote:

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Faulk, USMC, faceplate closed and space suit inflated, felt the very first quick vibrations as the five huge F-1 engines build up thrust. Over 30 feet in diameter and 130 feet high, the mainstage could lift six million pounds from the surface of the earth; with the stages above it, it could inject over 200,000 pounds into earth orbit. This particular rocket had been three years in building. Before that there had been long years of dreams, plans, blueprints, mockups, prototypes–incessant changes to meet each advance in the technology. It represented lengthy, bitter debate in Congress, hundreds of millions of dollars funneled to every part of the United States, around-the-clock work by small and large factories, shifts in local economies. It was also the product of tens of thousands of hours over drafting boards, in laboratories, at far-flung test bases.

Evaluation:

The back of the cover is not wrong.

Here is all the suspense as Space Team One waits to know which of their number will go–the fact that “all the suspense” equals “no suspense” does not make the statement any less true.

Here (again) are all the technicalities of blast-off; the waiting, the tingling drama. Mostly you wonder if that tingling you’re feeling in your foot is drama, or just your limb nodding off to sleep. And by all the technicalities, they mean ALL of them. No matter how boring or how mundane or how mind-numbingly technical, the details are all there, included for your bitter-eyed perusal.

Apollo at Go, I dub thee Science Porn! And I will have none of it! Get thee to a laboratory!

Actually, I can see a purpose for this book. I mean, it’s not horribly written, the sentences hang together, there are two-dimensional characters, no egregious flaws–except for the boring. But I’m reading this long after humanity landed on the moon, and long after regular space travel became common(ish). And I can see this book being written and published in order to proselytize space travel. However, that doesn’t make it worth my time.

With most books in this series, I can read them regardless of how bad they are because they have fantastic (I mean unbelievable and/or absurd) premises that spin themselves into oblivion. Apollo at Go is like a transcript of a channel showing the International Space Station live.

Now if we were talking meerkats…

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Unpulped #3: S.T.A.R. Flight by E. C. Tubb

S.T.A.R Flight

Cover Story:

Rocket flight is to be enjoyed by both the old and the young and those wielding electro-whips.

Back Cover:

Could earth survive the terrors of instant youth and perpetual life?

The Kaltich invaders sell their Earthman serfs a rejuvenation process that cruelly prolongs life.

The Kaltichs also promise to share their secret for instantaneous space travel desperately needed by a barbaric, overpopulated Earth.

But decades pass and Earth is no close to the stars. Yet the Kaltichs continue to strip Earth of its riches and its pride.

Only the Secret Terran Armed Resistance movement opposes the Kaltich tyranny. And only Martin Preston, S.T.A.R. agent, can possibly steal their secrets. If he fails, Earth will become a planet of billions of starving people–with no place to go except to their graves!

Year Unleashed:

1969.

What Happens:

Well, it’s hard to say. I mean, at a very basic plot level Martin Preston is recruited by S.T.A.R. to breach a Kaltich transplanetary gate in order to figure out how they work and to bring that knowledge back so that Earth will be freed of the Kaltich tyranny. He, indeed, does this, while also revealing that the Kaltich are actually humans from an alternate dimension and the transplanetary gate actually simply allows them to travel between dimensions rather than worlds, humans colonizing themselves.

None of that plot actually starts–i.e., the espionage–until at least a third of the way into the novel. Before that, we’re treated to Preston being forced into helping S.T.A.R. while being given glimpses of what life is now like on Earth via characters we neither know nor care about. Even Preston’s adventure after the “plot central” starts is more a run of dumb luck than anything else. He eventually finds a rebellious group in another alternate colonized Earth and they help him return to his own with the knowledge of the transplanetary gates and a promise to band together to break the Kaltich’s stranglehold. And then the novel ends, rather unceremoniously and rather quickly.

Representative Misogynist/Sexist Quote:

“Hilda Thorenson had more than beautiful hands.”

Okay, their isn’t really a whole lot of misogyny or sexism in this book, so it gets a pass (except for the quote above, which is an intro to a chapter and relatively unheralded). In fact, most of the characters are treated evenly and fairly, especially as most of them are driven by self-interest, the women given as much space as the men (even though neither group is given very much depth).

Evaluation:

Well, the book is nothing as promised on the cover. The cover illustration implies the reversal of aging, the old becoming young again, but in fact the “eternal youth” is organ-replacement (not, as far as I understand it, including skin), so the old elite, those who can afford it, can stay alive with young organs propping them up. (Early on, there’s a suggestion that the organs are harvested from the Earth’s youth since they are often invited into the gates never to be seen again–but then it’s revealed that an alternate timeline has just perfected medical science to a degree that organ growth and transplant is child’s play.)

But so what? The cover lies and the blurb lies, but I would have read the book anyway. How’s the writing and the story hold up?

E. C. Tubb’s writing is unspectacular. Serviceable with a flash phrase here or there, but nothing mesmeric. The characterizations are sharp enough that everyone is easily distinguished, and motivations are clear, but no one is deep enough to hold one’s heart hostage. The story itself is a bit scattered and hurried, the twist at the end a sudden reveal which comes from nowhere and seems a little deus ex machina as well as being, essentially, unnecessary. In short, it was a quick read that held my interest, but when I put the book down, whenever I put it down, the interest rested with it.

According to his wiki, Michael Moorcock (an author I greatly admire) wrote “[E. C. Tubb's] reputation for fast-moving and colourful SF writing is unmatched by anyone in Britain.” Maybe that shines much more evidently in other books. I’d give him that chance.

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Music You Should Be Listening To (Not an Opinion)

I just learned about Janelle Monáe. As with many things in popular culture, I imagine I am far, far behind the times and that all of you are already converts to her awesomeness.  If not, then here you go, thank you very much, the first video I saw of hers that twisted my ears into a licorice rope and swallowed them whole:

Yes.

I was first caught by the strangeness of the video, the sci-fy-ness of it, coming into her world with the only knowledge of her being that she had an early album called The ArchAndroid.  (She’s classified (somewhere) as an R&B and Soul artist, but her penchant for the SF throws my brain into dizzy loops of uncategorizable pleasure.)  Then I was entwined in her voice, then hypnotized by her dancing, and then lost in the linguistic labyrinth of her lyrics.

But back to her dancing, her sheer charisma that bulldozes through the screen:

And yet what makes it all worthwhile, in the twisted forest of my synapses, is that she’s socially conscious, too.  Too?  I may mean mainly.  Perhaps not as directly as Boots Riley of The Coup, but just as surely aimed.

The preach-rapping at the end of Q.U.E.E.N. is most direct in this (even though the welter of words means that much of it slips past me, at least, until the fourth or fifth viewing, ex. I’m tired of Marvin asking me, “What’s Going On?”) but it underlies every video I’ve seen, and the basic conceit of the songs (that Janelle Monáe is singing as Cindi Mayweather, an android in a future where androids are slaves, to be most reductive).  Maybe it’s my own struggle to find out how to make my art change the world, to feel like what I’m writing is making things better, but anytime I find an artist I like doing the same (successfully), then I’m in love.

By which I mean, I’m in love.

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Reviews of Poetry Books That I Have Not Read (Because They Do Not Exist Yet (I Think))

There are some books I read for contests that as far as I know have not made it out into the world at large.  These are poetry books, filled with poems, by persons unknown (because, of course, the contest was name-blind), that I liked a great deal, a deal enough to push them towards being label-mates with me at Zone 3 Press.

In essence, this isn’t so much a list of reviews as it is a way of saying that if you find these books out there–assuming the title hasn’t changed, which is a big assumption–then you should pick them up and read them.  And you should also tell me they are out there so I can do the same (as well as tell the respective poet him- or herself how much I like their work).

P.S. I originally had samples selected from all the books, not just Fourthspace, but then I realized that I don’t have permission from the poets and, unlike with published books, fair use doesn’t apply in this case.  Although if any of the poets of said books listed below want to give me permission, then I’ll certainly put a representative few lines back up because, well, your work is awesome.

Fourthspace

Actually, I know who wrote this one: the multi-talented Sarah Blackman.  I know because this book was a runner-up in the last contest I helped sift through for Zone 3 (though I didn’t know it was her manuscript at the time).  But, as far as I can tell, the manuscript isn’t published yet and that’s a damn shame.

Sample line:

It is the year
I have bartered away all my teeth.

Well, what do you know.  I found a link to that entire poem on-line, so here you go: “A Marriage Poem“.

I Don’t Trust Anyone Without Regrets

Ah, yes, now we’re into the realm of possibility, where any one of these manuscripts could, in fact, be by anyone.  ANYONE!  My mother.  My dentist.  Donald Rumsfeld (under a pseudonym, naturally).  Machiavelli.

There were about fifty or so manuscripts I was assigned to winnow.  Those that kept my interest, that (most likely) hooked my eye from the first line, that caused my brain to stop and think and waffle in wonder, those are the ones I pedestaled and pushed ahead.  Now I just wish the books would spontaneously erupt into existence so everyone could read them (and I could own them, because I’m a capitalist materialist).

Hog Rifle

It’s strange reading manuscripts for a contest, especially one that introduces a new poet/book to my publisher.  Partly, I’ve found myself drawn to those manuscripts which resist me the most, the ones that I find most challenging and, therefore, in some way, perhaps least likely to be published elsewhere.  I suppose that’s because I like to read what arrests my attention on the page.

The second thing that strange about reading manuscripts is seeing things that I think I recognize, that feel familiar, but that I can’t place.

The House in Scarsdale

Well, what do you know, I know this person, too.   This is apparently the work of Dan O’Brien, who I met at Sewanee a few years ago.  He was there as a playwright and I didn’t know he wrote poetry until I started recognizing his name out and about in various journals.

He’s a nice guy.  Knew virtually nothing about his poetry and, despite what I said in the above capsule, nothing about his work in this manuscript struck me as familiar.  I suppose what caught me instead was the voice. (Note: this manuscript is still unpublished, so your only recourse to finding his work is to scour away on-line and in journals of the print persuasion.)

Her, Infinite

This is the one that challenged me the most, and that is impossible to excerpt effectively.  I’ll cull a few lines to show below, but that won’t give the truth about the way the text spreads out over the page and clumps in sections like dictionary definitions or dances from side to side like the pendulum on a grandfather clock.

What you see below you captures the music of the language, but not the concreteness of the poems on the page, not the way a stanza becomes an attempt to cross a field littered with radiation (numbers included to mark the rad count), and definitely not the conversation that occurs in your own head as you make sense of the argument in lyrics stretched out before you.

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Unpulped #2: The Pollinators of Eden by John Boyd

The Pollinators of Eden

Cover Story:

The secret life of stamen.

Back Cover:

Blonde and beautiful Dr. Freda Caron had been waiting for her fiancé, Paul, to return from The Planet of the Flowers.  But Paul had unaccountably requested an extended tour of duty, and had sent in his stead his handsome assistant, Hal Polino, along with an exquisite new breed of talking tulip.

Freda, methodical scientist that she was, was not quite sure what to do with either of them–especially when she discovered that the tulip was as heterosexual as Hal.

That’s when she began the experiments….

Year Unleashed: 1969.

What Happens:

Pretty much what is described in the back cover, except that The Planet of the Flowers does business in seducing the men sent there, Dr. Caron is involved in ending the world making sure the talking tulips are viable on Earth, visits TPotF and her fiancé sets her up to be date-raped by an orchid so she can carry a human-plant hybrid, and poor Mr. Polino dies by tulip seed, though no one is really all that broken up about it.

Oh, and lots of bureaucracy in terms of Government Committee Meetings and High-Profile Scientist Power Plays and Who Will Take the Blame for the Failed Research Merry-go-round.

Also, lots of subdued and not-so-subdued sexism/misogyny.

Representative Misogynist/Sexist Quote:

One of the characters discussing “space madness”:

For the intellectual–and, mind you, only the most sensitive minds succumb to space rapture–the primary erogenic zone is the brain. Their libidos are not sublimated but coordinated. Intellectuals don’t ‘fall in love.’ They form value judgements. For instance, if an architect is designing the Chartres Cathedral, a rape case strolling through his office couldn’t draw his attention from the drawing board.

A conversation between Hal and Freda about the talking tulips from The Planet of the Flowers:

“But, Hal, they’re so fragile and delicate and small and beautiful.”

“So are you, Freda, but they’re females, and, like you, they can be dangerous. If Old Pete can learn to talk to the boys, maybe we can reason with the males, learn to coexist.”

Evaluation:

Amazingly, despite the quotes and the basic plot above, this book was not all that hard to read (except for the times I had to walk across the room to retrieve it after throwing it against the wall).  The main faults it has are the lack of a main character to identify with and the outright scientific absurdity of some of what takes place–the ecology of The Planet of the Flowers, for example, or the fact that Hal and Freda are simply horrible scientists, when it comes down to it.

Well, those are the main faults outside of the rampant sexism, which is pretty rampant.  And considering that our main character is a woman who seems to be okay with, or fall in line with, the sexism, that makes it even harder to identify with her, or to look past the sexism.  Maybe this was easier in 1969?  Maybe it was expected?  Or maybe I should stop trying to make excuses for John Boyd?

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Unpulped #1: The Green Rain by Paul Tabori

The Green Rain

Cover Story:

We’re off to see the Wizard.

Back Cover:

NO LITTLE GREEN MEN… but an awful lot of full-sized bright-green men, women, and children–about half Earth’s population, in fact!  That was the first result of THE GREEN RAIN and the consequences mingled laughter with horror–from the emergence of crackpot cults to something tragically new in race violence.

Then came the second GREEN RAIN… the really serious one…

Year Unleashed: 1961.

What Happens:

The world governments send a rocket full of “chlorophylogen” to the moon in order to create a verdant jungle there, but the rocket blows up in the atmosphere instead. Due to chlorophylogen in the rain, anyone exposed to the rain turns green. In this case, anyone is half of humanity.  Chaos ensues.  In an attempt to counter the racism that runs rampant when people turn green (on both sides of the color spectrum), another rocket is launched, but this one makes plants grow tremendously until they choke out all human life via absorbing all the oxygen in the world.

Yeah, so, science.

Representative Misogynist/Sexist Quote:

“What d’you want?” demanded Gloriana, not showing the slightest inclination to scream. “I don’t keep any money out here–and you couldn’t get away with it anyway…”

“Oh, it isn’t money we want,” grinned Gosma.

“Look, boys, the last time I was raped, I enjoyed it. So don’t try and threaten me…”

Evaluation:

Except for a brief stab at the beginning of the book, the science herein is pretty laughable, without even nods towards what might actually happen, i.e. This is not extrapolative speculative fiction.  The writing isn’t great, but it’s not horrible either, just distant.  As with the science, the characters and, in general, all human behavior depicted in The Green Rain is unbelievable as well.  It was pretty dismal reading until I came to the realization that the book is a parable.

Essentially, reading The Green Rain is like reading Animal Farm, except the characters are less human in Tabori’s novel.  The entire tenor of the story is nihilistic, showing the foibles of humanity (from a distinctly male perspective) and presenting the grand conclusion that we are all, indeed, doomed.  There is nothing redeeming here re: humanity.  Everyone dies and, self-evidently, we deserve it.

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Unpulped: The Story Behind the Magic

My friend and fellow Cat Herder Critique Partner Jaime had a neighbor (and still might, for all I know–you expect me to keep up with these things?) who was getting rid of books.  I don’t just mean a few books; I mean two cardboard boxes full of books.  This “person” (i.e., they might be a robot) just put the boxes outside their door and waited.

Maybe it was a trap, at least that’s what I would’ve thought.  You reached your hand in and a hand comes out of the thin book veneer to grab yours and drag you down into the cardboard box to… read?  Okay, not a very good trap.

Jaime, brave woman that she is, snuck up on her neighbors and asked if she could find the books a new home, because by then she’d noticed that they were all SF & F books from the 50s-70s, many of the pulp variety that is so good in orange juice, and with covers so bad you’d think that someone had dipped all their cheap paperback pages in LSD.

And so the boxes of books found their way to me.  Because I like bad movies and, well, I’ll just say it: bad art.  It is as interesting to me as good art (though not usually as emotionally affecting) because bad art can be bad in so many ways.  Sure, yes, there will be some good books in the mix, surely, and not only by writers I recognize (Philip Jose Farmer, ahem) but by writers I’ve never heard of, who’ve written their mark on the world and had that mark scarred over by time.

Originally, spurred on by the Cat Herders (who, along with me, play the WRITING GROUP GAME OF ADJECTIVE DEATH), this series was simply going include the covers from the books.  But now, oh now, it’s going to include the covers from the books and possibly some random words beneath!

You have been warned.

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