Monthly Archives: January 2014

Going Beyond the Rift

Beyond_The_Rift_BOMBeyond the Rift
Peter Watts
Tachyon Publications
trade paperback $14.95
ebook $9.95

I really enjoy well done science fiction, full of unusual ideas and fascinating characters, especially at short lengths. Unlike my taste in noir and fantasy, I generally prefer my science fiction to end on a fairly upbeat note. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy some of the darker stuff.

Case in point, Peter Watts’ latest collection from Tachyon Publications. This collection, consisting of a baker’s dozen short stories and an essay, is one of the best (and in many ways darkest) I’ve read in quite a while.

Some of the standouts for me were “The Things”. This is a retelling of the classic John W. Campbell story that was filmed more than once as The Thing. Watts tackles the tale from the point of view of the alien.

“The Island” is about a woman on a ship whose mission is to leave what are essentially stargates who is awaken to discover a son she never knew she had and a life form that completely surrounds a star. She and the AI guiding the ship, already enemies, gain new reason to hate each other as completing their mission in the system will result in the death of the organism.

“The Eyes of God” concerns a soldier of God whose zeal may hide a darker motivation. “Mayfly”, co-written with Derryl Murphy, tells what happens when a family uses an AI to try and recapture a daughter taken from them by death.

“A Niche” is a disturbing tale of two people in an underwater station, where one of them adpats to the environment and one doesn’t. The scary thing about this one is I can see it happening.

Watts concludes the volume with an essay on how his world view colors his fiction. He argues he’s really an optimist. He also spends a good deal of time telling his side of his encounter with Homeland Security a few years ago. I hadn’t heard his side of the events, so I found this informative.

My worldview doesn’t overlap much with that of Mr. Watts. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy his work. I do. He’s able to get into the heads of his characters in a way few other authors can.  His protagonists are sympathetic even when they’re extremely flawed and not always pleasant people.

I’d only read “The Things” before I read Beyond the Rift. I’ll be reading more of his work, although I probably won’t read quite so much in such a short time period.

I read the epub version of the ebook. The formatting was professional, the text had been copy edited, and the interactive ToC worked perfectly, as did the footnotes in the essay.

I’d like to thank Tachyon Publications for the review copy. Tachycon has been producing quality books for quite some time now. They don’t produce a large number of titles in any given year, but I always take note of the ones they do. Tachyon Publications is one of the premiere small presses in the US at the moment.

Asimov and the Editorial Hand of John W. Campbell

The Winds of ChangeI said in my post on Asimov’s birthday a few days ago that I was going to read some stories from The Winds of Change.  I did, getting through the first four stories before my eyelids grew heavy.  The third story is the oldest in the book, “Belief” from 1953.  Asimov notes in his introduction to the story that this was its first appearance in one of his American collections.  (The reasons are beyond the scope of this post.)

I thought I had read it somewhere, perhaps in The Great SF Stories, but the ISFDB said otherwise.  It did, however, show that the story had been published in a later collection, The Alternate Asimov’s.  I had a copy I had picked up years ago that I’d never read, primarily because I didn’t have time to read the original and final versions of the novels The End of Eternity and Pebble in the SkyThe Alternate Asimovs contains the original versions of those novels.  It also contains both version of the novelette “Belief”.

It seems the version of the story John W. Campbell, Jr. published in Astounding wasn’t Asimov’s preferred version.   Campbell required Asimov to rewrite the ending significantly.  I read the original version, and found the experience quite enlightening. Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Isaac Asimov

Isaac_AsimovIf he were alive, Isaac Asimov would have celebrated his 94th birthday today.  I never had the privilege of meeting Dr. Asimov, but I grew up reading his works.  I’ve not read everything he wrote, but I’ve read quite a bit.  I’m speaking of his science fiction here, not his total output.  Wikipedia says he wrote over 500 books.

It’s also National Science Fiction Day, which I think is quite appropriate.

Asimov was one of the first science fiction authors I read when I graduated to adult science fiction.  This would have been in junior high.  (I’ve always been ahead of my time.)  I think I came across one of his robot stories in an anthology edited by Robert Silverberg that was in the school library.  It wasn’t long before I was hunting down his short fiction (in addition to his robot stories), the Foundation series, and some of his other novels.  His later Foundation novels were among the first science fiction I purchased new in hardcover that wasn’t a book club edition.

The Winds of ChangeIt’s been quite a while since I read any of Asimov’s work.  As I stated in my reading goals post, I want to get back to basics  this year and reread some of the works and authors that first attracted me to science fiction.  I picked up a paperback copy of The Winds of Change a few months ago in a second hand shop.  It’s a later collection, and I haven’t read it.  I’ve loved the colors on the cover for years and finally gave in to temptation and bought it.  I think I’ll spend some time this evening reading it and raising a glass to the legacy of Isaac Asimov.