Thursday, April 25, 2013

Red Planet Blues Rocks!

Red Planet Blues:
Murder on the Mean Streets of Mars
Robert J. Sawyer
ACE April, 2013

Review by Ann Wilkes

This is the best book I've read for months! Maybe years! What's not to love? You have the Frontier (Mars), the Gold Rush (only it's a fossil rush), a Chandler-like, witty detective, extreme conditions (no atmosphere outside the dome) and cyborgs! Did I mention the body doubles and mind swapping? This book has everything! I couldn't put it down.

The detective, Alex Lomax,  is even a fan of classic movies from the forties!  He's rough around the edges with questionable morals, kind of like Bogart in those movies of old, with the same soft spot for the women and the underdogs.

Diana was standing in her topless splendor next to the bar, loading up her tray. "Hey Diana," I said, when you get off tonight, how 'bout you and me go out and paint the town . . . " I trailed off: the town was already red; the whole damned planet was.

Diana's face lit up, but Buttrick raised a beefy hand. "Not so fast, lover boy. If you've got the money to take her out, you've got the money to settle your tab."

I slipped two golden hundred-solar coins on the countertop. "That should cover it." Buttrick's eyes went as round as the coins, and he scooped them up immediately, as if he were afraid they'd disappear--which, in this joint, they probably would.

The technology and the ways it is abused raise some very interesting questions, like where does our soul live? Do we have one and does it survive our body and live on in a download of our brain? What rights does an unauthorized cyborg have? Will a duplicate be able to think any differently than the original? Does immortality get boring? What upgrades would I get? I love books that make me think, and Robert Sawyer certainly churns out a lot of them.

This is the first book I've read by this author in which the mystery is the heart of the tale and he has mastered that genre neatly, while never straying from science fiction. The mystery involved so many reversals and plot twists which I totally didn't see coming that it kept me guessing throughout.

Read two interviews, one in 2009 and one in 2011 with Rob by yours truly, right here on Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys.  The 2011 interview includes a review of www.Wonder.






Wednesday, April 17, 2013

New Mags, a Movie and a Short

New sci-fi magazines continue to pop up on the Net. Some will make it and some won't. Clearly, readers are doing more digital reading as opposed to holding that pulp in their hand and flipping paper pages. Have you checked out a couple of the newest yet? Phoenix Pick's Galaxy's Edge is still free. Their first issue is still available through the end of the month at www.GalaxysEdge.com. Their free book for April, by the way, is Stephen Leighs' The Abraxas Marvel Circus and can be read for free by inserting 9991932 into the coupon code box at www.PPickings.com (before May 1, 2013).

There's a plethora of stuff to read on the reboot of Amazing Stories.  I had been asked to help by being in their stable of bloggers. It's a worthy endeavor, but it required more time than I could commit to. I do, however, wish them the very best. I hope they do the name proud. It looks like they're off to a good start.

I continue to get requests to promote indie films, which I love doing. However, it helps if I have a decent trailer to decide if I want to get behind it. Just a word of advice to those considering sending me something.


This guy may not have his full-on, production trailer ready, but he seems to have the chops and a good storyline. I happen to have read and enjoyed "New" as well. ;) I guess it does help to know me.

 "NEW" - the movie from John Harden on Vimeo.

And here's an IFC movie you can watch now. I wish I had time to watch Antiviral and review it for you. Maybe one of you can send me a review. I'm honestly having a hard time with the premise. It won at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) and it's an Official Selection at Cannes, so maybe I shouldn't be so hasty.

Set in a dystopian future-present, where celebrity has become a commodity, Syd March (Jones) works in a clinic that specializes in harvesting celebrity illnesses and selling off them as injections. After becoming infected with a deadly virus himself, Syd must now fight to save his life from a savage disease as well as from a population of crazed super-fans.


video



Monday, April 8, 2013

Winning Flash - "Last Call" by Dan Pietrasik

We have a winner! I launched another flash fiction contest a month ago and what follows is our winning story. The entries had to be under 1,000 words, have a speculative fiction element and involve one or more mirror balls. I kicked it off with a story of my own, "Mirror Images". Our winning author, Dan Pietrisk not only is published here on Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys, he also has a mirror ball, complete with a motor to turn it on its way to him. Lucky him, huh?

"Last Call"
by Dan Pietrasik

Based on how many people are already here, I'll be eating well tonight. The sun is barely down and there's already a nice selection on the dance floor and milling around the tables. A guy like me will have no problems.
   
“Here you go, buddy,” the bartender says, handing me a Long Island Iced Tea.
   
I include a non-memorable tip when I pay him, and move on to a table. The big mirror behind the bartender bothers me. Not that I worry about a mortal noticing I don't have a reflection. They usually come up with some lame excuse on their own about line of sight or something. If they don't, it only takes a little mental push to give them the idea. The part where a mirror absorbs a piece of me instead of reflecting it back is what creeps me out. The table is also a better hunting position.
   
I sit and watch the herd for a while, wondering why another vampire hasn't claimed this place. Not just quantity, but quality of feeding here. A waitress catches my eye as she leans on the bar chatting with the bartender, but I know better than to choose from the staff -- at least if I want to come back. And I think I'd be a fool to not frequent these grounds. With a quick glance around I can see two women I'm definitely putting on the menu, and at least a dozen that wouldn't require lowering my standards.
   
“Ready for a refill?”
   
I look up over my left shoulder as the waitress I noticed earlier pulls her hand back from mine. Apparently I didn't hear her the first time. It's nice to be able to control my hearing enough to come into clubs and not be overwhelmed, but not hearing someone approach because of it takes some getting used to. I order another drink, the better to blend in. She's checking me out more than I'd like for someone on my Don't Drink Here list, so I send a little extra “ignore me” vibe her way. If she forgets to bring my drink, so be it.
   
I pick out my first appetizer. A young woman obviously drowning her sorrows in a girls' night out, and far enough into it that her friends won't notice the effects on her if I take a little off the top. I'm sure she'll appreciate the attention, even if she doesn't remember me afterward. And just a couple of unexplained wounds to differ tomorrows aches and pains from any other hangover. I'm about to make my move when the waitress comes back with my drink and sits across from me at the table.
   
“I just wanted you to know,” she says with a smile, “I can take a break now and dance, before we're too busy.”
   
I really need to work on turning down the attraction level, this is not the right kind of attention.  Sticking with drunk patrons for my meals is so much less complicated, and if I get carried away, much less inconvenient. But turning down an attractive offer to dance is not the way to avert attention. There's definitely worse sacrifices I've had to make than a little exertion with a hot woman. I've always been a sucker for the assertive but shy thing she has going on, coming up to me like this, but keeping her eyes slightly downcast while waiting for my answer. I'm hooked when she reaches up to scratch an itch on the side of her neck. Besides, she'll go back to work after one dance, and write me off as a player when she sees how many others I plan to go through tonight.
   
“Then let's dance,” I say, standing and offering her my hand.
   
She laughs at my gesture, and with a quick tug on my sleeve heads to the dance floor. At the edge, she turns to make sure I'm following and starts to dance. I glide smoothly into my carefully restrained, “let the woman I'm with appreciate me, but don't draw stares” moves.    She's using her whole  body, spinning and swaying, drawing me after her toward the center of the floor, but still not meeting my eyes. I sense the blood rushing through her veins, feel its pull. I'm getting worked up. All my urges are focused on her.
   
My hunger is growing as she dances. I need to break away before I succumb, but I can't. Why can't I look away? Why aren't I closing in? I've stopped dancing. I'm just staring at her. She finally looks me in the eye, but I can't catch her. Her smile has changed. Leaning forward, she whispers in my ear.
   
“Last call.”
   
She dances back again, raising her arms over her head. My eyes follow her hands as they go up. She's pointing toward the ceiling. I look up further, and see that we're dancing directly below a triangle of disco balls.
   
Hundreds of little mirrors. Flashing. Rotating. Pulling me apart. 


***

Dan Pietrasik is a reader and writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, two kids and three cats. A programmer by profession, he also dabbles in improvisational comedy.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Cassandra Project will keep you guessing


The Cassandra Project
Mike Resnick and Jack McDevitt
ACE 2012

Review and Interview by Ann Wilkes
 
I love a mystery. I love a mystery so much, that I won't read the genre because it would take me away from science fiction too much. There are, after all, so many hours in the day. So, I'm always delighted when I can have the best of both worlds. The Cassandra Project is a near-future mystery surrounding our exploration of the moon. 

Jerry Culpepper is confronted with evidence of a secret kept by NASA for 50 years concerning the Apollo missions. He's asked not to rock the boat. Leave it alone - it's just someone having a joke or someone being misinterpreted. But it just won't go away and as the evidence trickles in, he's sucked into a conspiracy of the highest magnitude.

Meanwhile, billionaire "Bucky" Morgan Blackstone is convinced that yes, something did happen 50 years ago that the government wants covered up. Since he's set his sites on the moon and stars as the next big money-maker, he takes it upon himself to discover the truth. He woos Jerry because Jerry's got the chops for public relations and understands NASA and space exploration. And he also might know something more than he's letting on.

And then there's the President who doesn't want egg on his face. He is completely ignorant of the matter, but what's worse? Your President being clueless or your President perpetuating a 50-year-old lie? He needs to learn the truth - and fast.

This sets up another race. Not for the first nation to reach the moon, but for the first person to learn the truth and decide whether to share it, or agree with those who so carefully guarded it, that it was best kept secret. The real kicker is not just what, but why. The ending is stunning and surprising. The implications of the "truth" will keep you thinking for days. That's my kind of story.

There is no sense that this novel was a collaboration, which is to say it's a successful one. The prose and voice were consistent throughout. The rich characters have just the right amount of flaws and quirks and you'll be rooting and sympathizing for all three of the major players.

Bucky is a self-centered bastard with admirable drive and ambition. And a great sense of humor. Jerry flails a bit when confronted with the weight of the find, while still evincing a strong sense of decency and moral conviction. The President gains our sympathy because of the whole "lonely at the top" deal. The weight of the world and all that. 

I can't decide if this is a plot-driven or character-driven tale, both aspects being equally powerful. The mystery propels the action forward. It will keep you speculating right up to the end.

I highly recommend The Cassandra Project to mystery lovers and space enthusiasts. What an incredible "what if"! But alas, I can't tell you what the what if is since even that discovery is too delicious to spoil.


Mike Resnick, who graciously agreed to judge a sci-fi short story contest I held last summer, has once again come through with this interview. When it comes to sheer reach, Mike is the master. He has so many novels and short stories available around the globe it makes my head spin!

AW:  Have you collaborated on a novel before this?



MR:  Yes. I collaborated on about 20 “adult” novels with Paul G. Neimark back in the mid-to-late 1960s, and I “collaborated” on a round-robin novel, The Red Tape War, with Jack Chalker and George Alec Effinger in 1990.

AW:  Can you describe your process for collaboration with Jack McDevitt?

MR: We discussed the plot in detail. He wrote the first two chapters, I wrote the next couple, and we traded off, not in exact numerical order; he did most of the chapters with Jerry Culpepper, I did most of the chapters with Bucky Blackstone . . . and since I’ve been both an editor and publisher, I did the chapter where Jerry tries his hand at editing. But of course, as each of us finished a section, it went to the other for revisions, suggestions, and line-editing.

AW:  Did you come up with the concept for The Cassandra Project together?

MR:  No, it was Jack’s. The germ of it – though not the resolution – appeared in a short story he wrote with the same title.

AW:  Was the ending a certainty from the beginning or did it evolve? No
 spoilers, please.

MR:  It was a certainty. I don’t think either of us would ever be comfortable sitting down to write any type of story, of any length, without knowing the plot and the resolution.

AW:  What do you think it will take to get NASA back to the moon? Funding is obvious, but what will prompt that?

MR:  The same thing that got us there in the first place: the fear that
 someone else may do it first.

AW:  Or do you think space explorations SHOULD be privatized?

MR:  Absolutely. It’ll be done far more efficiently, far less expensively, and it will actually serve a purpose that will keep it going: profit.

AW:  What happens when corporations plant their flags on the moon? Will there be no commons?

MR:  I suppose the corporate answer to governmental objections will be: “Come on up and take our flag down.” With Europe’s economy in the tank, and ours and China’s not far behind, I don’t think any government is likely to respond to that.

AW:  If you had the opportunity, would you want to live on a moon base? Why or why not?

MR:  No, there’s still too much of this world I haven’t seen, and at 71 I’m probably running out of time to see it.

AW:  You are the master at foreign rights (at least of any author I know). To what do your credit this success? Can you give any advice, or do we just need the right agent?

MR:  Having the right agent certainly helps, and I’ve had the best in the business since 1983. Writing in a clear, pared-down style that is easy to translate also helps. So does telling stories that appeal to most or all nationalities. Selling short stories (well, reprints of short stories) to magazines on every continent is a huge advantage, because when the book publishers of those countries look to see which authors to import, it helps to already have a fan following there. And of course I keep in contact with most of my foreign editors, long and short form, via e-mail, Facebook, and anything else that works.

AW:  If money were no object, which length do you prefer writing? Short
stories or novels? Or maybe novellas?

MR:  Shorts and novelettes, for the most part. Oh, once in a while I’ll come up with a notion that has to be told as a novel, like Santiago or The Branch, but I do prefer short stories nine times out of ten. That said, money is an object, so of course I’ll continue to produce a few novels each year. In fact, along with the science fiction, I’ve sold two mystery novels in the past year, and plan to do more.

Learn more about Mike Resnick at mikeresnick.com.