Wednesday, August 13, 2014

There Was Once a Place: Stories from the Fiction Desk 7

There Was Once a Place: Stories from the Fiction Desk 7, edited by Rob Redman, The Fiction Desk, 2014. 148 pages

The Fiction Desk website
There Was Once a Place at Goodreads
Review of The Fiction Desk 6: New Ghost Stories

Overall Rating: 7/10

The latest issue of The Fiction Desk features this year's flash fiction competition winner and runners-up, tossed in with some fine short stories. As I mentioned in my review of TFD5: Because of What Happened, I am not a fan of flash fiction, yet again those selected here are worthy reads, and among the shortlisted entries, I completely agree with the selection that received the honour of "best": Jo Gatford's "Bing Bong."

My preferred stories from TFD7 include Melissa Goode's "Exile," which I would vote as the issue's top story, followed by some strong genre entries: Alex Clark's "The Stamp Works," Edmund Krikorian's "Santa Maria" and Chris Fryer's "The Loop."


I Say Papaya, You Say Pawpaw by Mike Scott Thomson     6/10
The once owner of a now defunct grocery store is forced to seek work at the large chain that helped close his own shop. Here he must contend with the faceless aspects of consumerism, at both the client and management ends. A good story, though the ending doesn't address the issue of corporate take-over, unless the point is simply that big bad companies are helmed by normal folk. Or perhaps without being aware of it, he has been assimilated into the mass commercial machine and the individualism of small business is no longer of import. Perhaps we're being told that the big chain is the opium of the little guy?

Thomson is the author of "Me, Robot," which appeared in TFD4: Crying Just Like Anybody.


Dan and the Dead Boy by Mark Taylor     6/10
A man tries to come to terms with living with a dead teenager's liver, guilt-ridden by allowing his own youth to pass by. The story features good dialogue and humour.


Little Bird Story by James Collett     5/10
Flash fiction featuring a man at a bus shelter and a stunned bird that is, ultimately, a reflection of himself. Collett also wrote "The Clever Skeleton," another shortlisted flash that appeared in TFD5: Because of What Happened.


Constructing an Exit by Peter Clark     5/10
This second person narrative goes on for too long, so that the momentum it builds quite nicely ends up falling in on itself.


Misson to Mars: An A-Z Guide by Sarah Evans     7/10
The story of a "reality-tv" survival series set on Mars and the unseen and uncaring audience that leaves them to perish is told via an alpha-narrative (as in alphabetical). The result is both interesting and effective, and the detached third person "we" tone works particularly well.

Throughout the anthology the story's title is spelled "Misson," while on the TFD website it's "Mission." I think the print copy erred. The story is among the flash contenders, and to me a close second choice. Sarah Evans is the author of the the fine story "Stuck" that appears in Unthology 2. For an article of Ms. Evans's process is launching "Mission to Mars," please click over to this TFD page.


Santa Maria by Edmund Krikorian     7/10
Future science fiction tales that appear in serious literary journals tend be dark and fatalistic, yet despite its opening set in that direction, Krikorian's "Santa Maria" switches gears and offers hope in a way that we forget the story is science fiction. Man's state of affairs remains bleak, but there is hope in the unchanging facets of humanity. The gear-switching is effective, not at all jarring, and both moods work well.


Colouring In by Cindy George     6/10
Another shortlisted flash piece, this time with a good concept. The story revolves around the idea that every child, no matter how unimpressive, should be recognized for something they are good at no matter how trivial that something appears. George was voted by her peers as the author containing the best story in TFD5: Because of What Happened.


Badass by Die Booth     6/10
Shortlisted flash. A simple story of a stereotype is surprisingly good, genuinely sympathetic. Booth is the author of "Phantoms" which appears in TFD4: Crying Just Like Anybody, and co-editor if Re-Vamp.


The Guy in the Bear Suit by Dan Purdue     6/10
Third flash in a row is a second person tale of paranoia and a dark secret buried in childhood.


The Stamp Works by Alex Clark     7/10
An industrial archaeologist is hired to map out an unused mining compound for a company hoping to revive it, and immediately some odd occurrences come to play. Ms. Clark's story is apparently her first published, and it's quite good, with a genuinely unsettling and well detailed set, a good suspenseful story and a believable narrator. I would argue some of the end is perhaps over-explained and over-sentimental, but I wouldn't argue too hard. For her take on the story, please visit this page.


Exile by Melissa Goode     7/10
The tension in this one is excellent, both in the situation and in Melissa Goode's approach. A woman has come to meet a former lover, someone she was involved with for an extended period while he was married and his son was quite young. The notion of exile permeates the story, as the former lovers have been in exile from each other, the man is living in solitary exile, the woman is exiled from her mores. What works so well is that despite our own proper moral viewpoints, or so we pretend, we do understand and sympathize nonetheless with these two less than exemplary individuals. My favourite entry in TFD7.


The Loop by Chris Fryer     7/10
I like ideas of loops, and though Fryer's story is not the most original, and because of its nature the resolution or lack thereof is inevitable, the story is well constructed and a good read. The structure around different characters and that first person plural voice works effectively, as does the less than likeable genius that generates this particular loop. Also, I like the double words words.


Loss Angina by Nik Perring     6/10
A man shaves his lips off and is troubled when no one seems to notice. Motivated by a break-up, the character is inherently self-centred as his grief takes a back seat to the fact that no one notices his the consequences of his pain. Though not quite Perring's idea, I suspect; he appears more interested in the notion that we are all openly scarred, but what I like here is that the character's own injury (self-inflicted despite the result of someone's departure) has him transfixed, and he is hence unable to see the wounds of others.


Bing Bong by Jo Gatford     7/10
A mother and son are at the dentist's, and the son, with a peculiar affinity to sound, needs desperately to hear the chime that calls for the next patient. A genuinely touching bit of writing, it deserves its prize for "best" flash fiction.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Peter Haining, Space Movies (1995)

Haining, Peter, editor, Space Movies, London: Severn House, 1995
_____, Space Movies, London: Pan Books, 1995
_____, Classic Science Fiction, London: Pan Books, 1998

Space Movies at ISFdb
Space Movies at Goodreads
Space Movies at IBList

For other Friday's Forgotten Books, please visit Patti Abbott's blog.

Overall Rating: 7/10

Of the two titles the anthology has appeared under, Space Movies is by far the most appropriate. Haining's focus in both the selections and the introductory material is on film, more specifically on special effects, and not on the related literature. While the anthology collects a few short stories that have been adapted to the big screen, it also contains some "fictionalizations" of scripts for both film and television, as well as a script treatment. There is an introduction by Haining, "The Fiction of Possibilities," that discusses the early evolution of special effects, and each story has its own mini intro, focusing primarily on the film the selection is highlighting. The introductions are interesting though not revolutionary.

Unfortunately what the book gains in its unconventional material and interest it loses in overall sloppyness. There are far too many typos throughout the book, including character names (Parkette in "The Lawnmower Man" is at one point Parkett, whereas Bierce in "The Unreal McCoy" is also Beirce).

There is also fault with both titles: Space Movies and Classic Science Fiction. For one not all the movies are set in space, and for another not all are science fiction. The last entries, those by King and Barker, are both horror fantasy, supernatural tales that have absolutely no science fiction elements, and while the film linked to the King story is certainly science fiction, the film linked to Barker's story certainly is not.

Three of the stories here are re-reads for me and all three hold up well: Clark's "The Sentinel," Dick's "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale" and King's "The Lawnmower Man." My favourite new reads are Barker's "The Forgotten" and Moore's "The Lot," and along with Dick these make up my preferred three stories in an interesting though far from fully achieved anthology.

Like many famous science fiction films, the book had a sequel, as Space Movies was followed a year later by Space Movies II. The two anthologies were combined by Carroll & Graf in 1999 under the title Vintage Science Fiction.


extract from Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein     5/10
Destination Moon directed by Irving Pichel, produced by George Pal (1950)

This extract from Heinlein's novel does not stand on its own. The older leader appears unnecessarily bitter toward his youthful comrades, though I haven't read the novel and am taking it in context of what I am being given. The 1940s vision of the moon is laughable, but more amusing than irritating. The movie Destination Moon was a big achievement for its time and a cinematic event, and that and the use of Heinlein's name are likely the main reasons the excerpt was selected for inclusion in the anthology. The film, incidentally, was only co-scripted by Heinlein, along with Alford Van Ronkel and James O'Hanlon.


The Meteor by Ray Bradbury     5/10
It Came from Outer Space directed by Jack Arnold, Produced by William Alland 

According to Haining, this piece is a treatment of the script by Ray Bradbury, but it reads like a straightforward novelization (or story-ization) of the movie, perhaps for this anthology, perhaps even ghosted by some unknown (Haining?). While I enjoyed the movie, this treatment does not read well; it is dry and completely removed from any of the film's spirit. It is a serviceable play-by-play, with less independent inventiveness than the James Blish adaptation of Star Trek's "The Real McCoy," which will be discussed later.


The Conquest of Space by Werner von Braun     6/10
The Conquest of Space directed by Byron Haskin, produced by George Pal (1955)

Like Sir (or Saint) Thomas More's Utopia, Braun's work is a pretend story that is merely framing views on a utopia-like society. Though the narrative begins with a fair amount of suspense, all elements of tension are removed early. Story-line is replaced by a primarily descriptive narrative of an advanced society that has lost its sense of adventure and need for exploration, presented as an antithesis to the youthful human race, whose desire for exploration is venturing into the new, exciting (and possible) realm of space travel. The Mars of 1955 is replete with life, technology and scientific intelligence, though despite Braun's attempt at thoroughness in depicting this society in such a brief space, the reader is left to wonder about a few things, such as where they get their materials for all that infrastructure, or even for their clothing. I am not familiar with the film, but this print version is, with its lack of story, nonetheless interesting.




Lot by Ward Moore     7/10
First published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1953
Panic in the Year Zero! (1962) directed by Ray Milland, produced by Arnold Houghland and Lou Rusoff

I am not familiar with the movie, directed by actor Ray Milland who I quite like (that performance is Dial M for Murder truly elevates the film), and Haining's comments on Milland's drive to deliver a dark apocalyptic film for the early 1950s has certainly peaked my interest. Moore's short story is very effective. Well written with fine characterization and diologue, the entire piece takes place at the very beginning of a family's departure from home during a post-apocalyptic crisis, and though we don't travel too far (though we really want to), the entire future plight of that family--and humanity--is so expertly suggested by the appropriate twist at the end (or the beginning). Definitely worth a second read.


Sentinel of Eternity by Arthur C. Clark     6/10
First published in Story Fantasy, Spring 1951
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick

Clarke's short story "The Sentinel" is best remembered as the originator of Kubrik's far more famous film. Yet the short story, first published seventeen years before the movie's first screening, was decently anthologized prior to being immortalized, so it would likely not have remained unforgotten in the new millennium. The story re-appeared in the popular British science fiction anthology series edited by Kingsley Amis & Robert Conquest, Spectrum III (Gollancz), as well as Damon Knight's future-themed anthology Worlds to Come (Harper & Row, 1967). Originally published by major science fiction editor Donald A. Wollheim in Story Fantasy 10 (Spring 1951), it was reprinted in the influential magazine New Worlds Science Fiction 22 (April 1954, edited by John Carnell), and in three of Clarke's own collections: Expedition to Earth (Ballantine Books, 1953), Across the Sea of Stars (Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1959) and The Nine Billion Names of God (Harcourt, Brace & World 1967). (For as complete a bibliography as is available, visit the story's ISFdb page.)

"The Sentinel" works better as an idea than a short story--it is a concept disguised as a story, with a pretend plot and character that culminate in Clarke's speculating of an advanced alien race waiting centuries for humans to evolve enough to be worthy of contact. The aliens planted a machine in a hard-to-find place on the moon as a kind of test, is absolutely fascinating, and Clarke furthers his speculation by wondering how lonely such advanced space-travelling beings must feel in the vastness of space where intelligence is a bona fide rarity.

And of course there's that incredible film.


extract from Logan's World by William F. Nolan     unread
Logan's Run directed by Michael Anderson, produced by Saul David (1976)

I skipped this extract of Logan's World, partly because I often skip extracts, and partly because I didn't much care for the novel Logan's Run (1967) by William F. Nolan and frequent Twilight Zone contributor George Clayton Johnson, though I did enjoy the somewhat silly movie. Logan's World was published a year after the movie's release, and possibly written in a rush at the success of the film. There was a third book in 1980, Logan's Search, which quickly fell out of print.

Note that Logan's Run co-author George Clayton Johnson also wrote "The Man-Trap," the first aired episode of Star Trek, which was later adapted by James Blish as "The Unreal McCoy," and included as the following story in this anthology.


The Unreal McCoy by James Blish     6/10
First published in Star Trek, Bantam Books, 1967
Star Trek: The Motion Picture directed by Robert Wise, produced by Gene Roddenberry (1979)

This is Blish's novelization of the first aired Star Trek episode "The Man Trap," tele-scripted by George Clayton Johnson. Blish was novelizing the original Star Trek series from 1967 until his death in 1975, and produced twelve volumes for Bantam. This rendition is fun and nostalgic to read, and unlike the other adaptations in the anthology, its author takes small liberties in adding to the story-line, such as internal character responses and interpretations of emotion.


We Can Remember it for You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick     8/10
First published in  the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1966
Total Recall directed by Paul Verhoeven, produced by Ronald Shusett and Buzz Feitshans (1990)

Dick's story of a man's desire to visit Mars to the point of having memory implants installed in his brain holds up well nearing its half-century anniversary, and also as a re-read. The blatant coincidences are so absurdist that they are hilarious, and if you stop to think about, quite revealing on a more serious level. For one thing, humanity is eventually doomed for there is only so long you can keep a man from dying, a man whose actual life is preventing Earth's destruction. Dick's ongoing interest in the idea that one's life is not the life they have in reality lead does not grow tiresome, particularly in the vast and varied ways it can be approached.


The Lawnmower Man by Stephen King     7/10
First published in Cavalier, May 1975
The Lawnmower Man directed by Brett Leonard, Produced by Gimel Everett (1992)


"The Lawnmower Man" is zany and fun, and I still recall the first time I read it as a pre-teen, struck by its originality (as I was with much of Night Shift). The story holds up and remains fun, the character details are good in the depiction of Parkette, though the devil references are not necessary, and without them the story might even work better. Comical devil references are reminiscent in the work of earlier twentieth century genre writers like John Collier (best known for "The Chaser"), and like those lighter stories the potential dark overtones are wholly removed. Without explanation, the lawnmower bloke might have been just a little more sinister.

King makes an unfortunate oversight in the story. Parkette tells the lawnmower dude that the mowing should be quick and straightforward since the backyard has no obstructions, yet we later learn there's a birdbath in the centre of the yard. Was the grass so high it kept it hidden?

It's amusing that the anthology ties the movie to the short story since Stephen King successfully sued to have his name removed from the credits of a movie that was clearly trying to cash in on his name at the height of his career. Even without the lawsuit it is evident that the connection is fabricated; a wonder King didn't sue Haining and Severn House to boot.


The Forbidden by Clive Barker     7/10
First published in Fantasy Tales, Summer 1980
Candyman directed by Bernard Rose, Produced by Steve Golin, Alan Poul and Sigurjon Sighvatsson (1992)

A white photographer visits the slums to capture the unusual array of graffiti covering much of the foreground, and soon becomes enthralled by both landscape and the gossip of killings that, despite their severe and violent nature, have been completely ignored by media. She investigates, and as you can imagine enters not only the foreign neighbourhood of the slums, but the surreal landscape of Barker's darker notions. Very well written, it is both social commentary and mild satire, featuring dis-likeable characters, good dialogue and a strong setting. I am not familiar with the movie that displaces the story from the UK to the US, which is not necessarily an issue since sadly such a story could be effectively told through much of the western world.



Testing a new map (as of 24 December 2015)