TAKE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, STAR A grumpy Chicagoan, people the landscape with characters and places from the world’s literature and you have Silverlock — a fable of the human spirit no less great or more complex a story than a man discovering the world of letters and how it changes him. I have read it twice now, once from the depths of a great spiritual crisis, and the effect is almost electric. Half the fun is spotting the references; another half is author John Myers Myers’ love of language; a third half is how it makes you feel. Silverlock may or may not change your life, but it will certainly change your view of storytelling — and isn’t that sometimes the same thing?
If I had cared to live, I would have died.
A storm had come up. While not sick, I found my bunk the most comfortable place, leaving it only to take my meals. Dozing after supper, I learned of disaster when a wave bashed in the door of my deck cabin. The backwash sluiced me out of it and stranded me by a stowage locker.
THE FIRST BOOK I EVER read about the Internet, in 1994, still gives me a wave of nostalgic novelty when I turn its pages now. The ‘Net was new in the public mind and not well understood back then, which is why books like 1992′s ZATAOTI were popular: it’s a beginner’s guide to all things then-Internet, from email to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
These days, you just Google to find anything. But before Google (and before the World Wide Web) were Usenet and FTP, telnet and Gopher. You sort of had to know your way around in order to find anything. ZATAOTI’s 95 pages helped make the learning curve less steep for millions of people by helping them to think clearly and concisely about this strange new technology.
The composition of this booklet was originally started because the Computer Science department at Widener University was in desperate need of documentation describing the capabilities of this “great new Internet link” we obtained.
It’s since grown into an effort to acquaint the reader with much of what’s currently available over the Internet. Aimed at the novice user, it attempts to remain operating system “neutral”—-little information herein is specific to Unix, VMS, or any other environment. This booklet will, hopefully, be usable by nearly anyone.
THERE ARE BOOKS, AND THERE are books. This one contains “The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time Chosen by the Members of the Science Fiction Writers of America,” and is standard issue to all geeks and geekettes who want to know the first thing about things SFnal. (It’s subtitled “Volume One, 1929-1964;” Volume Two (which I haven’t read) is itself two 1973 volumes devoted to novellas written and published between 1895 and 1961.)
I first read this (these? it’s an anthology, after all) when I was eight years old, as part of the first package I ever got from the Science Fiction Book Club. Without it for years, I now have a spiffy new trade paperback which seems almost a facsimile of the original contents in terms of fonts, layout, etc. And the memories! Stuck in Fredric Brown’s alien showdown (which became a Star Trek episode)! Trapped with Lewis Padgett’s mad teaching machines! Exploring Tibetan mythology with Arthur C. Clarke!
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IF YOU HAVE NEVER READ the original James Bond stories by Ian Fleming, you don’t know James Bond.
You also don’t know sweeping prose that zips along like a rocket; lush description with a reporter’s eye for detail; fourth-wall breaking double-entendres; high-concept doomsday plans only one man can stop; and some of the best philosophical bon mots in the business. I like Fleming’s Bond for all these reasons, but mostly I like Fleming because he is a writer who inspires me to write — he makes it look easy, unlike some of my other literary heroes.
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SO FAR, IT HAS TAKEN me two years to read Herman Melville’s classic of monomania and cetology, mostly because I don’t want to finish. And so I haven’t, yet.
It’s the language. Melville rolls so many word-clad notions around his tongue, and flips them into and between your ears with such easy fluidity, that it doesn’t matter whether or not he’s digressing (which he does, for most of the book). We fancy moderns with our choice of storytellers and interpretations know how the story goes, or at least how it ends, before we read it. That’s an advantage of sorts over the initial 1851 audience, one which lets us concentrate instead on the journey — since, despite its encyclopedic treatment of whales, the men who hunt them, and the global economy resulting therefrom, we might miss the fact that Moby-Dick isn’t really about whaling at all, at all.
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
SINCE 1970, LARRY NIVEN HAS written four books and a number of articles concerning the Ringworld: an Earth’s orbit-diameter ribbon made from disassembled planets and populated by its builders with all manner of adaptive species, each with its own culture and agenda.
Who built it? Why? And what caused its civilization — one vastly superior to 29th century Known Space — to fall so abruptly? These questions are at the core of the eponymous first novel, where two humans — 200-year-old Louis Wu and his 20ish inamorata, Teela Brown — join the aliens Speaker-to-Animals (a Kzin, something like an ironic feline wookiee) and Nessus the Puppeteer (a three-legged, two-headed galactic captain of commerce) in an exploratory mission to the mysterious structure.
Neal’s bias: Classics, especially for those with a heavy worldbuilding fetish, although Ringworld and The Ringworld Engineers also stand alone fairly well. I enjoyed the first two novels immensely;The Ringworld Throne I thought better the second time (but was close to the Eight Deadly Words on first read) and Ringworld’s Children largely for how The Master integrates (the technical term is “retcons“) the latest cosmological theories on dark matter and the like. Four rockets. Check ‘em out.
In the nighttime heart of Beirut, in one of a row of general-address transfer booths, Louis Wu flicked into reality.
His foot-length queue was as white and shiny as artificial snow. His skin and depilated scalp were chrome yellow; the irises of his eyes were gold; his robe was royal blue with a golden stereoptic dragon superimposed. In the instant he appeared, he was smiling widely, showing pearly, perfect, perfectly standard teeth. Smiling and waving. But the smile was already fading, and in a moment it was gone, and the sag of his face was like a rubber mask melting. Louis Wu showed his age. …
“GENTLE FUN FOR ENGLISH TAOISTS” is as good a description as any of A. A. Milne’s two booksful of stories of the Hundred-Acre Wood’s most famous resident. These are not children’s tales any more than “Bullwinkle” or “Le Morte d’Arthur” are children’s tales: unless it’s for the child that reawakens in us when we read these stories. (And yes, S*TO*R*I*E*S: If you only know Pooh through Disney, you don’t know Pooh.) NOTE: That reawakened child may have difficulty getting through the increasingly nostalgic-for-what’s-lost second volume House at Pooh Corner; I personally will never read the last story again without handkerchief or, better, towel. But this excerpt is from the very first story in Winnie the Pooh, titled “Chapter One, In Which We Are Introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees, and the Stories Begin:”
Here is Edward bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn’t. Anyhow, here he is at the bottom, and ready to be introduced to you. Winnie-the-Pooh.
THE TITLED BOOK IS PART of a trilogy, and it’s hard to say it’s the “first” part since Robert Anton Wilson wrote Schrodinger’s Cat such that the reader can open any of its constituents (The Universe Next Door, The Trick Top Hat and The Homing Pigeons) at any point and begin reading (as Charles Fort said, “One measures a circle beginning anywhere”). The text, in chapters of two- to four-page pastiches, follows (in part) a couple dozen compassionately well-drawn “everymen,” and the cumulative effect is three or four unique and intertwined storylines that play hob with the reader’s perceptions of reality and deliver a crash course in James Joyce, Wilhelm Reich, black-market economics, quantum physics, Jungian psychology, little-L libertarianism, Western mysticism, some fairly hot weird-science and a lot of sharply empathetic humor: “The story herein is set in a variety of parallel universes in which most of the politicians are thieves and most of the theologians are maniacs. These universes have nothing in common with our own world, of course. Of course.”
from The Universe Next Door
The majority of Terrans were six-legged. They had territorial squabbles and politics and wars and a caste system. They also had sufficient intelligence to survive on that barren boondocks planet for several billions of years.
We are not concerned here with the majority of Terrans. We are concerned with a tiny minority — the domesticated primates who built cities and wrote symphonies and invented things like tic-tac-toe and integral calculus. At the time of our story, these primates regarded themselves as the Terrans. The six-legged majority and other life-forms on that planet hardly entered into their thinking at all, most of the time.
THIS MOST ELEGANT OF STOPPARD plays is, I think, best viewed live — the 1990 film
, for all its polish, loses something as it’s translating. Live it should be: for “live” is what it’s about, and specifically but not exclusively: Does life make a sound without someone else to hear it? Or is it a series of borderless scenes with no walk-off? These are the questions pondered by two minor characters from Hamlet
as they wait for something to happen. No one knows the answers, but one thing is certain: the curtain will, inexorably, fall.
For me, R&C’r'D will always be the stuff of all-night wordbinges laughing with friends into the post-adolescent dawn; the perfect accessory to a 1970′s high-school backpack stuffed with On The Road, Tao Teh Ching and the latest issue of Heavy Metal.
Two ELIZABETHANS in a place without any visual character.
They are well dressed — hats, cloaks, sticks and all.
Each of them has a large leather moneybag.
GUILDENSTERN’s bag is nearly empty.
ROSENCRANTZ’s bag is nearly full.
The reason being: they are betting on the toss of a coin, in the following manner: GUILDENSTERN (hereafter “GUIL”) takes a coin out of his bag, spins it, letting it fall. ROSENKRANTZ (hereafter “ROS”) studies it, announces it as “heads” (as it happens) and puts it into his own bag. Then they repeat the process. They have apparently been doing this for some time.
THIS TITLE DOESN’T REFER TO either German nobility, soft ice cream or the British Isles, but the first paragraph (“graf” in news-speak) of one of my favorite novellae, H.P. Lovecraft‘s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Though mostly famous for his don’t-read-at-3-a.m. Cthulhu Mythos tales, the Old Gentleman’s most lyric imagery is to be found in his stories of The Dreamlands: a sort of “collective unconscious” vaguely surrounding Earth and accessible to it at certain points. Lovecraft is often accused of unreadably purple prose; I like to think he writes more for effect than for accuracy (like a Brian Eno composition, Lovecraft’s words are best enjoyed by letting them wash over you like a salty, warm, faintly ichorous sea). Thus, and in the hopes of spreading the Old Gentleman’s visions as far and wide as possible:
THREE TIMES Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it. All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between delicate trees and blossom-laden urns and ivory statues in gleaming rows; while on steep northward slopes climbed tiers of red roofs and old peaked gables harbouring little lanes of grassy cobbles. It was a fever of the gods, a fanfare of supernal trumpets and the clash of immortal cymbals. Mystery hung about it as clouds about a fabulous unvisited mountains; and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory, the pain of lost things and the maddening need to place again what once had been an awesome and momentous place.
(Eh? EH? THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about.)