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“One Perfect Morning, With Jackals”, by Mike Resnick

January 31, 2013 1 comment

“One Perfect Morning, With Jackals” is a 1991 science fiction short story by Mike Resnick.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 1992.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Mike Resnick has written a series of stories, with the overall title of Kirinyaga.  They are stories about a group of Kikuyu–an African tribe–who have retired their civilization to an asteroid in the asteroid belt.  This story is also the preface to the fix-up novel called Kirinyaga, made up of the first eight stories from the series.

Why should you read it?

Mike Resnick is an amazing author, capable of working emotion out of robots and monsters, but I consider the Kirinyaga stories to be some of his greatest.  Koriba, the formerly Europeanized man who is about to leave for Kirinyaga, is “abandoning” his “civilization” to be the mundumugu, or witch doctor, of the Kikuyu on Kirinyaga.  His son, who is very firmly Europeanized, believes that his decision is silly and unnecessary… but is taking this opportunity to talk to him for the last time.  And give him a gift.  Of jackals.

Where to find “One Perfect Morning, With Jackals”

The publisher, Baen Books, has generously allowed us to read it online.

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Being John Malkovich

January 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Being John Malkovich is a 1999 . . . slipstream movie, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation of 2000.

My first movie review!

Non-Spoiler Summary

A puppeteer with an. . . odd filing job discovers a portal, a literal door, into the brain of the actor John Malkovich.

Why should you watch it?

This movie contains ideas and moments that are not, and actually can not be, examined in any other movie.  The nature of the conceit is absolutely unique in fiction as far as I know, and the fact that they were able to get John Malkovich to star is amazing, considering the script was written focussing on him on spec, without having him on contract.

This was one of the very first movies I ever saw twice on opening weekend–the material was that compelling.  I had spent enough of my first viewing with my jaw dropped that I wanted to see it again immediately, and my partner felt the same.  I have seen it a couple of times since, making this perhaps my fifth viewing.  I continue to watch the mixture of humor, deadpan delivery, and . . . insanity with amazement.

That said, I have enough distance now to see that this is a very flawed movie, that in my opinion should have been recut and the entire first half hour to forty-five minutes either removed or integrated into the body of the movie.  And many parts that are, sadly, just not very good.  But the parts that are good are so, so good.

The portal allows the puppeteer Craig Schwartz to first experience what Malkovich is experiencing, quietly riding along for fifteen minutes, before being ejected.  He and a partner start a business using Malkovich as a “thrill ride”, selling fifteen minutes in Malkovich for $200.  However, Schwartz and his wife both experience time in Malkovich, and begin a very odd relationship with Maxine, his partner.  During this time, Schwartz discovers that his skill as a puppeteer actually allows him to control Malkovich, and not to be ejected.  And he steals Malkovich’s body and life, using his new host’s fame to further his own agenda and make puppeteering a vital, popular art-form.

(I am deliberately not summarizing the last third of the movie, as I can neither do it justice nor do I think a description would increase your interest in the movie.  While it’s fascinating, it’s as much about the delivery as the ideas.)

Where to find Being John Malkovich

The movie is not available freely.  It is available on Netflix and several other streaming services.

Categories: Recommendations Tags: , ,

“Alamagoosa”, by Eric Frank Russell

January 6, 2013 Leave a comment

“Alamagoosa” is a 1955 science fiction short story by Eric Frank Russell.  On a spaceship, an inventory is being conducted, and there’s an item on the list that isn’t on the ship. . . .  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 1955.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Alamagoosa” is the story of an inventory on a spaceship.  However, there’s an item on the list that’s not on the ship.  The story is a scramble for the officers of the ship to try to figure out what the item is, who’s responsible for it, and who’s going to bear the blame for it being missing.

Why should you read it?

History only, I’m afraid.  This story is, as science fiction, completely deprecated.  There’s no real science fiction here–the story is set on a spaceship, but it could just as easily been set on a sailing ship, or an airplane, in the past or in modern times.  As one of the defintions of science fiction I use is, “If you remove the science or the central conceit of technology, the story collapses”, this isn’t actually science fiction.  That said, it was a fine and enjoyable way to spend fifteen minutes.   There’s a laugh at the end.

Where to find “Alamagoosa”

The story was originally published in Analog, back when it was called Astounding.  They have generously allowed us to read it online.

_Shadrach in the Furnace_, by Robert Silverberg

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Shadrach In The Furnace is a 1976 science-fiction novel by Robert Silverberg.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Novel of 1977 and the 1976 Nebula Award.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Robert Silverberg was one of my favorite authors, at the time that I read this–about 1983.  He had an immense body of work that I was tearing through, much of which I still value.  Among those, Shadrach is one of the few I’ve been back to in the past twenty-five years.  The obvious question of whether the work holds up is nullified by the fact that I seem to have been too young to grasp what the book was about, the first time through, and may as well have been reading it for the first time now.

Oddly enough, this reread suffered from what Jina Chan brilliantly called Skynet Syndrome: I was reading the book during its supposed “far future” timeframe.  In other words, during November 2012 when I was reading it, I was reading words written sometime in 1975 about November of 2012.

Shadrach Mordecai is the personal physician to Genghis II Mao IV Khan, the ruler of the world.  He is implanted with subdermal activators that allow him to perceive Genghis Mao’s health at any time and from a distance.  And he is the overall head of the three projects that are in place to make sure that Genghis Mao, already old, lives long enough to complete the work of his Permanent Revolution.  That is to say, these projects are intended to assure that Genghis Mao lives forever.

Why should you read it?

As a child, I thought this book was about the relationship of a man and his physician, when that physician is a very tight part of the health care feedback cycle.  I completely missed the story of Genghis Mao’s loss of his own humanity, of the horror of his acceptance–championship!–of the three immortality projects, and of Shadrach’s walk about the world while he contemplates his place in Genghis Mao’s plans.

Virtually nothing happens in this book–Genghis Mao has a kidney transplant, the immortality projects are introduced, Shadrach goes walkabout, and then returns home to resume his duties as physician.  But the story isn’t about what happens.  Several times, Shadrach and various friends or lovers go to several different styles of temple, to meditate, work, or have drug experiences.  The book is actually _about_ Shadrach’s states during these meditations, as much as it is about his peregrinations.

Overall, I would call the book dated, but far from obsolete–it still addresses ideas in ways that have either never been done better or have never been done before or since at all.

Where to find Shadrach in The Furnace

Unfortunately, the book is not available freely.  It is trivially but not inexpensively available for the Kindle, and well-stocked libraries still have it.  I have not seen a copy available in used book stores in several years.

2013: year of Hugo 100.

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

I am about to start a sequence of posts during which I will review 100 Hugo nominated works.  All in year 2013.  Wish me luck.  I figure with my current rate of speed–y’know, four posts a month, then six months off–it should be trivial to do this.  Yah.

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