Anders Monsen

Lost worlds and ports of call

Month: November 2006

I’ve been busy the past few weeks reading books from a different time. Or is that different times. I finished re-reading Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, and am working my way through the 1961 biography written by Mark Schorer, which is far from kind. I’m in the middle of writing my brief introduction to my strangest review format yet, in sonnet form, of Lewis’ novel.

I also finished last night a book that’s long been on my list to read, Jack Williamson’s The Humanoids, first published in short story form in 1947 as “With Folded Hands.” (I am delighted to discover that my unread copy of Pulphouse Publishing’s Author’s Choice Monthly Issue 5 – Jack Williamson (1990) contains this story.) Somewhere in my library I also have the sequel, The Humanoid Touch, which is now on my must-read list. The former novel has been nominated twice for the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Hall of Fame award, yet I don’t believe it’s ever been a finalist. That’s a shame, as for at least the first 4/5th of the novel I was riveted by the action and plot, and the novel far exceeded my expectations. The conclusion surprised me, and left me wondering about the author’s intentions. I have a somewhat ambiguous view of Williamson’s fiction. On the one hand, he was a giant in the field of sf. He died a couple of weeks ago at age 98, and continued to teach and write virtually to the end. Yet I have read very few of his books. I tried a few years ago to read his then new novel, The Silicon Dagger, but I don’t think I finished it. His story in the recent Baen collection Visions of Liberty, “Devil’s Star,” was in my opinion the worst of the lot. I wasn’t sure if the style was deliberately pulp, or if Williamson eschewed style for straight two-fisted prose. On the other hand, his politics seem influenced by libertarian ideas, as he stated in this interview from 1999. I wanted to see how those ideas influenced his fiction. Yet my experience with the two works I mentioned prevented me from reading more of Williamson’s work, until his name came up again during a conversation I had in early November at the World Fantasy Con in Austin, Texas. Sadly, not two days after I started reading The Humanoids I read the news that Williamson died. I’ve nominated this book again for the LFS Hall of Fame, and intend to write a review in the January issue of Prometheus.

Although unrelated to the purpose of this blog, I’m currently reading The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith. Smith is probably my second favorite writer after Jack Vance, and a superb poet as well. The book is at times fascinting, mundane, sad, and illuminating. I wish I could afford the earlier Arkham House editions of his works, but instead I have to wait for newer and cheaper editions.

A current writer who deserves greater acclaim is John C. Wright, whose first published novel, The Golden Age could have, should have won the Prometheus Award for best novel in 2003. His latest novel appeared in bookstores last week. His regularly updated Livejournal blog contains many intersting discussions and thoughts. Wright recently converted from atheism to Christianity, which influences quite a few of his posts. As a non-militant atheist I have yet to read anything that will convert me to any theism, but he’s a damn good fiction writer.

The Weapon Shops audioplay

I learned yesterday via email that the audioplay production of A.E. van Vogt’s story, “The Weapons Shops,” has been completed. Apparently it already premiered this Summer at Dragon*Con (scroll down half-way for a group photo) this year in Atlanta, and also played at a frefan party at the WorldCon in Los Angeles. Adapted by Brad Linaweaver and featuring Richard Hatch of Battlestar Gallactica fame (the original series), the CD is not yet available on the home site of the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company. The short story itself, however, can be found in Baen Books’ onmibus collection Freedom! which combined all the stories previously gathered under Give Me Liberty and Visions of Liberty. These two collections won a Special Award in 2005 from the Libertarian Futurist Society. “The Weapon Shops” is a classic of libertarian sf, and along with Vernor Vinge’s “The Ungoverned” and Eric Frank Russell’s “And Then There Were None” stand as the best pieces in that book. I already bought the three Heinlein audioplays from ARTC, and so far have enjoyed “The Man Who Travelled in Elephants” via my iPod. This CD transferred quite nicely, with each track titled and clear. The other two CDs must not have been loaded into the database that iTunes checks, as all the tracks say “untitled.” I suppose I will need to update these manually. Listening to the story adds a different dimension to appreciating them as works of fiction, and at ca. 30 minutes does not demand too much of your time. I saw ARTC perform live back in 1995, and you can almost visualize them from the audio alone.

Simple syndication? Really?

A couple of people have mentioned the lack of RSS on this blog. Today I attempt to remedy this deficiency. I moved to Blogger Beta, enabled site feed options, and added the link for readers to subscribe to this blog. If you try this out, please let me know if it works, or if nothing happens. I confess to having tried out RSS months ago, but it didn’t seem to be simple at that time, or perhaps I lacked the patience to follow all the necessary steps.

World Fantasy Con

Back from four days at World Fantasy Con in Austin, Texas. No email or internet activity for the duration of my stay. Bought a few too many books, lusted for several others just too pricey for me at the moment, and generally tried to relax. I’m not a gregarious person, and knew very people, so I spent most of my time in the dealers’ room. Drove around Austin for a while as well, and much has changed since I moved away five years ago. I sat in on a few panels, but found only one worthwhile. I’ve attended a handful of WorldCons, one DragonCon, half a dozen local Austin cons — ArmadilloCon — but this was my worst sf con experience in 18 years. Maybe it’s typical for WFC. I don’t know. The panel track was anemic and poorly organized. On one panel an individual said a total of ten words and wondered out loud why the hell he was there to begin with, and often the moderators struggled for direction. Only panel I enjoyed included Tim Powers and a well-spoken David Drake.

Anyway, I achieved my main goal for attending, and that was to meet F. Paul Wilson in person and get my FPW hardcover books autographed. I hauled a huge bag full of 20+ hardcovers to the one, big signing on Friday night, and he signed them all. I guess next time I’ll bring all my anthologies and paperbacks, otherwise I would have needed a cart to haul them around. I also got my more recent Tim Powers acquisitions signed, including three versions of the same book. There were other writers there whose books I could have gotten signed, but there was a limit to how much I could carry. The dealers room seems small, though full of modern and rare works. It’s staggering to see the prices on some of the older books, even from a couple of decades ago. I saw none of these sell while there, so I wonder how the dealers make money. I did see a lot of current books being bought, but at least one table kept marking down stuff more and more each day.

Now, if only those Clark Ashton Smith books from Arkham House weren’t so damned expensive…

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