Thursday, January 22, 2009

Yiddish tattoos

Oy, have we got a bargain for you: two reviews for the price of one! First up is "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon. (My apologies to my large(ly imaginary) Jewish readers for my first line. I've never met anyone that talks like that, but I've seen them on tv and tv would never lie to me)

Meyer Landsman is a detective in an alternative future where the Jewish homeland is in Alaska. He's investigating the murder of a heroin-addicted, chess-playing, deadbeat who may have been the Messiah. Or just a very naughty boy.

Excellent writing, as always from Mr Chabon, that perfectly immerses you in Sitka, Alaska. A good plot, twisty and turny just like a good detective story should be. Loved it, great book.

Next, Bradbury's classic collection of short stories, "The Illustrated Man". I found this in the 50% off pile at Reader's Feast in Melbourne (thanks Tessa). I don't think I'd have picked it up if it wasn't a bargain - sf short stories don't always age well. Written between 1947 and 1951, these do describe a 1980 where every man still smokes like a chimney, takes the rocket to New York to work, after having had their wives programme the robot butler to dispense their coffee and bacon. Mars is a green and pleasant land, Venus is just a bit rainy.

Once you get past the superficial, jarring weirdness of having your own past described as the future, the stories themselves are outstanding. My favourite was the last in the collection, about a scrap dealer that can only afford for one member of his family to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip into space on a rocket, and how they decide who it should be. There's also Edgar Allan Poe on Mars; a gruesome tale of a city out for revenge; children helping invaders from another dimension. And lots of smoking.

If I had read this in its time, I would have been floored. Now, the 50s future detracts slightly, making it harder to get into, but it still compares very well with the best short sf today.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Snailzilla Attacks

Originally uploaded by zenera

[Ficlets is being turned off by AOL on January 15. Here's one of my ficlets that never got posted here.]

Leaving gooey destruction in its wake, Snailzilla oozed back into the turquoise depths from whence it came.

Who knows why it chose to erupt (slowly) from its watery slumbers? Who can tell what provoked it into the (rather sedate, and quite beautiful) mating frenzy with New York? Perhaps only Professor Limpopo Flatnat, international playboy and mollusc expert.

Even now, the National Guard are combing the sticky ruins, searching desperately for a trace of the gallant Professor. Last seen leaping onto the writhing gastropod from the top of the Empire State building, a rusty letter-opener in one hand and a salt shaker in the other, his last words screamed over his shoulder to his faithful assistant, Juan: “I’ve always loved you, you know!”

He gave his life for the city, and the assistant, he loved. Perhaps his rapid application of salt caused the great beast to retreat, or perhaps, its fearsome lust slaked (and slathered) on the back of Liberty herself, the creature lost interest. We shall never know.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


"Fast Ships, Black Sails" be a treasure trove of tales from the high seas. Oh, and the high skies, some ice, and a noggin of vacuum. They's all yarns of a piratical bent, as generous with adventure as the first mate is dispensin' licks o'the cat.

Standout examples of swashbucklin' are from Howard Waldrop (pirates of penzance meet captain hook), Garth Nix and Conrad Williams. Fine seamen all, and I'd be proud to sail with 'em.