The Truth and Other Stories

Stanislaw Lem was one of the greats of classic science fiction. This is a collection of twelve of his stories, most never before translated into English from the original Polish. These are dense stories filled with scientific jargon and will take a while to read. The best of the bunch are “The Friend” and “Darkness and Mildew.”

1. The Hunt (Late 1950s) is a story told from the point of view of something not human, something possibly mechanical in nature, who is being hunted for sport through forests and mountains. It is a poetic story, which brings to life the environment he is running through.

2. Rat in the Labyrinth (1956) is a first contact story and, as it so often goes, first contact with aliens is nothing like we ever imagined. Here, it is an episode so odd and different than almost anyone expected. This one starts out slowly, but you have to stick with it to get to the good stuff. It may indeed feel more like an endless labyrinth than a flying saucer.

3. Invasion from Aldebaran (1959) is another first contact story, but it flips the Rat in a Labyrinth story on its head by viewing the first contact from the point of view of the many-tentacled aliens. The oddness with which they understand Earth is just how odd we would find an alien world out there.

4. The Friend (1959) revisits the theme of First contact and, once again, it is nothing like you imagined. Leg starts this terrifying take slowly with a stranger visiting a shortwave radio club. But, see, the stranger has s secret friend who is quite out of this world.

5. The Invasion (1959) is a hard science look at first contact. It starts out just peaceful out in the field. A tough, awkward read. Interesting thing is how Lem anticipated three-d printing.

6. Darkness and Mildew (1959) is for a change of pace not exactly a first contact story and it’d also my favorite so far. Think Dr. Frankenstein meets Dr. Doolittle. Think deeply before you watch another episode of “Hoarders.” Lem’s quirky sense of humor is also at play here.

7. The Hammer (1959) is a tough one to follow, but it’s a real early look into the nature of artificial intelligence.

8. Lymphater’s Formula (1961) starts out as a difficult read, but ultimately is a very satisfying tale. If you thought Dr. Frankenstein appeared in an earlier story, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Evolution slowly progresses.

9. The Journal (1962) is a technically-rich story written in the form of an entry to a scientific journal. Thus, the title.

12. The Truth (1964) explores the idea of what is life and what is intelligent.

11. One Hundred and Thirty-Seven Seconds (1976)

12. An Enigma (1993) is about predictions and intelligent thought.

C’Mon and Do the Apocalypse

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You can never have too much about zombies. At least that’s what I think. Sure you’ve got all the tv shows and such, but zombie apocalypse stories allow you to envision a different world where all the trappings of civilization are gone and you can focus on what’s important– like staying alive — and what loyalty means in this new and different context.

Stripper Pole at the End of the World

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Beetner gives it to the reader as advertised. A schlocky horror movie about a one- legged stripper at the end of the world on the run from hordes of cannibals. It should come as no surprise that something so aptly titled should be gross and gruesome. Picture the world of Walking Dead, but replace the zombies with cannibals and center the story on a strip club featuring damaged girls. See, the civilization just collapsed and now it’s everyone for themselves. It’s difficult to know how to rate such work. As high literature, the merits are questionable. It won’t be featured in tenth grade English class. But as a selection of schlocky campy horror, it does well.

The Yankee Years

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The book traces the Yankees through Torre’s years with the team and does contain a particular point of view: that the team of the glory years from 1996 through 2001 was terrific and did things wonderfully and that the teams that followed that were created by Cashman and Levine were flawed. The book has a number of different chapters and talks about such things as Knoblach’s throwing foibles, the Mitchell Report and the links with Giambi and other players. It seems to idolize the hardnosed working class players like O’Neill and Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada and take large issue with the highly paid, steroid- enhanced players that followed in the 2000s.

Overall, the book is good and those who are familiar with the stories about the old championships in the 1996-2000 era can remind themselves about those stories. I remember breathlessly awaiting each pitch and every throw, including Jeter’s famous flip throw and Knoblach’s standing and arguing with the umpire while runners rounded the bases. Worth reading, but like Boomer Wells, not perfect.

Season of Smoke

Season of Smoke is the third book in Pasquella’s Jack Palace series, a gritty trip through the dark side of Toronto. Jack is back in town. He’s not drinking, but trouble still seems to follow him whether it’s an arson to his mobile home, a choice between killing a friend or being the target himself, or a simple price on his head. Jack wants to go straight, running a legitimate security business, but the past has its fingers wrapped tightly around his throats and it’s questionable whether he’ll ever feel free. An exciting crime fiction read from north of the border.

GO-GO GIRLS OF THE APOCALYPSE

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Although it may seem like just about everyone is writing a post- apocalyptic tale these days, few have ever done it as well as Gischler. This end-of-the World story is so well written and so easy to read. It hardens back to classic science fiction end of the world stories like Heinlein’s Farnham’s Freehold or Burroughs’ Moon Maid Trilogy. There’s even a nod to Anderson’s Virgin Planet – an offbeat nod.

It is a story which is often kitschy and irreverently told but works because Gischler’s keeps the entire story firmly rooted in his new world. It follows the crazy adventures of a man who knew the end of the world was coming and prepared for it. But after nine years alone in his mountain, he thinks it’s time to visit society – or the semblance of near anarchy that now passes for society.
Between running from cannibals and Mother Superiors, Mortimer becomes a celebrity at a chain of go-go dancing clubs, Armageddon Joeys, that also double as trading posts and gets involved in a war between the states.

At no point in reading this did I voluntarily put it down. It’s just plain great entertainment from beginning to end. This is excellent stuff.

Hey, that Robot ate my Baby

Everything about this publication is simply amazing from the title to the comicbook like cover art to the selection of top-notch authors to the stories themselves. This is a first-class pulsating pulp publication. But what is most impressive is the stories. Time traveling has always had its difficulties, chief among them the fact that you can’t go back in time and step on a leaf without changing the course of history. But what if a company has created millions of alternate timelines so you can step on a leaf or stop Lincoln’s assassination and see what happens? A story that combines Ayn Rand’s strange love affairs and plugging in Neo-style from the Matrix complete with Kung Fu action. Wow! And what if the UFOs in the 1950’s really did land and capture people and implant things in them? Combining a circus with a formless gooey void like being in giant test tube is a story that is just waiting to be hatched- er, I mean, read. It is like a newer, more modern version of Twilight Zone. And but what if you could use computers to control what people thought felt tasted smelled? Would they be like just a bunch of puppets at your neck and call? Seriously, this is just a terrific collection.

A Planet Called Utopia

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At its best, science fiction explores themes and theories that wouldn’t otherwise be able to be explored. J T McIntosh is not the most well known science fiction writer, but he’s one of the best. In this excellent novel, McIntosh explores the possibilities of immortality. The thesis is what would happen if there was one planet where the secret to immortality was discovered. What would that society be like? One of the immediately obvious problems to immortality is overpopulation. Utopia solves that by making the population artificially infertile, vastly limiting births, and making marriage just about illegal. Of course, in this world, with everlasting life, no marriage, and no children, sex is easy and plentiful.

The story involves the first visitor in 300 years to Utopia, Hardy Cronyn, and his introduction to this strange new world that boasted such positives but also so many new and strange customs. It also involves him in quite newsworthy events that he sort of stumbled into.

It is a well-crafted story, easy to read, and quite captivating.

The Echoed Realm

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“The Echoed Realm” is the second and final book of Vrana’s Chaos duology (which is a two-book trilogy).  Reading book one first (The Hollow Gods) is highly recommended or, at least, reading it closely in time to Echoed Realm.  It is part urban fantasy, part myth, part lyrical prose, and can be confusing at times to those who have not delved into the background set forth in the first book.  The key to understanding and enjoying these two books are that they tell a story partly grounded in today, partly grounded in a long-ago yesterday, and partly placed in an entirely different realm of dreams and nightmares. 

It is now three years after the events in the first book and Miya has firmly accepted that she is the Dream Walker.  No longer in fear of being burned at the stake (at least not afraid for the most part), she is hunting for fissures between the realms where demons have spit out into our reality.  She is connected both literally and figuratively to the Black Wolf, Kai, in a torrid love affair, but tethered as she crosses between realms.  On this side of the divide, Miya visits West Virginia and Louisiana, and finds the powers on the other side because she is not bound by reality, but transcends it. 

A large part of the novel, like the first one in this two-book series, is the magical prose which never fails to let the reader know that Miya is in the dreamscape where all is timeless and death does not exist.  Back in the real world, though, it is as “humid as Satan’s balls” and “[e]verything stank like pickle juice and wet clay.”  And, it is spooky as the townspeople seem to hide when the sun dips beneath the skyline.  When she fights demons, she releases “a torrent of shimmering smoke” and “[d]ark vapour woven from amethyst and obsidian.”

It is not a classic expository story, but dips here and there and takes a long detour into the myths and fables of small villages and howling wolves and beings that hover between Gods and Devils.  The best way to clamber through this one is to enjoy the lyrical poetry and let the story take you where it needs to take you. 

SPLIT DECISION

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Eric Beetner is the guy who brought us the classic “Stripper Pole at the End of the World” about a one-legged stripper surrounded by hordes of drooling cannibals. So you have to wonder what he brings to the table in “Split Decision.” Here, he has crafted a solid boxing tale true to the Fight Card tradition. Solidly set in the late post-war 1940’s in Kansas City, this is the story of a boxer who struggles with his ethics and the lessons taught to him by Father Tim at the Chicago orphanage where many of the Fight Card boxers grew up. Of course, if you know anything about boxing and boxing stories, ethics means someone wants him to take a dive. But, Beetner is a terrific writer and this is not just some cliched story that you have heard before. It is filled with period references, with solid boxing action that makes you feel as if you are right there watching the action, and a good, plot line. If you like the Fight Card series, there is nothing not to like about this selection. If you are new to this series, there is no better place to dive in but this one. And, if you are looking for that tough, solid, furious action, you came to the right place.