Posts Tagged ‘classic sci-fi’

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Escape Pod 744: The Evening, the Morning and the Night (Summer Flashback)


The Evening, the Morning and the Night

by Octavia Butler

[EDITOR: We don’t have the rights to post the text of this story.]

Host Commentary

by Alasdair Stuart

Welcome to Escape Pod Summer School’s final month!

The plan with these episodes has been to stack all our flashbacks in one place, and to use them to explore big concepts in some detail.

I’m Alasdair, your host for these episodes, over the last few weeks, we’ve looked at the different ways science fiction explores space, we’ve looked at the concept of invasion, and this month, we’re taking a look at identity, and we’re starting with the amazing Octavia Butler.

One of the all-time greats, Butler’s work is redolent with this theme. This story in particular, a novelette, explores identity in a half-dozen different ways, and does so with Butler’s customary grace, compassion, and laser-focused vision.

Some logistics for you before we dive in: this episode was originally published Feb 2nd 2015, your narrator is Amanda Ching, your host for the original episode was Norm Sherman, your audio producer for the original episode was Mat Weller.

And without further adieu, it’s story time!


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Escape Pod 690: The Things (Flashback Friday)

Show Notes

2011 Hugo Award Nominee
2010 BSFA Award Finalist
2010 Shirley Jackson Award Winner
2011 Finalist: the Locus Award for Best Short Story
2011 Theodore Sturgeon Award Nominee

Kate Baker Homepage: https://www.anaedream.com

Kate Baker Twitter: @Kate_Baker

Cast of Wonders: Old Tea Cups and Kitchen Witches by Kate Baker

Peter Watts Homepage: https://www.rifters.com

Wikipedia: John W. Campbell

Wikipedia: Who Goes There?

American SF and the Other by Ursula K. LeGuin

Village Voice: The Men Who Were The Thing


The Things

by Peter Watts

I am being Blair. I escape out the back as the world comes in through the front.

I am being Copper. I am rising from the dead.

I am being Childs. I am guarding the main entrance.

The names don’t matter. They are placeholders, nothing more; all biomass is interchangeable. What matters is that these are all that is left of me. The world has burned everything else.

I see myself through the window, loping through the storm, wearing Blair. MacReady has told me to burn Blair if he comes back alone, but MacReady still thinks I am one of him. I am not: I am being Blair, and I am at the door. I am being Childs, and I let myself in. I take brief communion, tendrils writhing forth from my faces, intertwining: I am BlairChilds, exchanging news of the world.

The world has found me out. It has discovered my burrow beneath the tool shed, the half-finished lifeboat cannibalized from the viscera of dead helicopters. The world is busy destroying my means of escape. Then it will come back for me.

There is only one option left. I disintegrate. Being Blair, I go to share the plan with Copper and to feed on the rotting biomass once called Clarke; so many changes in so short a time have dangerously depleted my reserves. Being Childs, I have already consumed what was left of Fuchs and am replenished for the next phase. I sling the flamethrower onto my back and head outside, into the long Antarctic night.

I will go into the storm, and never come back.

(Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 500: The Man Who Lost the Sea


The Man Who Lost the Sea

By Theodore Sturgeon

[EDITOR: This was originally released as audio-only, and we don’t have the rights to post the text of this story. It’s widely available online by searching.]

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Escape Pod 487: New Folks’ Home


New Folks’ Home

by Clifford D. Simak

[EDITOR: We don’t have the rights to post the text of this story, but it’s widely available online by searching.]

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Escape Pod 479: The Evening, The Morning and the Night


The Evening, The Morning and the Night

by Octavia Butler

[EDITOR: We don’t have the rights to post the text of this story.]

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Escape Pod 455: Keep Your Shape


Keep Your Shape

by Robert Sheckley

Pid the Pilot slowed the ship almost to a standstill, and peered anxiously at the green planet below.

Even without instruments, there was no mistaking it. Third from its sun, it was the only planet in this system capable of sustaining life. Peacefully it swam beneath its gauze of clouds.

It looked very innocent. And yet, twenty previous Grom expeditions had set out to prepare this planet for invasion—and vanished utterly, without a word.

Pid hesitated only a moment, before starting irrevocably down. There was no point in hovering and worrying. He and his two crewmen were as ready now as they would ever be. Their compact Displacers were stored in body pouches, inactive but ready.

Pid wanted to say something to his crew, but wasn’t sure how to put it.

The crew waited. Ilg the Radioman had sent the final message to the Grom planet. Ger the Detector read sixteen dials at once, and reported, “No sign of alien activity.” His body surfaces flowed carelessly.

Noticing the flow, Pid knew what to say to his crew. Ever since they had left Grom, shape-discipline had been disgustingly lax. The Invasion Chief had warned him; but still, he had to do something about it. It was his duty, since lower castes such as Radiomen and Detectors were notoriously prone to Shapelessness.

“A lot of hopes are resting on this expedition,” he began slowly. “We’re a long way from home now.”

Ger the Detector nodded. Ilg the Radioman flowed out of his prescribed shape and molded himself comfortably to a wall.

“However,” Pid said sternly, “distance is no excuse for promiscuous Shapelessness.”
Ilg flowed hastily back into proper Radioman’s shape.

“Exotic forms will undoubtedly be called for,” Pid went on. “And for that we have a special dispensation. But remember—anyshape not assumed strictly in the line of duty is a foul, lawless device of The Shapeless One!”

Ger’s body surfaces abruptly stopped flowing.

“That’s all,” Pid said, and flowed into his controls. The ship started down, so smoothly co-ordinated that Pid felt a glow of pride.

They were good workers, he decided. He just couldn’t expect them to be as shape-conscious as a high-caste Pilot. Even the Invasion Chief had told him that.

“Pid,” the Invasion Chief had said at their last interview, “we need this planet desperately.”

“Yes, sir,” Pid had said, standing at full attention, never quivering from Optimum Pilot’s Shape.

“One of you,” the Chief said heavily, “must get through and set up a Displacer near an atomic power source. The army will be standing by at this end, ready to step through.”
“We’ll do it, sir,” Pid said.

“This expedition has to succeed,” the Chief said, and his features blurred momentarily from sheer fatigue. “In strictest confidence, there’s considerable unrest on Grom. The Miner caste is on strike, for instance. They want a new digging shape. Say the old one is inefficient.”

Pid looked properly indignant. The Mining Shape had been set down by the Ancients fifty thousand years ago, together with the rest of the basic shapes. And now these upstarts wanted to change it!

“That’s not all,” the Chief told him. “We’ve uncovered a new Cult of Shapelessness. Picked up almost eight thousand Grom, and I don’t know how many more we missed.”

Pid knew that Shapelessness was a lure of The Shapeless One, the greatest evil that the Grom mind could conceive of. But why, he wondered, did so many Grom fall for His lures?

(Continue Reading…)

Review: A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs


One of the things I’m going to miss terribly when e-books are the norm and brick-and-mortar stores are few and far between will be the opportunity to walk into a bookstore, pick up the one thing I really want to read, and then hit the discount rack on the way to the checkout. That’s exactly what I did when I was in Florida recently, picking up I Shall Wear Midnight, which I later reviewed on this site.

Among the books I picked up on my way out of the store was a three-pack of John Carter of Mars novels, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’d heard there might be a movie coming soon, and I wanted to familiarize myself with a sci-fi classic that I probably should’ve read long ago anyway.

Now that I’ve finished A Princess of Mars, I can sort of see why they’re classics. Sort of.

Like many novels written in the late 19th/early 20th century, A Princess of Mars starts out with the discovery of a manuscript by the author himself, and his memories of “Uncle Jack”. Burroughs uses the device effectively to set up the mythology of John Carter, and then jumps into the story. The first act is fairly straightforward: Carter goes to Mars, discovers he’s stronger than most everyone there, and manages to impress the natives. Burroughs spends a lot of time describing this new world, and though most readers of current fiction would say tl;dr or bemoan the author’s use of infodumps, that was the style back then, so I give it a pass. At the end of that act, he meets Dejah Thoris, the eponymous Princess of Mars, and decides he’s fallen in love with her.

By this point in the novel, I’d hit on its major sticking point — at least, in my mind — and it’s something I’ve seen in other fiction of the era: John Carter… well, he’s awesome.

No, he’s not awesome. He’s AWESOME. There’s literally nothing John Carter cannot do on Mars: he has superior strength, agility, martial prowess, physical attractiveness (as compared to humans of Earth, not the Green Men of Barsoom), problem-solving skills, intelligence, and luck. It’s like God rolled a series of natural 20s when He was creating Carter, and Carter knows exactly how to take advantage of that. He instantly figures out how to move in Mars’s lower gravity. He applies his knowledge of battle from the Civil War to fighting alongside several different alien races. He isn’t completely floored by the weird appearance of the Tharks (the green men of Mars). He learns to speak the Martian language and use Martian telepathy despite not — to our knowledge, anyway — knowing any languages other than English nor how to be telepathic at all beforehand.

And, what’s more, he instantly wins the trust of pretty much everyone around him. The few who don’t like him are so clearly Stereotypical Evil Characters that the reader knows almost immediately they’ll be getting some kind of comeuppance, most likely at Carter’s hands (or sword).

The rest of the story is spent on getting Carter back together with Thoris — they are separated in the second act — and it’s kind of blah through there (there’s even a pod racing scene, sort of) before the grand finale, when Carter leads the good Martians against some really, really, unmistake-ably evil Martians. Kind of like how, in Star Trek 6, there were honorable Klingons and evil Klingons.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. There was lots of adventure, interesting scenery and worldbuilding, and if the aliens were a little too human, that’s not really a failing — it’s just the way stories were written back then. Besides, the characters are consistent within themselves — none of them do anything that immediately drags you out of the story. The ending wraps up a little too fast, as stories from that era were wont to do, but that’s okay, because we know there’ll be more John Carter of Mars stories coming up. I feel bad for readers of that era, who didn’t know there’d be more.

A Princess of Mars is short enough that you can read it in a weekend, if you read at a good clip. The version I have has some very nice illustrations by Thomas Yeates, and an introduction by Mike Ashley that lays out the history of the Barsoom series. The book itself is suitable for reading by mature tweens who are already into sci-fi or adventure stories, though the illustrations do contain PG-13 nudity (Carter himself shows up naked on Mars, and to assimilate with the Tharks, he forgoes clothing as they do). I’m glad I picked it up, and I’m currently enjoying the second book, Gods of Mars, which is part of the omnibus.