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review 2019-06-02 00:00
Hot Times in Magma City, 1990-95
Hot Times in Magma City, 1990-95 - Robert Silverberg This volume in the continuing series from Subterranean Press collects Robert Silverberg stories from 1990-1995. ‘Hot Times In Magma City’ opens with a general introduction in which the author fondly reminisces about the good old days when he started out writing Science Fiction. This is followed by thirteen stories, each blessed with another introduction explaining the circumstances in which they were written. It’s a nice mix of long and short fiction but as the long are generally more interesting, having more content and more space for the development of character and theme and I will deal with those first.

‘A Long Night’s Vigil At The Temple’ is about a Pope who is led to question the basis of his life’s work and religion. He’s not called the Pope, he’s called the Warder and his post is hereditary in a religion with three principal deities. These were aliens who reputedly saved Earth in its time of crisis then ascended to the stars but will return one day in glory. The religion is now thousands of years old and steeped in ancient traditions. Silverberg’s allegory is not subtle but he is sympathetic to his main character and the moral dilemma he faces. A lesser writer would have had the usual cheap shots at religion.

In ’Thebes Of The Hundred Gates’, the author takes the view, as in many other of his time travel stories, that if temporal relocation is possible at all there will be a few chaps from the future scattered through history. In some yarns, they are practically tripping over each other but, in this one, there are only three involved. As Silverberg’s non-fiction includes several books on archaeology, you can rest assured that the ancient Egyptian setting is authentically rendered but the ending may disappoint.

Alternative history is now a legitimate branch of Science Fiction and one to which Silverberg, with his aforementioned archaeological interests, is clearly drawn. Another yarn set in the past is ‘Looking For The Fountain’, narrated by Francisco de Ortega in old age. He accompanied Don Juan Ponce de Leon on his famous hunt for the fountain, whose benefits were not apparently youth itself but rather youthful vigour for men when bedtime came. The alternative bit is that the Spaniards encounter a tribe of Christian natives keen to free Jerusalem from the yoke of the Mohammedans. The story draws you in nicely but ends, to my mind, weakly. One of the shorter stories here, ‘The Red Blaze Is The Morning’, is actually set in an archaeological dig and is about a revered professional getting older and finding his work more of a struggle than he could ever have dreamed in his youth. He has an interesting liaison with another being, one so strange that he thinks he’s going mad.

Silverberg has done a few yarns set in an Earth conquered by aliens, so superior to us they treat us with absolute contempt. Sometimes they just go about their business and ignore us completely, swatting us like flies if we get in their way. Such is the case with the Spooks in ‘The Way To Spook City’. Early in the 21st century, they took over a large swathe of the USA and set up a border around it that can be crossed with some discomfort. Young men often enter the alien lands as a rite of passage and most return. Tom Demeris did not, so his older brother goes looking for him. There’s a lot of colourful scenery and some intriguing developments before the end.

The story that gives the book its title, ‘Hot Times In Magma City’, concludes the collection. Unusually for an author who often gives us far out stuff it is almost ‘tomorrow fiction’ being concerned with volcanic activity in the Los Angeles area. Our heroes are a bunch of people doing Citizens Service by acting as an emergency response team when there is a new lava eruption. Another writer or Hollywood would have shown the impact of the disaster on a nuclear family of mom, pop and two naughty but adorable children. Silverberg focuses on a bunch of alcoholics, drug addicts, drop-outs and others in recovery trying to get their lives back together with community service. Quite touching and probably the best thing in the book.

Shorter tales include ‘In The Clone Zone’, about the cloning of humans. What type of man would be keen to be cloned and able to order it done? Why a ruthless South American dictator, obviously. Silverberg delivers an interesting twist to the moral issues that cloning may generate. He takes it for granted that once it’s possible to clone men then someone will do it, regardless of international law. We may soon find out. ‘Hunters In The Forest’ is a yarn in which rich time travellers go back to look at dinosaurs and a man chooses between a safe future and one of daring bravery. It’s very clever and expertly done with a great ending. ‘It Comes And Goes’ is a downbeat fantasy about a house that vanishes and reappears mysteriously. A weak story for a writer of Silverberg’s calibre but ‘Playboy’ paid him for it.

As the notes make clear, Silverberg seldom seems to have much fun with his writing but there are exceptions. One such is ‘The Martian Invasion Journal Of Henry James’, in which that famed author is visiting H.G. Wells when the Martians land on Horsell Common. Some exciting adventures follow and the first person narrative, from James’ lost notebook, is expertly done in the style of the time. I also enjoyed ‘The Second Shield’ in which a man whose dreams create real but temporary objects is harassed by a bullying billionaire. This had a clever ending which showed that the author can still do great plots.

Robert Silverberg is the editor of an excellent anthology ‘Worlds Of Wonder’, which features thirteen classic science fiction stories and a long autobiographical introduction in which he tells us how he became a writer. He says that in fiction ‘a dramatic situation is proposed, displayed and resolved. The resolution, by demonstrating a return to the natural harmony of the universe, sends the audience home cleansed and calm – purged, as Aristotle said – of pity and fear. The introduction to ‘Worlds Of Wonder’ is probably the best thing a budding writer could read but Silverberg seems, on occasion, to have forgotten his own advice in later years or perhaps outgrown it. His mature writings are influenced not by pulp fiction authors featured in Science Fiction mags but by the literary greats, particularly Joseph Conrad. A few of these stories seem to me to have weak endings, which means a weak plot. Of course, plot isn’t everything and is considered almost unnecessary in some literary circles. In genre fiction, however, we still like it.

To be fair, I think I was spoiled by the last anthology I read, ‘We Are For The Dark: 1987-90: Volume Seven’, which was awesome. This collection is simply every story he wrote over a five year period. There are bound to be a few damp squibs in the output of any prolific author but there’s enough quality Silverberg here to make it worthwhile. The good stuff is concentrated in the second half of the book, so don’t be put off at the start.

Eamonn Murphy
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/
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review 2018-12-09 10:46
Coagulating Disgust: "I Was Dora Suarez" by Derek Raymond
I Was Dora Suarez (Factory 4) - Derek Raymond

(Original Review, 1990-04-17)

“He produced a big 9mm Quickhammer automatic with the tired ease of a conjurer showing off to a few girls and shlacked one into the chamber. He told Roatta: ‘Now I want you nice and still while all this is going on, Felix, because you’re going to make a terrible lot of mess.’
Roatta immediately screamed: ‘Wait! Wait!’ but his eyes were brighter than he was, and knew better. They had stopped moving before he did, because they could see there was nothing more profitable for them to look at, so instead they turned into a pair of dark, oily stones fixed on the last thing they would ever see – eternity in the barrel of a pistol. His ears were also straining with the intensity of a concert pianist for the first minute action inside the weapon as the killer’s finger tightened, because they knew that was the last sound they would ever heard. So in his last seconds of life, each of them arranged for him by his senses, Roatta sat waiting for the gun to explode with the rapt attention of an opera goer during a performance by his favourite star, leaning further and further forward in his chair until his existence was filled by, narrowed down to, and finally became the gun.”

In "I Was Dora Suarez" by Derek Raymond




If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-11-02 14:21
Simultaneous Worlds: "Wittgenstein's Mistress" by David Markson
Wittgenstein's Mistress - David Markson,Steven Moore

(Original Review, 1990)

I think the point—or premise?—of “Wittgenstein's Mistress” is that the monologue of the only person on Earth—necessarily, in the physical sense of "only", a "monologue"—is not actually a monologue. Language itself—emerging or disclosed in and through the concrete words and usage of Kate's 'monologue'—is already communal, social, cultural, historical — even if there's only one person left. 



If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-09-21 18:31
Gibsonesque State: "Mona Lisa Overdrive" by William Gibson
Mona Lisa Overdrive - William Gibson

Is there a Monalisa Overdrive future in the works? That's not to say that there aren't plenty of SF predicted futures for the world that involve a sort of Utopian society where experiences are increasingly shared and cooperative than individually ring-fenced and private, but it's very easy to discredit them on the grounds of communist and socialist critique and all the heavy baggage that comes along with that. The other biggest practical stumbling block are all those who just can't help but get ahead of themselves - or perhaps panic at what they see as the emergent imminent apocalyptic Gibsonesque state and use this as a justification for taking extreme attitudes towards people who don't agree with them, but when we do this, it's just an expression of weakness and lack of confidence in our own ideas.



If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-08-24 22:06
Christological Sacrifices: "The Lord of the Rings Trilogy" by Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

It is not really possible to re-read a book, just as it is not really possible to step into the same river twice. The next time, one's thinking is going to be entirely different. I have read "LoTR" half a dozen times. Each has been different. I think Heraclitus even said you couldn't step into the same river even once. I know what he's talking about. Every single time is a new time.

I remember when I was seven being bored stiff reading and rereading the reading scheme books for my 'assessed reading age' at school. The problem was that I was being assessed by my ability at reading aloud and not allowed to progress until I had read each one to the teacher. I was already a silent reader of proper books from the Praça de Chile Library and could read the scheme books a dozen times before I was called.



If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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