Light in the Bushel No. 4 - February '87
Starting from Scratch logo by Taral October, when I got back from my trip to Austin, I ran into my friend Ben. He asked me how the trip was. I told him I had what, for me, passes as a good time.

"Don't give me that, Richard," he scoffed. "I've seen you having a good time, and a good time for you is a good time for anybody."

Well.

Among my local friends, October will be remembered as the month I asked someone out on a date. (She said she was really busy. Until February or so.) More significant to me, however, was an incident on Halloween night. I had decided to check out my favorite haunt, and on the way in I spotted a couple arguing in the adjacent parking lot. The match had obviously reached fever pitch, although all I could really make out was the babble of heated voices, with the odd lone expletive piercing the threshold of hearing like a shot. At one point, he grabbed hold of her arm, she made futile attempts to pull away, and when he ignored her pleas to let go finally let out a half-hearted "help." At that point I finally started moseying over, to see what's the problem, folks. Wouldn't you know it --at that moment some nosy cop decides to pull in and check out the situation. He seemed to take it pretty well in hand, so I moved on. But you can hardly imagine my disap-pointment. For just a moment there, regardless of the risk or the cost, I very nearly stepped right into the heart of life, right where it was being lived at its most intense.

Pretty scary, hey, kids?

November, an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner came my way, via the agency of my ex, of all people. I had met these folks at a dinner party some time earlier. "Why don't you bring that nice young man you had with you that one time?" they asked her. "That was my ex-husband, but thank you," she said.

Who am I kidding? In spite of what I said last October, the two of us had continued seeing each other, on a quite intimate if sporadic basis, in the interval, just as we had for most of the duration of our so-called rift. I guess I was more than a little distressed, then, to be told on my way back from dinner that she was seeing someone she had met at a folk concert the previous week, and she had every expectation that it might turn serious. Then she asked if I wanted to take her to the new Star Trek movie the next day. I ended up declining. But I had to sleep on it.

December, I went out on a date, and it didn't go too badly. I may have another one sometime. (I jest, of course. Nowadays, hardly a month goes by without one.)

At our friends' annual pre-Christmas potluck supper, my ex asked if I'd heard the news. Seems her guy had proposed, and they're planning to tie the knot in June. I lost a lot of sleep working out how to take this. I mean, you don't have to be an idiot savant to work out the time frame of all this. At first, I had the resentful feeling that I had been strung along for months on end, and dumped the very moment my replacement had been found. But a more honest assessment of the facts brought me face to face with the inexplicable truth of the situation: We were just never able to leave one another alone. I had always known the only way we could put an end to this was when one of us had found another partner, and much of the time my behavior had reflected that awareness. It was just her luck to be first to land one, and a damn good strike she made, too.

Amazingly but with slow inevitability, it dawned on me that I am genuinely happy for her.

And so I came upon my lesson for the year: Misery is easily contained between issues, but having to keep happiness to yourself is beyond bearing.

"It is both impossible and absurd to judge an event from outside. One keeps the right to hold this absurd misfortune in contempt only by remaining inside it."
--Albert Camus, Notebooks 1935-1942

Amigocon 2 (or Boskone-on-the-Border, as I think of it) will be held the weekend of May 1-3 at the Holiday Inn-Sunland Park, here in El Paso, Texas. Guests-of-Honor are Stephen R. Donaldson and Real Musgrave. Memberships are $12 in advance or $15 at-the-door, and that address again is EPSFFA, P.O. Box 3177, El Paso, TX 79923. Yours truly is editing the program book (can't make it to the con? They make great gifts!), organizing the auction, and is preparing a killer trivia contest, which has him driving himself blind over the computer for many a sleepless night.

Brad Foster
The diminutive Spinrad is very charming at the moment, but known for a volcanic temper. Will. the august proceedings be enlivened by fisticuffs?

"It happened last year," Spinrad hedges, then breaks into a grin, "Charles Platt got into it with Ellison."

"You know Harlan," muses Warren C. Norwood. Every-one nods and sighs.

"Watch out, he hates book reviewers." I glance around nervously. Then Spinrad chuckles. "Ah, forget it. Of course, no one exactly jumped in to rescue Platt!" Much nodding and laughing.

--Chuck Moss, "The Night of the Nebulas" San Francisco Examiner

Last year a friend of mine, who as it happens was undergoing therapy to cope with some heavy transitions in her life, lent me a book by Christopher Rowley called Starhammer (Del Rey). I thought it a particularly gaudy example of space opera, but my friend said she admired the hero. "All the most terrible things in the universe happen to him," she said, "but he never gives up."

Gives me cause to wonder what right I have to sit here and trash the run-of-the-mill space epics and mock-medieval sagas that keep crossing my desk. Who is to say that the people who do read and enjoy this stuff are not getting a hell of a lot more of importance out of it than the transitory pleasure I get even from the books I value highly, let alone the fleeting thrill of dismissing something as tripe in a few cursory remarks.

Moreover, in my best effort this year to read all the literature of the fantastic that arrived at our library this year, date of publication 1986, 1 came to wonder if I wasn't wasting a lot of my time keeping up with all of the utter crap that gets published in the field. So don't be surprised if, next time I bring up the topic of books, I want to share my thoughts on Kafka, Graham Greene, or my main man Camus. In the meantime, if I don't share the thoughts I've been saving up while plowing through the year's output in SF&F, then I really was wasting my time, wasn't I?

Interesting... (Sheryl Birkhead) At 1,338 Pages, the real horror of Stephen King's IT (Viking) is that you might drop it on your foot. Room here for a good novel and a couple of bad ones, and I think we got it all, folks. IT only starts getting silly towards the end, especially when King displays his uncertain grasp of the metaphysics involved; but the real horrors of life, King's best subject, are only trivialized by monsters which are insufficient to explain them. May I add to the litany of errors compiled by Mr. Budrys that Mr. King mis-remembers the title of the "Rick Brant Electronic Adventures", but then, who hasn't?

A book I do recommend is Gene Wolfe's Soldier of the Mist (Tor), in which a blow to the head has left a mercenary in ancient Greece with only half a days' worth of memory; if he doesn't write down everything in a scroll, he'll lose all knowledge of it by the next day. This book is his scroll, and we watch the character not only recreating his own identity each day, but often that of those around him. His injury also makes him see things other folks don't. Like the gods. Absolutely fascinating; things do start flagging at the end, perhaps because Wolfe is pausing for breath before tackling the next five or six volumes he purportedly contemplates .... And I recommend without reservations William Gibson's Count Zero (Arbor House), which impressed me more on a second reading. As in Neuromancer, the characters are pawns in the employ of godlike artificial intelligences, but this time some of them have better luck achieving self-determination. People grow in this book, folks. It's a mark of the depth to which Gibson has filled out his future, that I didn't figure out the lensless-glasses schtick until reading Michael Bishop's Ancient of Days.... I should have guessed the multi-generational saga would infiltrate the sf racks; I just didn't expect one from Pamela Sargent. In Venus of Dreams (Bantam), she keeps the focus firmly on the characters, who are gems: many-faceted and believably flawed....Also from Bantam is Elizabeth Scarborough's Wild West fantasy, The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas; any book that mentions Allen Damron can't be all bad. I see Bantam is putting mug shots of the authors on the inside back cover, along with a bio. However, they are still running the usual bio on the facing page, with enough incongruity between the two write-ups to suggest this project isn't being too well coordinated....Over at Baen, Robert Forward's laudatory remarks for Charles Sheffield's The Nimrod Hunt are misquoted on the front cover--which raises all manner of disturbing possibilities. As for the book, it's one of those incredibly complex melanges of subplots and intrigues where you quickly lose sight of the initial premise that supposedly is driving the plot machinery, and once you're reminded you're not likely to care .... Heart of the Comet by Brin and Bedford (Bantam/Spectra) is about a mission to Halley's which is projected to last for decades. Not surprisingly, things don't go quite as planned. Somehow I feel the same must have happened during the plotting of this book; nevertheless, the wealth of detail is fascinating.

Norman Spinrad said the last chapter of Ender's Game felt like Orson Scott Card had crammed a novel's worth of incident into a hasty finale in the attempt to tack on a fulfilling but superfluous ending. Now there's Speaker for the Dead (Tor), which reads like a happy ending drawn out to novel length. We assume Ender has had some pretty bleak years in between, but we don't get any of that, do we? Card writes movingly of the human relationships in this novel; unfortunately, he has also conditioned us to see the aliens in the story as porkers, so it's hard to take them seriously, even if you can overlook the extremely unlikely biology.

Remember how Isaac Asimov made a really blatant and awkward attempt to tie together his stfnal corpus in Foundation's Edge, then tried again in Robots of Dawn and finally got it right? Well, if you've read Robots and Empire, you have a pretty good idea of where he's going with Foundation and Earth (Doubleday). You may not expect to have the whole journey turn out to be a prolonged maneuver to set up the initial premise of his next novel, however. This one combines the Doctor's strengths (odd other-world cultures) with his most egregious flaws (insufferable pedanticism). The characters drone on and on about how even human excrement on Gaea has attained a level of consciousness, until you want to beat the living shit out of them....Arthur C. Clarke, in the meantime, brings us The Songs of Distant Earth (Del Rey). If you can skip the philosophical lectures, you're left with a trifle in which not much really happens....Mike Resnick's Santiago (Tor) is a rollicking tall tale, up to the point where we finally meet the eponymous mythical hero, at which point it bogs down in the typical Tour-of-Utopia treatment. It is this latter segment which we are no doubt meant to consider Important....Conversely, Ron Goulart's Galaxy Jane (Berkley) shows intriguing signs now and then that Ron could tackle something deeper if he tried....James Blaylock's Homunculus (Ace) is maddeningly oblique (as if I should talk), but its glaring flaw is that but for two characters, Pule and Kraken, everyone is a cipher. The stock-company Victorian sweethearts, in particular, are hardly even there, as if assigning them a name and function is all that's needed to make them come alive for us. The luckier characters have some one quirk given them for us to remember them by. It's still diverting, if chockfull of allusions to Jim's good buddy Tim Powers; this book seems to have more references to Ashbless than The Anubis Gates did. Much more fun is ferreting out the homages to H.G. Wells, some of which are rather subtle....Piers Anthony's Shade of the Tree (Tor) is a mildly stfnal tale trying to pass itself off as a horror story; the concept turns out to be quite similar to Stephen King's in IT. The goldfish have all the best scenes....A surefire page-turner is Melinda Snodgrass's Circuit (Berkley), about a Space Judge mired in all kinds of dirty politics and chicanery in high places. It does annoy me that space habitats are always laid out like Earthbound cities, with parks, skyscrapers, and most implausibly, towers....Similarly Campbellian is Lawrence Watt-Evans's Shining Steel (Avon), about a savage religious zealot on a backward planet who finds his way to the one true path: free enterprise. I'm not sure the exploitation of technologically inferior peoples in the future will be so radically different from what tradition has had it....M. Coleman Eason's ho-hum Arabian Knights tale, Iskiir (Questar), has a godawful cover; don't you got tired of paperback covers that illustrate some irrelevant incident from the book's first three pages?....I see where AMAZING's new editor, Patrick Lucien Price, uses the term "militaristic science fiction" twice in his statement of goals. He never defines the term, but I have an uneasy feeling he doesn't mean the sort of stuff Lucius Shepard has been writing.



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