Sunday, December 20, 2015

Visitors To and From the Universe Next Door?


The idea that our world, our universe, is one part of a vaster interconnected multiverse has been long posited in both the worlds of science and of science fiction.  Many eminent scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Hugh Evertt, and a host of others, support of this theory.  While the jury is out on whether the science behind the multiverse theory is valid, speculation continues.

Not surprisingly, science fiction writers are among the chief speculators. A staple of alternate universe science fiction has long been when the person from our own universe is inexplicably transferred from our own universe to the universe next door, with the usual hijinks ensuing.  
Benjamin Bathurst, where are you?

Science fiction pioneer H.Beam Piper – known for his Paratime alternate universe series of novels and short stories and his longer Terro-Human Future History – wrote one such short story, He Walked Around The Horses (1948).  He based it on the curious – and true – story of Benjamin Bathurst, a British diplomat who disappeared while travelling through Prussia in 1809.   

Benjamin Bathurst merely joins a long list of people who have similarly dropped off the face of the earth, including Ambrose Small, Judge Crater, Amelia Earhart, and D.B. Cooper, to name just a few.  Foul play? Aliens? Misadventure?  Or did they merely want to drop out of sight for other, more personal, reasons? Or maybe, for just a split second, did the walls between the universes dissolve just enough to allow a person to step through?

The Shoe is on The Other Foot?

The reverse might’ve happened too.  Take the case of a visitor who allegedly arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport one warm day in 1954. To all intents and purposes the bearded man seemed like the rest of the business travelers getting off the plane that day; except for one difference: the passport he presented to the customs officers was for a country that didn’t exist – Taured.

The visitor, who spoke a number of languages, including Japanese and French, seemed understandably puzzled when told his homeland didn’t exist.  His passport clearly showed visa stamps from the countries he had visited, including Japan, yet when the Japanese officials checked, the company he claimed he was meeting with had no record of his appointment nor did the hotel he claimed he was staying at have any record of a reservation. The stranger grew downright upset when he was shown a map of Europe and Taured – which he maintained occupied roughly the same spot as Andorra did on the border between France and Spain  – wasn’t there.

The Japanese officials put the stranger up for the night in a hotel and took his all of his personal documents which included his passport and his driver’s license, while they tried to sort through the mystery.

However, the mystery would remain unsolved. In the morning the stranger had vanished. His documents had similarly vanished from the locked airport security office. The police and airport officials searched in vain for the stranger.

Perhaps this is an urban legend. But... if he existed, where did the stranger go? Perhaps it was all some elaborate joke.  But who exactly was the joke on?  Perhaps he just caught the first flight back to the universe next door, back to Taured.

What’s Next?


I’ve picked up two new books for review on this blog – by that I mean I buy the books; they’re not given to me.  They’re both alternate history books by authors I respect and that I’ve wanted to read for some time. First, there’s Harry Turtledove’s Joe Steele, a retelling of Joseph Stalin's biography in a very different setting; and Robert Charles Wilson’s Burning Paradise, a novel of a quite different 20th Century. 

I'll be sure to update you on both of these books in the new year.  

Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.   Thanks.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Movie Review: Six-String Samurai (1998)



Okay, this is pushing the deadline, I know.  But technically, I’m writing this on November 30th, so it's still my November column.  

This month’s column is about the movie, Six-String Samurai, directed by Lance Mungia. I first saw it at the Bytowne Cinema in Ottawa in 1998, when I dragged my then-girlfriend to see it.  I don’t think she much appreciated it; but I certainly thought the mixture of alternate history/post-apocalyptic/50’s rock-and-roll/samurai film appealing.  



A little background here: Six-String Samurai takes place in a world where the Soviet Union clobbered the United States in a nuclear first strike back in 1957.  It is now present day, where the country has been reduced to a wasteland populated by bandits, cannibals, mutants, and the remnants of the Red Army that was sent over after the war.  All that remains is Lost Vegas, which has been ruled over by King Elvis.  But now the King is dead and Lost Vegas needs a new King of Rock and Roll. And so the word goes out and musicians across the land begin the dangerous trek to Lost Vegas for the chance to replace their fallen king. 

Already you can probably see why I liked this film so much and why my girlfriend didn’t.

I digress. Enter Buddy (played by Jeffery Falcon), who plays a mean guitar and swings an even meaner sword, is the titular Samurai of the film. He’s a cross between Toshiro Mifune and Buddy Holly. On his way to Lost Vegas, Buddy must cross the barren landscape with a small boy in tow, fending off attacks by bounty hunting bowlers and Death. All of this is powered by a kick-ass soundtrack that surely must make the guitar gods and the spirit of Akira Kurosawa smile.

It’s really worth seeing.  Over the years, Six-String Samurai has developed a “cult” reputation, as many films that are “out there” seem to do. And that’s really too bad. It’s a disservice to label Six-String Samurai and other films like it as “cult” films, just because there’s no neat slot in the public imagination for them. 

Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.   Thanks.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Book Review: Theatre of the Gods, by M. Suddain



It’s been a busy time here at the ol’ radio ranch. Between my continuing job search, working on another writing project  (think crack whores with trust funds…) and learning to play the guitar, I’ve been pressed for time.



And then there’s the barely contained craziness that is M. Suddain’s Theatre of the Gods. If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll remember that my initial impressions were of a book written by the dream team of Douglas Adams, William S. Burroughs, and Jules Verne.  This book is that kind of weird, with a steampunk tinged magic realism fantasy thing, where starships resemble nothing less than huge sailing men-of-war and populations live on the inside of giant Dyson Spheres.





Enter the book’s primary protagonist, M. Franscisco Fabrigas, “philosopher, heretical physicist, and perhaps the greatest human explorer of all ages.” He is charged by his Queen to undertake a voyage of discovery to the universe next door. At this point in his life, this mission is something of a reprieve and a chance for vindication for Fabrigas, who has both been discredited and considered insane because he believes that he comes from a parallel universe that looks exactly like the one he currently occupies. Mix in a cast of characters that include a mysterious green girl, a plucky botanist, a teenaged ship’s captain, a stalwart bosun, and a crew of children, and you have memorable read.  Our heroes naturally face their share of villains, including the Queen’s scheming sisters, beings from beyond, killer plants, varying assassins, and vicious bounty hunters, just to name a few.


There’s a lot of fast and furious stuff going on here. But it’s much to the author’s credit that he effortlessly keeps the story moving along.   Theatre of the Gods is by turns well-written and inventive stuff.  It’s funny and occasionally eye-popping. If you like your science fiction literate with an extra dash of loopiness, then this book is for you.

Following up…

You’ll remember in my last post where I reviewed the latest installment in Charles Stross’s excellent Laundry Files, The Rhesus Chart that I somberly advised you that vampires don’t exist.

Well, I could be wrong. According to a recent report in the online Guardian, scientists are now looking at injecting of the blood plasma of young people into the bodies of the elderly as a possible way to reverse the aging process. But wait: isn’t that the whole raison d'ĂȘtre behind vampires? Said vampires using fresh blood to keep themselves perpetually young?  Vamprism aside, the implications of a society, where in the not too distant future, there is a class of the ultra-wealthy who maintain private blood banks to keep themselves young, are more than a little disturbing.

Through this all, we can be assured of one thing, of course: vampires don’t exist. Yet.


Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.   Thanks.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Book Review: The Rhesus Chart, by Charles Stross

Everyone knows that vampires don’t exist, right?

So what happens when you’re Bob Howard, who is a middle manager at the Laundry, the so-secret-it’s-ultraviolet British agency dedicated against defending the masses against Things that go Bump in the Night and find you find that vampires actually do exist?

Of course, our hero Bob is more than just a middle manager; he is also a specialist in Applied Computational Demonology, and an Apprentice Eater of Souls, both of which come in handy over the course of his career, which has been chronicled in Stross’s earlier Laundry Files novels. 

Interesting things always seem to happen to Bob. For example, the start of The Rhesus Chart finds him working through a paper exercise, which accidentally exposes a clan of vampires working in a major bank. Things get even more interesting when he finds out that one of the vampires happens to be an ex-girlfriend (which complicates things with his wife Mo). But by the time is happening, the plot is already unfolding at a breakneck pace to its shattering conclusion.



It’s definitely worthwhile reading.  If you’re not familiar with the Laundry Files series, this is a good place to start and work back. Stross writes with his customary deft mix of Lovecraftian eldritch horror-meets-Len-Dieghton’s Harry Palmer with a dose of dark humour thrown in.  It’s very readable stuff.  

And over the course of the series, and the especially in The Rhesus Chart, Stross has continued the development of his already well fleshed-out characters, most specifically Bob, who is still stinging from the events of the previous novel, The Apocalypse Codex (reviewed earlier in this blog), which in-series, occurred only the month pervious.

Think of this book as a small diversion from the main Laundry Files narrative, the ongoing cold war against the extradimensional horrors who, when the stars are right, will emerge through the walls of our reality to suck on our brains. However, as I just said, it is a small diversion: In this book we get the bad news that the Grand Alignment has begun and the stars have at last become right, setting the stage for CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, which is the final extinction-level showdown.

Hang on to your brains.

What’s next?
I’m just starting to read Theatre of the Gods, by M. Suddain.  I like it so far. Already I can tell you it comes off as a crazy mash-up of Douglas Adams-meets-William-S. -Burroughs-meets-Jules-Verne.  I hope to have it reviewed for you next month.



Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.   (And don't forget me on Twitter @mcnudde!) Thanks

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Book Review: The Long Mars, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

What can I say: I enjoyed this book. 

Should you read The Long Mars?  Yes. Resoundingly yes.

Once again, Messrs Pratchett and Baxter have woven a worthy addition to the series that began with The Long Earth.  In case you’re a late arrival to the series,  the titular book that started it all dealt with the discovery of a linked series of parallel long earths that run “east” and “west” of our own “datum” earth and could only be reached by “stepping.”







A few people – like the series’ chief protagonists, Joshua Valente and Sally Lindsay are “natural” steppers, while the rest of humanity must rely upon stepper boxes that are powered by – this must be an example of Terry Pratchett’s whimsy at work here – the lowly potato.


I won't say much more, except to say during the intervening years between The Long Earth, its sequel, The Long War, and now, The Long Mars, there have been some serious doings afoot. Drawn by her father with an agenda of his own, Sally is off to explore Mars – which has its own chain of long worlds. Meanwhile, Joshua is also just as much drawn in by a mysterious young man who may be much, much, more than he seems.


So that’s it for The Long Mars. Suffice it to say, you should read it.



Call the Grammar Police!

Now I want to get to something that’s been bugging me since I wrote last month’s review of Taylor Anderson’s Deadly Shores. You know how much I love his Destroyermen series.  And I did like Deadly Shores. So I’m puzzling over what I found repeatedly in his book, such as this admittedly small example:

“But what about me?” Keje demanded. “What of Salissa?” Matt looked at Keje and couldn’t stop a grin from forming. “You, Admiral, will stay the hell out of range of anything they can throw at you from shore and keep your planes in the air.”

Get it?  This is what I saw throughout the novel. I’m no grammar guy, and I know it may seem like a small thing, but each line of dialogue is its own thought as expressed by the character, and needs be treated as its own paragraph.  The exchange should’ve gone like so, with each line of dialogue starting on its own sentence:

But what about me?” Keje demanded. “What of Salissa?”
Matt looked at Keje and couldn’t stop a grin from forming. “You, Admiral, will stay the hell out of range of anything they can throw at you from shore and keep your planes in the air.”

I write this with the greatest respect for Anderson, who has put together a riveting ten-book series that has so far held my admittedly short attention span.  Was he trying to simulate the give-and-take of an argument? If so, it didn’t work. It merely forced me to re-read the dialogue, which for me slows down the action.

It bugs the hell out of me.


Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.   Thanks.