Exploring Frederik Pohl’s Heechee Saga Part 3 – Heechee Rendezvous

The third novel in the Heechee Saga, Heechee Rendezvous, is the perfect place to end the series. Never mind that there are three other books; only one of them, Annals of the Heechee, continues the main plot.

Heechee Rendezvous neatly wraps up everything that began in Gateway. The reader is introduced to an aging, ailing Robinette Broadhead, his Artificial Intelligence companion, Albert (a facsimile of Albert Einstein) and a few of Broadheads “friends” and acquaintances.

As the story unfolds, the reader also meets a Heechee officer named Captain, emerging from the black hole in the center of the universe to confront the space-faring humans and warn them of an unknown danger of the universe, setting up the grand finale of the main series.

The tone here is consistent: it’s all told from the perspective of Robinette Broadhead, who at this point has barely evolved his personality at all and is, in fact, regressing to the same type of person he was in Gateway. Why? Because he is feeling his mortality.

The novel eventually becomes a race against time in several ways: Broadhead against his own health, Broadhead’s scientific research against constant terrorism and Wan’s frantic search through several black holes using Heechee technology.

In this novel, the reader will finally meet the Heechee, be introduced to old characters and find out how Broadhead deals with his mortality problem. I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll leave it at that.

Something I quite enjoyed about this story is we see the character of Wan, from the previous novel, become somewhat of a villainous presence, though this is greatly overshadowed by Pohl’s introduction of the titular aliens early on in the story. I also, despite his unlikable nature, quite like Robinette Broadhead and can relate to him in some ways.

Pohl’s prose is consistent and well done, engaging the reader and making them care about what happens to these characters. I am interested to see how book four handles the new relationships man has forged with the Heechee and the unknown, mysterious threat that scared the Heechee into a black hole in the first place.

We’ll continue the journey through the Gateway as soon as I finish reading the fourth installment (and conclusion of the main series). Books five and six are anthology collections set in the Heechee universe.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading/sharing/etc…

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Exploring Frederik Pohl’s Heechee Saga Part 2 – Beyond the Blue Event Horizon

Hello, and welcome to part two of our exploration of Frederik Pohl’s Heechee Saga. Today, the focus will be on book two of the series, “Beyond the Blue Event Horizon.” In the previous novel, “Gateway,” the reader meets one Robinette Broadhead, the filthy rich, guilt-ridden expedition survivor and somewhat unlikable narrator.

The first thing the reader will notice about the book is this: it starts out in the third person, introducing a boy named Wan, currently living off-world on a Heechee artifact. Next, it switches to first person with a different narrator from the previous book. In this chapter, the reader is introduced to Paul, a pilot, and his family: his wife Lurvy, sister-in-law Janine and father-in-law, Peter.

It is here the reader learns the primary conceit of the story: Robinette Broadhead financed an expedition to find the Heechee Food Factory, so-called because it mines the basic elements of life from comets: Carbon Hydrogen Oxygen and Nitrogen or CHON for short.

As the story unfolds, the perspective eventually shifts from third-person whenever the explorers are involved to Broadhead’s perspective. Broadhead is, once again, our primary protagonist, whom everything revolves around. This time, however, he is much more likable.

Don’t let that last sentence fool you; he’s still selfish, odd and kind of an ass. It’s just that now, he’s not so guilty and self-absorbed. He has a machine intelligence in the guise of Albert Einstein with whom he spends most of his time. His wife, S. Ya Lovorovna from the previous book, helps build and create several machine intelligences throughout the story.

She also becomes a major part of the plot, but I won’t spoil that for you as the result of an interesting concept that was fleshed out in a disappointing way, the 100-day fever. It actually becomes a major plot point, directly affecting upcoming events in the series.

In “Beyond the Blue Event Horizon,” Pohl does an excellent job delivering on some of the suspense built up in “Gateway” and adds a few more interesting elements to the story. The one which sticks out the most in my mind is the Dream Bed, which is essentially a large telepathic transmitter. You can imagine what sort of shenanigans folks can get up to with one of those.

The title refers to the blue hue of the event horizon of a black hole, which is a reference to the end of “Gateway.” It is well done, interesting, engaging and a worthy successor to “Gateway.” There is substantially less psycho-babble and outdated concepts, but the book does suffer from a few anachronistic tendencies and a few inconsistencies. I still highly recommend it.

“Beyond the Blue Event Horizon” is available on Amazon here.

I’m Entering National November Novel Writing Month this year.

NaNoWriMoThis year, I plan to enter and finish National November Novel Writing Month. I’m thinking something sci-fi or cyberpunk. The event, officially known as NaNoWriMo is a non-profit contest which challenges aspiring and professional novelists to complete a fictional work of prose reaching 50,000 words or more.

Per http://nanowrimo.org/about, NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization, dedicated to helping writers foster their creativity and meet the goal of 50,000 words by 11:59 P.M. on Nov. 30. In addition to the usual Nov. event, NaNoWriMo also holds a virtual writing retreat, a children’s writing workshop, fundraisers and more.

Potential writers are given access to tools and advice via the official event website. Students interested in participating in NaNoWriMo should sign up for an account on their official website. The website provides help, advice, a place to write and inspirational forums.

In addition to this, several libraries are and academic institutions across the country participate in NaNoWriMo Write-In Events. Several Write-In events are held throughout the country for aspiring novelists.

The write-in events will feature the opportunity to write as many words for a novel as possible, with assistance being provided by library staffs and online assistance through NaNoWriMo.

Since its establishment in 1999, NaNoWriMo has yielded quite a few popular novels through its history. Trivia and Miscellaneous publication, Mental Floss Magazine, recently published a list of NaNoWriMo winners: books that have all been published and are currently being sold in bookstores and online. The list can be found here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/53481/14-published-novels-written-during-nanowrimo.

Some well-known novels, such as “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen were past NaNoWriMo winners. “Water for Elephants” was made into a movie in 2011.

NaNoWriMo allows fiction in any genre and there are no fees involved with the contest. More information can be found at http://nanowrimo.org. I plan to get started now, rather than wait until November. Wish me luck; I’ll need it.

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A Large Review of “Miniatures – The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi”

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This is a few months after the fact, but I realized I had yet to post it. I purchased the book via Amazon Kindle with the Audible Audio Narration included for just under $10 after its release. The book is only available in e-book format as of this writing, though there was a hardcover special edition that sold out rather quickly. So, without further ado, here is my review of the new(ish) John Scalzi anthology, “Miniatures.”

A Series of Tiny Stories

John Scalzi’s “Miniatures” begins with an amusing, informative preface by the author, introducing the short (mini) stories we’re about to read. A quaint pencil drawing of Scalzi seated in front of a computer, a kitten atop his chair and a second kitten below the desk, attacking a computer cord sets the tone for the book.

The first story, “Alien Animal Encounters” starts off the show with a hilarious man on the street style story, wherein the reader meets several individuals from all levels of society, ruminating upon their encounters with various quirky and distinct alien creatures. Another pencil drawing, this time illustrating a scene from the story appears just before the story begins.

Our next tiny tale is “Missives from Possible Futures #1: Alternate History Search Results.” here, the story is written as a response letter to an order regarding alternate histories. Eight separate, humorous alternate history scenarios are represented. The story builds levels of absurdity upon one another until it pays off hilariously at the end.

The third story, “Pluto Tells All” gives the reader an idea of how Pluto feels about no longer being classified as a planet. this is perhaps, the least favorite story of the bunch. It suffers from being a bit on the wordy side and is not much fun to read. Jonathan Coulton sums up the Pluto discussion better in his song, “I’m Your Moon.”

“Denise Jones, Superbooker” continues the absurdity through an interview style transcript explaining how superheroes are booked and contracted through her agency.

“When the Yogurt Took Over” is a 1000-word hypothetical scenario showing what life would be like if a breakfast food ruled man, while “The Other Large Thing” concerns a cat’s thoughts and interactions with a helper robot.

“The State of Super Villainy” is another transcript style story featuring the opposite side of the “Denise Jones, Superbooker.” Hilarity ensues, but it seems a long way to go for the rather stale joke at the end.

My favorite line in the entire book is in the next story, “New Directives for Employee-Manxtse Interactions,” written as a memo style email to the employees of a specialty supermarket in the near future. The directives themselves are expertly and hilariously rendered through the course of a few pages, making the reader crave more information from this universe.

Next up is another tongue-in-cheek interview, “To Sue the World,” both bizarre and hilarious (and on YouTube). The story came about during the “Redshirts” book tour and seems related to the content of that excellent novel. The Star Trek references made me laugh aloud, something that didn’t happen as often as it should.

“How I Keep Myself Amused on Long Flights: A Twitter Tale” is a mildly humorous twist on a classic “Twilight Zone” story, told through tweets. A second tweet-based story follows in “The Gremlining,” another amusing, twisted, tweet of a tale.

“Life on Earth: Human-Alien Relations” is quite funny and leaved the reader wanting more. One can only imagine how future columns/questions could go. The next few stories, originally done as skits, are joyous and light-hearted.

The next few stories continue the levity and brevity with sentient computers, guidelines for working with aliens and establishing a line of credit at a lemonade stand.

The collection ends with, “Penelope,” a heartfelt love poem to the object of Scalzi’s affection in the early 90s. The poem is quite touching and ends the collection on a sweet note.

Writing Style

Scalzi’s writing varies from story-to-story. In the earliest stories, he appears to be still trying to find his voice. However, by the third story, the reader meets the Scalzi they probably already know: the author of the excellent “Old Man’s War” and the hilarious, slightly poignant “Redshirts,” among others.

By the time we get to the Twitter-based stories and the transcripts of speeches/skits, we see the humorist version of Scalzi truly shine.

Scalzi’s prose and descriptions are excellent, quick and on-point. His use of bizarre, consonant heavy names and the way he characterizes many of the alien species are unique and interesting. I found it difficult not to laugh while reading most of these stories. Scalzi is witty, irreverent, and concise in his writing.

“Miniatures” is available via Amazon for only a few dollars as an e-book. It is only available in extremely limited quantities as a paper book from Subterranean Press and, as of this writing, may be out of print. However, the e-book version is just as good as any paper book and offers the ability to download the Audible audio version for an extra couple of dollars.

Illustrations

The illustrations provide character and humor to the beginning of each tale, just below the story introductions. The subtlety with which they’re drawn maintain the miniscule nature of the collection. Some of them are downright hilarious and are almost worth the price of admission alone.

My favorite illustrations are attached, quite aptly, to my favorite stories. All of them are great, and it’s up to the reader to decide what they like the best.

Check out the book, available from Subterranean Press and Amazon. And please try to refrain from talking to the produce next time you’re at the supermarket.

Listen to the Audio Book

The Audible audio book version that came with my e-book purchase is well produced and high quality. The author even reads a few parts of the book. Overall, this is an excellent package and well-worth the $10 I spent on it.

“Miniatures” is available on Amazon Kindle here and be sure to check out John Scalzi here.
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Exploring Frederik Pohl’s Heechee Saga Part 1 – Gateway

A look into Frederik Pohl’s excellent science fiction novel, “Gateway.”

I am a massive Science Fiction fan. I discovered a love of reading at an early age, thanks to authors like Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Since then, my reading has been all over the map. I’m not sure how the works of Frederik Pohl escaped my attention.

Earlier this year, I discovered a copy of his 1977 novel “Gateway” at my University Library. I haven’t felt this involved in a book series since reading Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series. The book is more than a simple space-faring adventure; it is a psychological study of the rich, successful protagonist and his feelings of guilt surrounding his fame and fortune. I found the character so compelling that now, three books in, I’m hooked.

The book follows the story of a man named Robinette Broadhead, feeling rather guilty about something. The story opens with Broadhead speaking with an automaton psychiatrist whom he dubs Sigrid von Shrink. The story then alternates between Broadhead’s in-person (so to speak) sessions with the robot and flashbacks of his time on the Gateway asteroid, with several sidebars creating atmosphere for the narrative.

The story is told in the first-person, so the reader is right there in Broadhead’s shoes as he learns about the asteroid, finds romance, balks at taking missions and finally makes something of himself. Of course, along the way, there are some…shall we say, issues both wrought upon and caused by our protagonist. Broadhead himself is not a particularly likable character at first, but it feels as if he were designed to be that way, as later novels explore who he is more in depth.

The way he treats those close to him is quite deplorable at times, but some of the characters, like Gelle-Klara Moynlin end up playing an important role in the story later on.

“Gateway” is both futuristic and unique, introducing an alien race called the Heechee and their amazing faster-than-light technology.  The novel stands well on its own, but also serves to set up an entire series of adventures revolving around the Heechee and their wondrous technology.

The technology is fascinating, especially with the mystery surrounding it and the fact that despite the danger, humans constantly take out ships on prospecting missions to attempt striking it rich.

There are also, as with any older sci-fi story, some interesting anachronisms. Tapes are regularly used to store and retrieve information, for instance. There are a few more, but I recommend reading it for yourself to find out.

This is an excellent book, well-liked and a winner of both a Hugo and a Nebula award in 1978. The book was popular enough to spawn computer games, five sequels and a possible TV movie, which seems to be locked in production hell at the moment.

Of course, after what SyFy did to to Riverworld, perhaps we don’t need a Gateway film.

If you like “Gateway,” be sure to check out its sequels, “Beyond the Blue Event Horizon” and “Heechee Rendevous.” Stay tuned for part 2 of this series coming soon!

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Return to Castlevania

A brief discussion of the new Netflix series “Castlevania.”

I’ve been a “Castlevania” fan since 1992. Playing the original NES title was not without its charm, but it was not until “Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse,” that I became a fan of the series. Years later, I’ve played and conquered most of the series’ installments, with my personal favorites being “Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin” and “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.”

I glossed over the 3D installments of the game, preferring the Metroidvania style to the classic arcade style games. As of this writing, the only Metroidvania I have yet to complete is “Castlevania: Order of Ecclessia,” which I’ll get around to one day.

Naturally, I’m interested to see what will happen with the new Netflix series. From the first look trailer here, it seems interesting, sort of like “Vampire Hunter D.”

The NES at the beginning of the trailer immediately piqued my interest. I chuckled when the person blew into the game cartridge before putting it in the system. That was a nice, nostalgic touch. I also loved the video screen, set up like an old NES title, complete with only a few colors and a few key Netflix originals listed in the options.

The actual clip is more of a teaser than a trailer, but it highlights a dark, moody artwork style and seems to be focused around Simon Belmont. There’s also plenty of blood, gore and horror, for those interested in such things. It looks awesome and I’m excited to check it out, even if it’s 30 years overdue

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