Overall: 3 out of 5 stars, with individual stories rated differently below. All male authors; anthology published in 1971, with stories originally appearing in Playboy Magazine from 1958 to 1971.
This is an excellent read for anyone wondering about this “classic” SF that certain members of SFWA and the genre community so desperately want to hold on to. It is, much like you’d expect, filled with reasonably well-off white males of middle age and up, who fancy themselves smart, well-read, charming, and wise in the ways of liquor, business, and women. There are a few gems — both in speculative literature and hard science — and a few that fall flat, with most in between. There are a couple of stories (including two by Ray Bradbury) which are decently written but not SF in any way, at all.
Of women, there are only a couple of stories which include them. Two with the “typical” flawed wife, causing her husband’s downfall; one prostitute, one burlesque dancer who refuses to be bought, one stewardess (with a mention of a couple others); one judge; one teen girl. All are mentioned briefly, all are devices around which the story maneuvers but never centers on. One is — implied — eaten by aliens, one causes her husband’s death, one inspires her husband to murder (her, he hopes, but not her, as it turns out). Two are murdered. The man with the prostitute is relieved when she asks for money so he won’t have to worry about the stress of either wooing or leaving her. The burlesque dancer is murdered because she doesn’t agree to become a prostitute. The two married women and the judge get full names; the prostitute, dancer, and teen girl don’t get named at all — though the men are fully named in every story.
Aside from the mutant human “toys” in “Cephalotron” and the undescribed maybe ethnicity of “Dr. Ramos” in “Speed Trap”, everyone in the entire book is white — though variations of Irish, California Irish, Italian, Canadian Italian, and Jewish are made clear, as if that’s just enough diversity, thank you, but no more.
For the most part, the tales are sprinkled with words big enough to ensure the readers had a college education, or at least the kind of respectable book learning that comes from being poor but a constant in the library, or having associated yourself with academics as part of your business. Lots of first person narration; emphasis here on “I am a man’s man, a smart, science/business savvy man that you wish you could buy a drink for, let me tell you my story ” with a few “let me tell you the story of how some other man failed to be as awesome as me as suffered for it” types thrown in.
That’s not to say there isn’t anything to love in this collection! A couple of these stories serve as master classes in how to do that sort of story right, and are worth the price of admission for them alone. Even if you’re not interested in learning to be a better writer, read this collection for the history lesson, and increased awareness in what women/PoC/QUILTBAG/international authors/anyone different have to overcome when trying to write — or find themselves in — American science fiction.
5/5* “Transit of Earth” – title story. 1st person narrative. Starts with statement of inevitable death, comparison to historical figures. Placement in time and space. Excuse for narrative (final thoughts before death). Story begins by contemplating 3 options for death (1 inevitable, 2 choosing earlier deaths) and explains why none suit hit. Also reveals he wasn’t quite right for the mission because he’s afraid of underwater suffocation. Via narrative, it’s revealed he started training in his 20s. It’s May 11, 1984 now. He’s on Mars, awaiting the transit of Earth. 4 other crewmen stranded with him but they’re dead now; 10 others took off for Earth already. End hints at possible rescue he’s ignoring, also strange deaths of his comrades. Did he kill them so he could live long enough to see the transit? Grand finale, exit stage left.
2/5* “Button, Button” Average punchline horror story and mid 20th century misogyny. Typical grasping wife feels she deserves more. Noble but distant husband refuses to trade a stranger’s life for $50k but the wife takes the deal behind his back. “For us,” she says, but really, for her. Husband killed, wife gets $50k insurance and a message (when she protests it was supposed to be someone she didn’t know): “You didn’t really know your husband, did you?” *yawn* Credit given for the fact this is an early example in SF, but isn’t even the 1st. Continue reading
The Speculative Literature Foundation awards an annual travel grant of $800 to writers who need to travel for research. This grant can be used to “cover airfare, lodging, and/or other travel expenses” and make it possible for a writer to experience the geography and culture of a place they’re writing about first-hand. From the SLF website:
“Our travel grants will be awarded by a committee of SLF staff members on the basis of interest and merit. Factors considered will include:
- a one-page written description of the project in question, including details on the travel location and an estimated completion date (no more than 500 words)
- a writing sample in the proposed genre (up to 10 pages of poetry, 10 pages of drama, or 5000 words of fiction or creative nonfiction); please note that the writing sample must be a solo work (work completed only by the applicant).
- a bibliography of previously-published work by the author (no more than one page, typed); applicants need not have previous publications to apply.
If awarded the grant, the recipient agrees to write a brief report of their research experience (500-1000 words) for our files, and for possible public dissemination on our website. PLEASE NOTE: This grant, as with all SLF grants, is intended to help writers working with speculative literature.”
Overall, the application process is simple:
- Send the three items listed above to our travel grant administrator as attached .doc files, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include a brief cover letter with your name and contact info (e-mail, phone in case of emergency). If you have questions, direct them to that same address.
- You may apply for travel to take place at any point in the following year (from October to the following October).
- Travel may take place from any country to any country, or internally within a country; the grants are unrestricted. Funds will be disbursed in U.S. currency (but can be sent through PayPal if that is more convenient for international recipients).
- Travel grant applications will be considered from July 1st to September 30th, annually. Applications received outside that period will be discarded unread.
- The grant recipient will be announced by November 15th, annually. All applicants will be notified of the status of their application by that date.
Learn more here. Let me know if you have questions which aren’t answered by the site, and I’ll do my best to help you sort it out.
I’m pleased to be assisting The Gulliver Travel Research Grant as a juror this year. I’ve worked with their Grants Administrator, Malon Edwards, before (he wrote “In the Marrow” which I published at Lakeside Circus) and you know I love speculative literature in general. Malon tells me that “the Travel Grant is the one that we get the least amount of applications for”. I think we can change that.
UPDATED: WE HAVE A WINNER!
Congratulations to H.W. MacNaughton, who won a trade paperback of STEAMPUNK CTHULHU. This anthology, out now from Chaosium, includes my story “No Hand To Turn The Key”, which has been described as ‘clockwork erotica’ — and I don’t mind at all! It’s got clockwork soldiers and librarians, a ruined version of Philadelphia, magic, ghouls, new love, old memories, fight scenes, and a few moments of intimacy between constructs.
I haven’t done a movie review post lately, so this list covers a couple of months of watching. These should all still be available to watch streaming on Netflix and other services. As always, my reviews are mainly about the writing; though of course a film with a great script can still be shot poorly, the writing shines through, while a poorly-written script will still be obvious no matter how much money is thrown into the production. (See below, World War Z.)
Starting with the best:
HOW I LIVE NOW, 2013. Saorse Ronan, Tom Holland, George MacKay. Director: Kevin MacDonald
Originally a novel by Meg Rosoff, published 2004 (winner: British Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the American Printz Award for young-adult literature). I haven’t read the novel but from what I can tell, the movie doesn’t diverge from it much, only cutting out scenes/people to get it down to a 1h41m runtime.
This is a beautiful, haunting, and — most importantly — organically logical story of a teenage girl who naively chooses to stay in England on the eve of a war rather than go home to her American father and stepmother, who’d sent her away in the first place. It’s the story of kids who are left stranded when their mom gets called away and isn’t able to return, who are separated, conscripted, and ultimately have to fight their way back to each other. It’s about making a family, making choices, taking risks, and doing so while the adults around them either ignore what they need or actively try to hurt them.
The kids can’t possibly make all of the right choices, even though for a moment it seems they’ll be okay in their country home, away from the mess of the world. That summer paradise is ripped away by the advancing army, and serves as a dreamlike reminder of the innocent joy they’ll never have again. Truly, they never will: some of the kids are killed, and the rest are changed forever. Daisy, the MC, isn’t nice or likeable to begin with, but neither is she cruel. She’s an unhappy teenager, simple as that. She grows over the course of the film, becoming a mother and protector, but the change isn’t capricious. She fails in a lot of ways as she learns to get the important things right.
There are consequences to everyone’s actions. The characters have motivation and agency and needs, and while displayed subtly, they’re also obvious in the context of the story. The director manages to keep the pace moving without rushing too fast or dragging behind. There are no montages; there is nothing shown outside of the Daisy’s experience, yet the story is complete and bursting with detail. It’s tight 3rd person, excellently scripted, and I highly recommend it as an example of how YA storytelling should be done. I normally avoid anything with teenage main characters because it doesn’t speak to my life now, and I don’t get terribly nostalgic for my own past since what I have now is so much better. But I’ve seen this twice now, and would watch it again, because it’s not about “teenagers”. It’s about real, textured, people who just happen to be kids.