Part Five of my real-time review continued from HERE.

Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
Vintage Books 2016
When I real-time review this 1210 page anthology, my comments will appear in the thought stream below.

29 responses to “*

  1. Part Five of my real-time review continued from HERE.



    “He will take apart a land mine to see how it works.”

    I have this story’s trench mania, too, (and impetigo as a child), by trying to take apart this huge huggable book and put it together again, as has been destined by its inclusion as a subject of gestalt real-time reviews, just as this story has the past (the World War I front-line trenches of the Germans faced by the Russians) as the real-time or the present, and the story’s present day and then vice versa, but today’s even later reader as ‘fixed observer’ in relativity terms looking back at a man involved in both earlier eras, dealing with black holes, real scientists, and messages from soldiers in the trenches not getting out because of the borderline black hole of the front line represented  as embedded within  the disease suffered by the scientist who in retrocausal hindsight invented that very borderline of escape or no-escape from the black hole, the concept of black hole that he did not even know about.
    Cone Zero or CERN Zoo rampant. Or huggable book, hugging by enthralling the reader even closer, on the cusp of no escape.

  2. ALL THE HUES OF HELL by Gene Wolfe

    “When somebody gets where I am, there’s no bouncing back, not ever.”

    Thus, the ideal mentagram, in the shadow guise of SF fiction, to follow the SCHWARZSCHILD RADIUS. Almost a Star Trek adventure, with a macaw as a this Hellish hawling-mine’s ‘canary’, an item of a couple, one pregnant, sent, in an aptly named Egg craft, to rescue someone (perhaps the original father) from the shadow soup of his own mental illness or his own death, or queer medicine from both these states. The story’s ending, in this darkness, is a staggering conception out of confinement.
    It is also arguably this whole book’s own impregnated synergous working group or gestalt as feminine yolk of Gaia, out of darkness.

    • And surely it is not a mere coincidence that I have read that Wolfe story in the morning of this same day that I later started just now Ian McEwan’s new novel NUTSHELL where the narrator is still in the womb!
      Tristram Shandy eat your heart out.

      “Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space — were it not that I have had bad dreams.”
      — From ‘Hamlet’

  3. VACUUM STATES by Geoffrey A. Landis

    “That’s the symmetry of the vacuum. Since the zero-point energy is infinite, no matter how much energy is extracted there is always an infinite amount left.”

    That sounds mighty like Zeno’s Paradox to me, mentioned several times so far in this review! In fact this rarefied conversation — between two expert scientists and another fixed observer in this book like you as the layman who first introduced them, you who are tantamount to a neutral real-time reviewer — seems like a conversation at CERN Zoo about Cone Zero to reach Zencore. A life and death decision, a veritable Null Immortalis, to be made by you as the neutral one following their decision (or not) to embark on an experiment regarding energy in vacuum states, a crucial experiment that could eternalise life or destroy it.
    A bit like when the Hadron Collider caused fears about finding the God particle in our own times since this story was written? But what do you decide? It depends whether you see another review of this book to follow this one, below…
    [By the way, during this rarefied scientific conversation, it was good to see a casual reference about your buttocks cooling through the jeans on the metal seat, but that was perhaps to give some context to the crucial handle at the end being “faintly slick with sweat.”]

  4. TWO SMALL BIRDS by Han Song
    Translated by John Chu

    “Every word and punctuation mark corresponds to nebulas, gravitation, and trace elements.”

    Quite a feat for any translator.
    Song’s song in short-paragraphed prose, translates from reading a natural history magazine in the library to retrocausal considerations of rescuing a woman from 50,000 years ago. The words, the two birds, the librarian, the hunter, all words but also part and parcel of such real lyrical destinies.
    [Appropriate, perhaps, that just before reading it I read (and reviewed) Ralph Robert Moore’s NEARNESS that seems to obliquely resonate with this situation and at least one of these two birds – and also had a phone conversation this afternoon with a friend whom I have known since 1959, a conversation about the Butterfly Effect and the power our mere conversation could have to resolve the current Trump and Brexit situations.]

  5. BURNING SKY (1989) by Rachel Pollack

    This book often gives me revelations of literature beyond my expectations, but sometimes, if less so, it gives me, as here, what I consider stories not included for their story but for some historical didactic profile or to fit some gestalt that this book is striving for. As a defiant, perhaps transgressive, reader, I seek a gestalt that has not yet been fully identified, similar to the intended one, but mutated and reaching beyond to some preternatural power of SF. I tried to sketch it out gradually above, so far.
    This story seems to be a severe Sapphic clitoral striving to come or make others come, with a narrative alternation between some militancy of feminism and skin diving (for Henry VIII’s ship?)…
    I am not qualified perhaps to critique this work?

    “They can do nothing for her. She goes away, later becomes prime minister.”

  6. BEFORE I WAKE by Kim Stanley Robinson

    “The radio was filled with static, except for a station that played nothing but episodes of ‘The Lone Ranger’.”

    A revelatory work for me, where I meet dream sickness for the first time outside of a dream (a dream of myself once writing a novel that, in 2011, was actually published about dream sickness entitled ‘Nemonymous Night’ which, if it really was written and published, would probably have been derivative of this work, other than perhaps for my dreamed-of Zoo which one could visit to KNOW for certain whether you were dreaming or not.)
    KSM’s portrayal of dream sickness (although it is not overtly called dream sickness) is remarkably believable in its SF mode – and I thank this book for bringing it to my attention.

    [Excerpt from ‘Red Spider White Web’ (1990)]
    by Misha Nogha

    “…everything she hated about men — all men. The male animal with a sharp rump and no memories.”

    I have just read the first page and suspect (from a cursory glance) that I need to read the editors’ introduction to it in order to understand it, this being an excerpt from a novel, a fact which seems inimical to the concept of a representative anthology of complete short fictions, which I believe all the previous works have been, although maybe originally tied into individual gestalts of where they were each first published. I can only assume that this excerpt has been included for some historical profile of timeline significance rather than a hyper-imaginative fiction standalone work for its own sake or for some understandably intended overall editorial didactic gestalt. I have so far deliberately not read the editors’ introductions in this book, intending to read them in one fell swoop after I have read and real-time reviewed all the fiction (and established my own bespoke book gestalt), a procedure that has been my wont since I started these reviews in 2008 at the time of Obama’s first election.
    This may seem precious and pretentious of me, but without that risk of so appearing, I would never had embarked on these reviews for myself and for others in the first place.

  8. THE BRAINS OF RATS by Michael Blumlein

    An episodic, historical, slightly academic, slightly gossipy-creative study of the narrator’s patients and of him/herself as a thesis on bodily and emotional differentiation between male and female in humans as we know them, with much relevance to trans people and probably in advance of its time in this broaching respect. As a Sf story, I am not sure – and I keep not my powder but my cream dry as to its contribution to this book’s eventual gestalt…

  9. GORGONOIDS by Leena Krohn

    I think this is the only story in this book that I have real-time reviewed before, here:


    “‘I am looking for the most rotten man in politics,’ asserted the giantman, ‘for when I get him, I will purify him and make him favourite for the new Jesus Christ.'”

    This seems to be the most incredible story to find myself reading during this very day when the American people are voting for either Clinton or Trump. A mixed bag of gender and gender behaviour, where one is spoilt for unchoice. A little girl of the shades seems to solve it, though, where here in this story the bronze man (orange man?) or giant man is hawling down in a lorry to find the replacement of the Son of God he has just killed in “the terrible narrowness of the galaxies.”
    Truly incredible fable in that current light. Just read it and see.
    I just wonder who is due to win tonight, as I watch from afar here in UK.
    As a standalone fiction, this work is also revelatory in itself. A magical realism rather than an SF, though, in my mind.

  11. THE UNIVERSE OF THINGS (1993) by Gwyneth Jones

    And so it goes.
    Yesterday a lorry, today a car….this book’s gestalt, and that erstwhile alien:
    “The mechanic did not feel, on the whole, that the human race was overreacting. He and his wife had voted in favor, in the European referendum…”

    “It was official: this was the greatest thing that had happened to the human race, since the dim and distant ‘coming of Christ.'”

    “Even if the machines become self-conscious, become ‘human’ (the ever-receding bogey of the popular media), I will still be God.”

    A story that also stands alone in its treatment of interconnected issues in this book, humanity, aliens, animals, machines, even “robot flesh”, and a touching variation on the Middle of the Road family…the mechanic’s family, where he briefly saw the world through alien eyes. And got him to buy what it sold.

    “Human beings, when they wanted to express feelings of profound communion with the planet, with the race, spoke of being ‘a part of the great whole.'”

    “He’d wanted the alien to give him dreamland, somewhere over the rainbow.”

  12. THE REMORAS by Robert Reed

    “‘Lovely.’ She shut her eyes remembering how the hull itself had stretched off into the distance, flat and gray, bland yet somehow serene. ‘It is lovely.'”

    This is a mighty sublime and provocative tale introduced into my life today. A palate cleanser. As if that bland vista is some sought-after escape, from inside the mega-huge starship on a 5000 year journey with Remoras (like our remora fish) physically and spiritually clinging — with their own suited insulation, with pledges and taboos — to the outside hull as menders against comet strikes etc, these being specially evolved humans, with all manner of deliberate cancers as means to ends and other special organs like etc, while the unadapted or differently adapted, arguably immortalised, humans inside are protected from that vast emptiness – yet there may be some yearning for hull exploration and adaption as Remoras. And perhaps vice versa??
    This scenario surrounds the tale of a couple, an ostensible form of man and woman as husband and wife, and their contact with Remoras, humans and Remoras alike with a panoply of yearnings, duplicities, emotions, absences from each other, this couple being two people who are entangled with their inner and outer selves, sexual and platonic connections, and the inner and outer hull, inner and outer suit… I cannot do it all justice, other than telling you to read about the woman’s directly narrated rite of passage, and the man’s inferred one.
    The text has an instinctive spiritual relevant aura of meaning for today, perhaps unintended as a prophecy by its author as story-god, with you as would-be reader-Remora rising from within it – and the story itself has this outer skin that keeps you intact. Each cancer a positive? (I could go on and on about this ever-resonating, constructively sprawling story.)

  13. THE GHOST STANDARD by William Tenn

    A knotty problem — was justice done based on the facts of this story?
    First of all, I was delighted that this lightsome little episode entailed a word game that I thought I had invented when I played it with my own children from as far back as the early 1970s, well, in fact before that, with my own parents as a cocky kid and then with my wife before she was my wife – TAKING IT IN TURNS NOT FINISHING THE WORD FIRST BUT ALWAYS HAVING A REAL WORD IN MIND, here called GHOST. Played here by a human, a lobster-like alien and an AI computer. The prize is for one of the living players to be able to eat the other during a desperate starship-wreck situation of impending starvation. It ends with the computer asking to be allowed to fall apart just as the ramshackle starship had done at the very start.
    Whether the outcome was justice is your job to tell me. The first three people to drop a sub-comment below with a feasibly argued answer – or at least a funny one – will win a prize from me. (Click on the small ‘reply’ in the corner.)
    In these dark days, this tale was a sheer joy, whatever the logic involved.


    “The world has been very quiet of late, since most of the aliens left. It is a terrifying, insecure quietness, a dread.”

    A wonderfully provoking vision (factored into by a narrator lover’s jealousy as he or she follows his or her loved one who is seeking the female alien she once loved, now the only alien left on Earth?) of an Earth abandoned by the aliens that had once settled there, a vision that seems to modest-propose the whole condition of what we are now, today, still trying to come to terms with something unspeakable, negotiating the bespoke escalators the aliens left us, and their VIRAGO PRESS… forever groping for something cryptically, still groping in a good way, despite everything. A more serious game than Tenn’s. Or Trump’s.
    Groping for something I once found in those wonderful green distaff novels. Elizabeth Bowen still remains my favourite ever writer, among many others of such ilk.

    “And she becomes all thrusty glances that at first warn, then accuse, glances which say: You never understand, then later, You fool, then later still, You are trying to interfere in my life.”

  15. HOW ALEX BECAME A MACHINE (1996) by Stepan Chapman

    I often make such ‘thrusty glances’ at the editors’ separate intros to spot the year of publication, and today I discovered this is another excerpt from a novel. My comments above about the Nogha thus must apply here.
    I shall read both excerpts by Nogha and Chapman separately once I have completed this story anthology’s gestalt real-time review. Preternaturally relevant gestalts happen more often by accident or by absurdly defiant perverseness than by dutiful deliberation, I guess.

  16. THE POETRY CLOUD by Cixin Liu
    Translated by Chi-Yin Ip and Cheuk Wong

    “A tiny sun hovered at the core of the hollow Earth…”

    I tapped into the Poetry Cloud of a Poetry Cloud when I wrote my own hollow earth novel NN, I guess, then?
    A precursor to the current storage Clouds published before there were any such Clouds, this Liu work is the optimum of hyper-imagination, thence our gestalt of human poets and writers led up towards and whence a new gestalt of poets and writers like us led back down towards, but towards where or there in such a reconstructed universe provided by the gods, whether devourers of poem meat or bottles of ouzo or reconstituted ‘pretty girls’ that the top poet as clone or cone zero conjured from nowhere, just as he was himself conjured from nowhere as the top poet of all, is beyond me.
    This is a giant work, a revelation emerging from other revelations in this book, and when compared loosely as a three man (man, lobster and AI) in a balloon story like the Tenn, or on a vast bland sphere-or-plane-as-God like the Reed remora fish did, the three entities here are on a yacht (the three being a dinosaur, a would-be poet and the top poet as a god’s clone) – and their eventual tontine prize is equivalent, subject to Zeno’s paradox or the construction of the amazing vision of the Poetry Cloud which you will NEVER forget once you experience it through that trio’s eyes in this story.
    Meanwhile, till this story was written and now till it is read, we are all but bugs as shown by this week in history –
    “…and they were all disgusted by the bugs’ dirty thoughts, low behaviours, and the chaos and filth in the course of their history.”
    A game called Go or Plagiarism?

  17. STORY OF YOUR LIFE by Ted Chiang

    “Raspberry left the room and returned with some kind of giant nut or gourd and a gelatinous ellipsoid.”

    However gelatinous, that word would be allowed in Tenn’s ‘Ghost’ word game…
    This novelette, meanwhile, is a masterpiece and worth alone the entry fee to this big book, even bigger now, in what should have been foresight, not hindsight. It makes sense, all on its own, of my need to carry out this series of gestalt real-time reviews since 2008 and the retrocausality of Cone Zero and CERN Zoo. And more. But that is more personal than critical.
    This story is a compelling account by a woman of her linguistic interface with described aliens, visiting earth, but why?, in a scientifically and militarily disciplined scenario. This interface is in turn interfaced with the fact that her account to us is also an account to ‘you’, her daughter, believably re-rehearsing her daughter’s well-characterised lifetime, often in reverse, from her tragic death in her twenties, back toward her birth and coincidentally makes complete sense of Ian McEwan’s new novel I happen to be reviewing here at the same time as this review, a novel which, so far, is narrated from the womb! This novelette’s Nutshell as well as Salad Bowl Effect?
    The delineation – of the linguistic and the associative physics-mathematics regarding these aliens and interaction with them – is precise and allows you to understand many of these things you never understood before. The nature of ‘least distance’, for example, transcends this book’s gestalt so far of Zeno’s Paradox, as if the editors always knew they were working towards the Chiang, a work that is its own mandala. I would go as far as to say that my own life has been gestated and gestalted by experiencing this novelette today in one sitting, for the first time. I am glad I did not encounter it till now, because, at the time when I started this review, I was not at all certain I would ever complete it! (Still a few stories to read, though.)
    It makes everything worthwhile, knowing that at this end of things I now know I made ‘you’. (I made multitudinous pencilled marginalia to this text, too numerous to mention.)

  18. CRAPHOUND by Cory Doctorow

    “‘I would like to go with you on next Saturday very much Mr. Jerry Abington.’ He used to talk like that, without commas or question marks. Later, he got better, but then, it was all one big sentence.”

    That turned out, in hindsight, to be the first clue that this Doctorow was not only a coda to the Chiang but a roughneck cousin to it, too. It is also a marvellous unforgettable standalone tale of an alien who collects things I used to play with in the 1950s and other crap from later decades that built up in lofts, valued and to be used by the alien – for what? The same as with the mysterious mission of the Chiang aliens. I also loved the relationship between the human narrator and this ‘exoskeleton inserted into a special car with lego stuck to it of an alien’, a bidding war among the women’s institute rummage sales of oldsters’ souls like mine.
    A rummage sale of old 78s, and cowboys and Indian stuff children used to play with, et al, making Liu ‘s Poetry Cloud…

    “It all made poems. The old pulp novels and the pawn ticket, when I spread them out in front of the TV, and arranged them just so, they made up a poem that took my breath away.”

    And the alien and his fellow alien collectors play GO, too, just like Chiang’s aliens, GOING with equal mystery and deep philosophical understanding by oldsters like me…Ace Doubles, notwithstanding.

    “‘My people — we’re going. It has been decided. We’ve gotten what we came for.'”

  19. THE SLYNX by Tatyana Tolstaya
    Translated by James Gambrell

    Apparently another excerpt rather than a discrete story. Please see my comments on the Nogha and Chapman above on this page.

  20. “…and they were all disgusted by the bugs’ dirty thoughts, low behaviours, and the chaos and filth in the course of their history.”
    — From THE POETRY CLOUD already quoted above.

    BABY DOLL (2002) by Joanna Sinisalo
    Translated by David Hackston

    “What makes you think I’d want your old crap?”

    No wonder, during the past week, upon the news that we all heard in real-time, that I called our world TUONELA. Beyond the Krohn, but now tainted in Fermat’s ‘least distance’ by the Sinisalo.
    This story is the ultimate coda’s coda, the suicide bomb at the end of an anthology. You see I noticed not a single sign of irony in it.
    The Doctorow was the most perfect coda possible. But now the crap has collected for real, a seemingly gratuitous hyper-sexualised Neighbours or Home & Away soap opera, prefigured by the earlier Tanith Lee story in this book. As if to rationalise the Sibelius 32 year of silence at the end of his life, his inexplicable Black Swan moment?


    I earlier tested out a gestalt for this book towards the bottom of this review’s previous on-line page, i.e.:

    “The gestalt now emerging from this lolloping huggable giant is a post-religio-sex-scientific Gaia as the new age-transgressive transgender radiating more distaff than spear.”

    That is still a feasible gestalt, one I continue to process in my mind, but along the way, the kind editors have provided me with many wonderful mind-expanding revelations of hyper-imaginative literature that I would not have otherwise read. These represented the wild chance of a self-created gestalt that would entail you reading (and me re-reading) my whole review from beginning to end in order to garner it.

    A book that has its own editorial wild chances and soberly deliberate placements compelling you to appreciate its historic and imaginative contents as an eventual core experience. My head is bigger and my mind stronger as a result. But still just as precious.


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