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Painting of fox
Prints of this painting by Sharman, and others, are available at Sahara Cool under Animals and Birds.

8 September 2017

I felt free to review this myself, since I don’t have work in it and can say what I like. So – well, it’s good. A nice mix of long and short items, humour, and the scarier stuff. In fact in this issue it was the shorter writing I really enjoyed, Karl’s Corner, A Dog’s Eye on Ghosts, and Red and the Big Bad Wolf:Monster Hunters. Of the longer stories I liked Belfrey’s in Your Bats, and chortled at the title. The editor, David Riley, picks some good stories, and I was very happy to see SF TRAILS back again after a hiatus. The cover too is excellent and striking, as I expected, with Laura Givens as the artist. I hope this does well for the publisher, and that the publication continues because the art is always good, and the selection of work solid.

4 August 2017

A week or so ago I trotted off to the annual bookarama at our nearest town. Amid the other forty or so books that I bought was a Penguin Classics copy of Jack London’s assorted tales, including White Fang, and The Call Of The Wild. I happily read my way through them, and then turned idly to the ‘introduction by James Dickey,’ to be startled, surprised, and then annoyed, by the pontificating of a man who seemed intent on pulling down the author. Hmmm. Who is this guy? I looked him up on Wiki, and wasn’t that impressed. He seemed to me to be decrying London’s poverty-stricken background – from his own of middle-class privilege, to comment on London’s lack of education – from his own extensive one (clearly affordable, as London’s wasn’t.) And to comment unfavourably on London’s knowledge of animals.
In connection with that I noted in particular his denial that a fighting dog is capable of learning its trade. What? He suggests that he knows fighting dogs, that he had seen dogs fight often, and I suggest that ‘the heck he had.’ Animals that fight do learn ‘tricks of their trade.’ Why else do the bull-fighting organizations refuse to allow a bull to return again and again to the arena? Because a bull learns, with each fight it knows more, is more dangerous, and after several fights, it has learned enough to, more often than not, kill the matador. I’ve seen dogs fight, and I’ve observed that they do learn from each fight. I had a small Doberman in the 1970s, Cassie was a fighter when she felt it was necessary, fast, deadly, and more so with every time she fought, so that she could take on a considerably larger dog, and have it pinned by the throat in two passes. She most certainly did learn, and I wonder why James Dickey was so adamant dogs don’t.
Dickey complained that London anthropomorphized animals, that’s true, but he found it a grave and huge fault. What part of metaphor/lyricism, didn’t he get? London is saying that if a dog or wolf could think as a human does, this is what he would think. That an animal may be driven by instincts, but then so are people. We merely verbalize ours, as animals cannot. And which of us who are long-time owners of animals genuinely believe that animals do not feel emotions. Even sheep can grieve, remember, and build on instincts to achieve the occasional action that is something like intelligence.I’ve been a farmer for almost 30 years now and I can cite instances of that.
Of course, it may be that Dickey was only saying what he honestly believed, however his introduction reads like a condemnation of London’s impoverished background, his lack of education, and even his ability to write 50 readable books over his 20 productive years. (Dickey produced fewer than a dozen over a long lifetime.) In my opinion there are two things wrong with this introduction, one is that reading it before the book is likely to put off whose who would have normally gone on to read London’s work. The other is my own impression that here you have a man who could afford everything Jack London could not, who could do little if anything that Jack London did, and who produced little that has even already lasted as long as London’s finest works, who chose to use his position to tear down the greater man. He may not have intended to do so, but that is the impression I had, and in the end, the reader’s impression is what counts.

time and time again, I input a new item on my blog, and all too often it is then announced that there has been a server error and I should tell someone. It does this now and again when I access and delete spam, when I check on others of my posts, and then I want to look at settings. It seems to have a ‘thing’ about it, and I’m getting irked. Frankly, I don’t care if the site has a hangup on server errors, I just wish it would stop telling me or having them on my site!!!

10 August 2016

I am sorry for everyone that can’t follow older comments, you aren’t alone. Some time ago I found that Word Press won’t allow me to look at my own blog from the outside either. Now it won’t allow me to add my own comments in response to yours. Contact the webmater? Oh, yes, well, tried that and all I get is a blank green page. Did manage at some early stage to get to their FAQs, (something I can’t do now) and that was so long and complicated I could never find an appropriate section to check. I tend to the technoilliterate, and frankly I don’t know what to do, or how to do it. And I’m busy writing books, novellas, and short stories, I don’t have time to spend days trying to thread my way through endless stuff that takes me around in circles. So, I’m really really sorry, and at least I can keep posting – when the site isn’t bleating about internal server errors – and if anyone knows how to presuade Word Press to be helpful, that would improve my life, your lives, and contribute to the dialogue.

11 May 2016

Quick review of this book from Steve Johnson- wow. nudity, tits, a lizard king, and some very strange events. Read this, and if you’re my age, it’s all gonna remind you in a very weird way of Jim Morrison. And that can’t be bad!

And (with a broad grin after posting that from a friend who reviews for this site now and again ) What he says, plus – I like Sarah, it’s really really nice to see an agent that’s female, conpetant, and likeable, also wish we had ‘a bright orange door’ (with all those services behind it) around here.
I set out to read this a few pages at a time over a couple of weeks. (I prefer print books and ended up with this on my computer) Somehow that didn’t work, I kept finding I’d read well into the time i was planning to do something else – a good recommendation. I laughed aloud at the episode of King Karl and the reclamation of his scepter – and world. And then I moved the PDF to a flash drive so I can read it again, and maybe again, and … Yup, I liked it. Buy the book.

7 February 2016

E-book, 12 stories.
Wow, that’s all I can say. Wow. I’m a sentimentalist for media. I cry in sad movies and reading sad books and stories. And the first one of these got me right where I live. (I have Grown Old In Service To My Country by Cary G. Osborne.) For two reasons. One was that a couple of years ago I volunteered to go to Mars. Yes, a five year round trip, but on my own and I would have gone if selected too. But the project folded. Reading this story I’m not sure if I should be happy or sad about that. But the story itself has real power, and the ending rang like a bell. Doc and the Crash Landing by J. A. Campbell is a great tale, aliens looking for auto parts, and a guy and his dog. A dog that hunts vampires and werewolves and chats to squirrels, with a horde of squirrels that, after consultation, save the day. Yes! David Lee Summers’ Arachne’s Stepchildren was a carry-me-along story, the end is open but that way is right this time. There are so many possibilities inherent in the plot that to have shut the story down using only one wouldn’t have worked. And I can’t help wondering, what could he do with this as a book?
Then there is Kanti’s BlacK Box by Nicole Givens Kurtz, a story that reminds readers that under an alien skin there may still beat a heart-analogue that has similar emotions to ours.., and Red Ashes by Sam Knight had a surprising finale to an absorbing story. Altogether this was a solid, well’chosen anthology. While I liked the stories I have mentioned better than others, there was no story I disliked. And there aren’t many anthologies about which I can say that. It’s excellent that this is the second of the editor’s anthologies I or a reader friend could say this about and I look forward to more. Recommended.

3 February 2016

softcover, anthology, 22 short stories on title theme.
Reviewed by Steve Johnson.
Another nice offering from Whortleberry Press. Some great stories in this one with one of my favourites only three in. Blue Grass Dreams Aren’t For Free by Gerri Leen is a very good tale of human/horse reversal, although not perhaps as you’d expect. Lyn McConchie’s Sisters too wasn’t what I’d expected, but I really liked it, and The Food Chain by Edward Ahern sent shivers down my spine. I also really enjoyed Tom Howard’s The Last Man, (a creepy little piece) Survival of the Fittest by Jack Hillman, (also creepy) and The Man Who Was Only History by J.J. Steinfeld which acts rather like a punch in the guts. (I don’t like that version of the future, but boy is it powerful.)
I found that the two stories I didn’t enjoy as much were both set very solidly in American backgrounds, (so much so that I doubt someone not that conversant with such backgrounds may, as I did, not quite understand or appreciate them. This is not the author’s fault, it’s merely a fact. Nor is it a mistake for an editor to use the works, since she is American and the anhtology would primarily be sold there. But as someone on the other side of the world, I didn’t get a lot of the nuances and was aware of it. That said, with 22 stories, and only two that didn’t do it for me, that’s an excellent result. Chuck’s tag lines put a nice cap on the anthology too. How to sum up a story in a phrase – and he’s good at it. Recommended.

17 January 2016

Hardcover, published by ACE, December 2015.
Many of Jack’s books have been a mad romp through space, but this one has a thread of seriousness running under the surface right throughout the book. The romp is there, but the book made me think hard about a few things too.
In the Sioux Reservation of Spirit Lake an ancient teleportation facility has been excavated. It leads directly to three worlds to which modern human explorers have travelled at least once. There is the world they call Riverwalk, the world of the Maze, and Eden, a beautiful world that appears unspoiled and uninhabited. But two of these worlds are going to provide surprises, as is the Space Station which, initially not completely accessible, will open up a very large can of worms once the closed portion is opened.
And that is where the underlying thread comes in. Eden is temptation, to behave as badly as humans can or do, to take advantage, and seize unlawfully, and to assume that might is right. But there is a greater danger, which put simply is that each world or destination has new places for which they provide a jumping-off place. And what happens if the place that is found is deadly? If an explorer brings back something they can’t prevent or control? Something already has come back from the world of the Maze, it was returned, but did it stay returned? And it appeared to be benign, but will it remain so, and even if of goodwill, how much can alien goodwill be guaranteed to align with our definition of that?
The space station views have shown something that is alarming, entities have come from the Maze, and with Eden under threat, is this facility too dangerous to allow people continued access? I found that I was asking myself that as I read. What would I do? What would my decision be if it were up to me? I believe in progress, but I acknowledge that any form of progress brings a downside. Cars speed up our lives while continuing to kill and maim large numbers of us. The internet is useful, but trolling has caused the suicides of too many of those bullied.
And there is my own bugbear. The Large Hadron Collider. Yes, it is bringing new scientific knowledge, but how much use will that be to us all if the outcome at some stage is a doomsday scenario. A number of scientists have denied this possibility, and no doubt they were telling the truth as they saw it. They said that the chances of this happening were one in 50 million. Ah guys, the chances for someone to win the recent one and a half billion dollar lottery were a lot higher, and guess what, three people won. The law of chance is merciless. Sooner or later, the coin lands wrong side up and you lose. All of which makes me wonder just how safe we are from the Large Hadron Collider and a doomsday event. Which is the reason behind the main character’s decision in Thunderbird. In many ways I would protest it in real life however in real life too I would also understand and even agree.
And that’s what makes this book such a good read. There’s the excitement of looking at new worlds, the discoveries, the explorations, and the chance of something really wonderful. Then there’s the other side, in which you see the motivations of many involved and the dangers of pushing ahead too fast, and you wonder if that happened here which side would you come down on? In the end I couldn’t be certain, but I know about the Collider, If asked I wouldn’t have agreed to it, and that’s makes it possible I’d have done as Thunderbird’s character did in the end.
Still the decision was so finely balanced throughout the book that you don’t know what it will be until the final pages, and I still can’t be sure I’d agree, not quite. So I guess I’ll be reading this book every few years for the next thirty trying to decide. In the other words, yup, it’s twenty-second great Jack McDevitt. Go and buy it, see if you’d make the same decision, and remember, one chance in fifty million, still means there’s a chance!

29 November 2015

softcover, 28 stories etc. 6th in a themed series.
reviewed by Steve Johnson.
I’m going to make this fast, it’s the time of the year when a whole stack of things to do descend on me, and they have. This is one of Lyn’s author copies, I know she was really pleased to have a story in it because she is an animal-lover, but that means she likes animals, NOT what some people do in some of these stories. It’s a good anthology though.
I particularly liked Lyn’s own story, Earnest, all about a misplaced rooster. We both liked the last story too, Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk. And I loved Squonk The Dragon, Brush and Sniff, Faithful, and Gerbil 07 which had me laughing out loud. Not a bad anthology average, 25% of the stories I unequivocally liked, no reservations on anything about them. A pleasant anthology competently edited, good layout and print size, and a cover of solid quality, attractively done.

13 November 2015

softcover, 217 pages, intro, and 13 stories. From SF Trails.
reviewed by Steve Johnson.
As Lyn says, it must be the season. We’d (my wife, Glen and I) no sooner vanished off down the road in our campervan, than Lyn got in copies of two anthologies with her work and wanted me to review them. Unfortunately they had to wait until we got back, but now that ae are –
MIDDAY SUN is an editor’s choice volume. That means Mr. Riley went back over a stack of anthologies his publishing house produced previously, and selected from them the stories he likes best himself. That can be either a disaster or a triumph, and in this case it was a triumph. He attracts a number of talented writers, and in any of the Trails anthologies I usually like about half of the stories a lot. In this one out of 13 stories I really enjoyed all but two. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the two, just that they didn’t appeal to me. So –
last up were two I liked best, the editor’s own tale The Preacher, (with a punchline that made me LOL, I could just hear that weary, faintly ironic comment in my head) and J.A. Campbell’s, Serpent’s Rest, which sent shivers down my backbone. They Zapped With Their Boots On was a very solid riff on alternate worlds, while Ching Song Ping and the 53 Thieves had a whiff of Ali Baba about it and made me smile at the final line. Also excellent were Lyn’s A Day Out Shopping (which I enjoyed when I first read it in ms) the first of two stories by John Howard, Kit Volker’s Art Lessons, and C.J. Killmer’s, Forewarned is…
All in all this was a great anthology, and I think that the editor could do a lot worse that to produce a second ‘editorial choice’ anthology sometime in the future, if only because his taste seems to allign with mine.

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