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A Different Top Ten Space Operas

In response to Gareth Powell’s list Ian Sales has posted his own. Typically of Ian his choices are idiosyncratic. I note he sneaks in more than ten too.

My strike rate here is much lower.

Judgment Night, CL Moore (1952)
Empire Star, Samuel R Delany (1966)
Valérian and Laureline, Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières (1967 – present)
The Children of Anthi and Requiem for Anthi, Jay D Blakeney (1985 – 1990)
Master of Paxwax and The Fall of the Families, Phillip Mann (1986 – 1987)
Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland (1990)
An Exchange of Hostages, Prisoner of Conscience and Hour of Judgement, Susan R Matthews (1997 – 1999)
The Prodigal Sun, The Dying Light and A Dark Imbalance, Sean Williams & Shane Dix (1999 – 2001)
The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds, Scott Westerfeld (2003)
Spirit, or the Princess of Bois Dormant, Gwyneth Jones (2008)

Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above by Ian Sales

Apollo Quartet 3, Whippleshield Books, 2013, 71 p

 Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above cover

Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above is the third of Sales’s “Apollo Quartet” novellas wherein he mines the byways of the 1960s space programme but puts his own spin on it. This one is told in sections labelled “Up” and “Down” – the “Up” parts delineating the history of the US space programme in a timeline where the Korean War lasted for eleven years and, men being unavailable due to their military commitments, it was women who became astronauts; the “Down” describe a mission to retrieve from the Puerto Rico Trench the contents of a misplaced spy satellite recovery. (Deep-sea exploration is another of Sales’s areas of interest.) Additional sections named “Strange” and “Charm” tell of the information gained from the spy photographs and the response to it while “Top” and “Bottom” give a history of deep-sea exploration technology and women’s involvement in the space programme in our world.

As is usual with Sales the detail he includes is convincing but the human dimension is not lacking. His heroine, Geraldyne Cobb is well drawn.

More Awards News

Great to see that Ian Sales’s BSFA Award winning Adrift on the Sea of Rains has made it to another awards short list, this time the Sidewise Awards; which are for Altered History (or Alternate History as they affect to call it.)

Best of 2012

Vector, Spring 2013

Last week the latest edition of Vector, the review journal of the BSFA, dropped through the letter box.

The spring issue is traditionally the one where its reviewers say which books most impressed them in the previous year.

I was a bit surprised, then, to find Ian Sales including my novel A Son of the Rock in his list. It was after all published in 1997.

He says it’s, “the sort of character-led, considered and very British SF which rarely seems to be published these days.”

That’s going straight onto the “Praise for A Son of the Rock” part of the Buy My Book page in my sidebar.

I know Ian only read the book recently – he reviewed it here, in a post published in January this year, but his review wasn’t overly extravagant.

I am therefore now extremely chuffed.

The Eye With Which the Universe Beholds Itself by Ian Sales

Whippleshield Books, 2013, 80p.

This is the second in the Apollo Quartet, the first of which, Adrift on the Sea of Rains, has just won the BSFA Award.

Once again we have an Altered History. Here, Alexei Leonov was the first man on the Moon but the Russians quickly gave up going there to concentrate on Space Stations. Our hero, Brigadier General Bradley Elliott, USAF, though, was the first – and only – man on Mars, in 1979. What he found there drives the plot as he is recalled to NASA twenty years later to undertake a faster than light trip to Gliese 376 to investigate what has happened to the colony there.

As in Adrift, there are two strands interleaved with each other (which is not unusual) and tricks with typography but again the Glossary which follows rounds out the tale – even if one part of it appears to contradict a piece of dialogue in the text. That latter could have been a deliberate misdirection, though and a Coda explaining the central conception and the FTL drive is a less successful addition to the formula.

With his utilisation of the glossary Sales seems to have found a new way to tell the space exploration story. It is of course a species of info dumping but he has arguably turned the necessity into a strength.

He is very good on the nuts and bolts of space travel, especially if you can thole the alphabet soup of NASA terminology. A list of abbreviations is given to help with this. Elliott is a complex enough figure though the other characters are less fleshed out; but in an 80 page book only 47 of which are actual story it could hardly be otherwise.

BSFA Awards Time Again

BSFA Awards Booklet 20122013

Yesterday the booklet containing the short listed stories and artwork for the BSFA Awards for works from 2012 landed on my doormat.

It’s a handsome enough thing, seeming thicker than in previous years.

I’ve already read Ian Sales’s Adrift on the Sea of Rains (my thoughts on that are here) and three others of the stories on the internet which I was going to post about soon.

I’ll now be able to complete the set before voting.

BSFA Awards 2012

The BSFA Award shortlist for stories published in 2012 has been announced.

For best novel we have:-

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (Corvus)

Empty Space: a Haunting by M. John Harrison (Gollancz)

Intrusion by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)

Jack Glass by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit.)

Unusually I have read three out of the five already, two of those courtesy of Interzone and its kind reviews editor. Thank you, Jim.

My views on 2312 I posted on this blog only two days ago. Those on Empty Space will be forthcoming.

Intrusion I reviewed here.

As for the short stories I have read only one of them so far, the last on this list; and very good it was too.

Three others, though, are available to read on the net. Doubtless the BSFA will be producing its usual booklet.

Immersion by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld no. 69)

The Flight of the Ravens by Chris Butler (Immersion Press)

Song of the body Cartographer by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (Phillipines Genre Stories)

Limited Edition by Tim Maughan (1.3, Arc Magazine)

Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville (Rejectamentalist Manifesto)

Adrift on the Sea of Rains by Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)

Rocket Science Edited by Ian Sales

Mutation Press, 2012, 314p

 Rocket Science cover

Rocket Science is an anthology of short SF stories all with realistic settings which take account of known science. The stories are interweaved with five non-fiction pieces about the tensions of an impending rocket launch, the terraforming of Mars, the severe drawbacks of space suits, radiation hazards in space and a short history of waveriders.

There are multiple quotes from the Apollo programme or wider space endeavour, “Houston, we’ve got a problem,” “magnificent desolation,” “not because they are easy” and despite being a British publication are quite often written or spelled in Usian (apnea rather than apnoea.)

Given the collection’s remit to reflect the limitations on space exploration both Hohman transfer orbits and the effects of radiation in space gain frequent mentions. If you had not known about these before you would have no excuse after reading Rocket Science.

The fiction varies in style from the serious to the lighthearted – sometimes almost to the wistful. Capsule (ahem) reviews follow.

Tell Me A Story by Leigh Kimmel
A child’s story about The Astronaut and the Man in the Moon resonates nostalgically through human progress from Moon bases to Mars settlements out to the Kuiper Belt.

Fisher’s Gambit by Stephen Gaskell.
A lone prospector in the Kuiper Belt enters into a bargain that will make his fortune. But what is the nature of his benefactor?

Final Orbit by Nigel Brown
The US is retiring from space and the International Space Station is being sold off and broken up in the full glare of internet access. Their astronauts plan a last act of defiance. This is written from a US point of view. A British angle on a story such as this (I have thought of a similar scenario) would most likely lead to a more muted dénouement.

Incarnation by Craig Pay
“Soul shards” set into the skull allow reincarnation after death. A father has fled to Titan after his already reincarnated daughter kills herself. His wife pursues him with a sample of their daughter’s blood desperate to reincarnate her a second time. An affecting tale well told.

Dancing on the Red Planet by Berit Ellingsen
The first humans to land on Mars plan to celebrate not with a small step but by dancing…. This is a story which is slight but warmly human and affirmative.

Pathfinders by Martin McGrath
An isolated scientific community – apparently in Antarctica (and all of whom seem to be male) – has its communication from Earth Control cut. Tensions result. This is reminiscent of the editor’s “Adrift on the Sea of Rains” but with no Wunderwaffe.

A Biosphere Ends by Stephen Palmer
A Chinese-Korean mission to Mars experiences degradation in its closed environment. Later an AI investigates the failure. This story is unusual in that the information dumps are boxed off and in a different type-face.

Slipping Sideways by Carmelo Rafala
A man whose lover has killed herself is told by her husband that the Large Hadron Collider has allowed parallel universes to coexist.

Conquistadors by Iain Cairns
A company wishing to mine asteroids is faced with a Greenpeace type protest.

Going, Boldly by Helen Jackson
A holodeck style games software developer is sent abroad to learn the details of different animals’ movements to incorporate them into the latest game as preparation for an interstellar colony drive. Has some humorous moments.

Why Barnaby Isn’t Aboard the ISS Today by Gary Cuba
A klutz ends up on the International Space Station by accident. Told not to “screw the pooch” he can think of nothing else. Inconsequential, but mildly amusing.

Not Because They Are Easy by Sam S Kepfield
The US Moon landing in 1969 is pre-empted by the Soviet Union. Four years later their “landing” is revealed as a hoax. Subsequent history unfolds rather differently than it did in our universe. (Though, for me, Nixon as a redeemed President is far too hard to swallow.)

The Taking of IOSA 2083 by C J Paget
A group attempts to hijack an asteroid habitat in order to escape a failing colony. What they find on it shades from SF into horror – like a reversal of John Wyndham’s short story Survival.

The Brave Little Cockroach Goes To Mars by Simon McCaffrey
A US Mars mission cobbled together on shoestring to forestall Chinese, Russian and European efforts to reach the Red Planet first has a stowaway….

Sea of Maternity by Deborah Walker
An inhabitant of a lunar colony, fixated on her work and with a complicated private life find sout what is really important to her.

The New Tenant by Dr Philip Edward Kaldon
The International Space Station is sold off to a small company which struggles to make a success of its plans.

Dreaming at Baikonur by Sean Martin
More or less a chronicle of the tribulations of the father of the Soviet Space Programme, Sergei Korolev, but in fictional form.

The Hugo Awards

Ian Sales has been complaining about the latest Hugo Awards.

This is a subject nobody outside the SF world (not to mention many inside it) gives a toss about but to others it’s important. The Hugos claim to identify the best SF in any particular year but as Sales says the categories are now somewhat out of date and their boundaries can be obscure.

I used to pay some attention to them as a guide to what to seek out to read – and later when an acquaintance/friend was up for one of them. This year’s mainly passed me by. The results are here.

Since only attendees of any year’s Worldcon (Worldcon = the annual world SF convention) or its supporting members (financial contibutors who cannot attend) have a vote in the nominations or final ballot the awards are in essence a popularity contest so not necessarily giving an indicator as to quality.

The main flaw though is that since the Worldcon is usually held in the USA – and even when it isn’t – most of its members are from the US. This means they are and always have been essentially USian awards. This is historically inevitable since the US was the largest SF market and largest source of writers. But it does unlevel the playing field.

The Sales Equation

Being of a mathematical bent I just love this equation Ian Sales has posted on his blog:-

How Science Fiction works

It purports to give a mathematical expression to how Science Fiction works.

I immediately recognised its similarity to the Drake Equation:-

Drake Equation

which tries to estimate the number of detectable extraterrestrial civilisations in our galaxy, the Milky Way.

See his post for the full argument but in Sales’s equation the terms are:-

W = wonder
lg = greatest distance mentioned in the text
tg = greatest length of time mentioned in the text
Nn = number of ideas/nova in the text
Nf = number of ideas/nova reader has encountered previously
ir = closeness of the viewpoint character to the reader as a function of background, worldview, attitudes, etc – ie, an indicator of their ability to identify with the character
jn = number of situations of jeopardy for point-of-view character(s)
ja = amplitude of situations of jeopardy for point-of-view character(s), where 1 is fatal
Cn = size of cast in the text
Br = bandwidth of the reader (calculated from educational level, number of books read, age)
Dr = willingness of the reader to suspend disbelief.

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