Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fleet of Worlds - World Herding at its Best! :)

Larry Niven and Edward R. Lerner
TOR August 2008

Reviewed by Carl Cheney

Imagine fleeing danger (that’s 20,000 years in the future) by moving your entire solar system, accelerating it up to ninety percent of the speed of light!  This is the solution adopted by the Pierson’s Puppeteers.

Pierson's Puppeteers are an alien race created by Larry Niven, which appears in Fleet of Worlds by Niven and Edward R. Lerner. They (the Puppeteers not Messrs. Niven and Lerner) have three hoofed legs supporting a maned body, topped by dual, flexible necks. Upon each neck sits a head with an eye and a mouth. The heads resemble two sock puppets, hence the nickname. Their lips are prehensile and their voices are amazingly flexible—in fact you can’t properly pronounce their names unless you can sing two-part harmony.

Originally, the Puppeteers were grazing herd animals where caution became their watchword, their M. O., in fact, their entire approach to existence! Their leader is known as Hindmost because leading from the safest place has the most status. Now they are fleeing the galactic core to avoid a cascading chain reaction of supernovae that will arrive in their planetary system’s original location in only 20,000 Earth years.

In general, Puppeteers are way too careful to travel in starships, so they take along several planets from their solar system and some adopted planets with a couple of stars in their long migration toward galactic north, somehow pushing the whole artificial solar system using an inertialess drive.

However, there’s always the possibility of encountering something scary along the way, an intolerable idea to the Puppeteer psyche. Enter Nessus, the insane (though not too insane!) Puppeteer scout. A sane Puppeteer wouldn’t venture from its home planet of Hearth, much less go looking for trouble and nevermind meddling in the affairs of humans.

Sometimes Puppeteers have an odd idea of being cautious. When alien races appear to be a threat or an opportunity presents itself, Puppeteers meddle in their affairs. In fact Puppeteers are shameless meddlers. Working through bribed proxies, they carefully shape the human politics and technology of Earth, discrediting policies and individuals as needed to create the conditions they wish. For example, they decide to alter the human genome—never mind why. To destroy the humans’ administration that controls procreation, they plant misinformation making the process seem corrupt.

In Fleet of Worlds, there is a whole planet for farming. Humans tend the crops and some areas are set aside as natural preserves. According to revealed Puppeteer history, the Puppeteers found a derelict ship stuffed with human embryos, home unknown. Humans turn out to be useful as farmers and later as scouts since they don’t have to be insane to take risks. Humans that the Puppeteers keep as unknowing slaves are completely ignorant that the Puppeteers are also involved with the humans of Earth and its colonies.

Kirsten Quinn-Kovacs has a gift for mathematics and computer science. This pursuit is hard to justify in an agrarian setting, so she signs up as navigator on a journey to examine a potential threat to the Puppeteers. A faint radio signal has been detected near the future path of the Fleet of Worlds. Nessus and his human crew are dispatched to examine the source of the signal. They discover a fledgling, waterborne race using primitive technology to discover what lies beyond their knowledge. An orbiting comet is arranged by the Puppeteer-led crew to smash the home world of the Grouth on command, just in case it becomes necessary to eliminate this potential threat.

Examining the onboard computer in the scout ship, Kirsten discovers that there are big holes in the information concerning how Puppeteers came to know their enslaved humans. Her quest to reveal the truth leads her to find the original colony ship and eventually much more.

Niven and Lerner spin a delightful saga with logical consequences following each bold element of their story. The characters, human and otherwise, are fascinating as are the intricate webs they weave. I especially love the grand scale of things with the cowardly yet clever Puppeteers fleeing long-term doom by moving a whole solar system as though pushing around toys.

Larry Niven with and without other authors has written interlocking stories in what he calls “Known Space”. Although Fleet of Worlds is first of three books about the Puppeteer exodus (Juggler of Worlds and Destroyer of Worlds continue the theme), there are numerous other books set in the same universe with additional characters, themes, and wondrous stories. This website suggests an order of reading books in this literary canon. If you explore this encyclopedia of Niven’s stories, you may find yourself hip-deep in spoilers, although they’re carefully labeled. You could easily start with this book and then branch out, although someone who is a devout avoider of spoilers would begin at the beginning with Neutron Star (unfortunately now out of print). The avid science fiction reader would not care to miss Ringworld, perhaps Niven's magnum opus.

Fleet of Worlds contrasts the thinking and beliefs of three different races as their destinies intertwine and bonds are created and severed. There are strong female characters, alien sex, interspecies politics, surprise developments and infinite empty space where anything can happen. I loved it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The World Can't End, Because Amazing Stories Is Back!

Well, we're still here. And it's raining water, not fire (at least here in the North Bay). I wonder how many Mayans are laughing their asses off at the thought of us thinking the world would end today. I think they just didn't get around to doing the succeeding calendar. What was the hurry, after all? Who can come up with a calendar that lasts for all eternity?

There are loads of wonderful things in store for science fiction fans. For instance, on January 2nd, the original science fiction magazine, that was in uninterrupted existence for fifty years is back. If you remember Amazing Stories, you're excited already. If you don't, you will be after you read the press release below. This has been in the works for years and promises to be everything the old rag was and so much more as it embraces the possibilities that modern technology presents.

DON'T MISS THE 2013 MOVIE TRAILERS after this press release...

Dec. 21, 2012 -- Amazing Stories, the world's first science fiction magazine, opens for Beta Testing of Phase 1 on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013.

Fifty+ Writers Sign On to provide genre-related content!

Experimenter Publishing Company
Hillsboro, NH
December 20, 2012

The Experimenter Publishing Company is pleased to announce the  reintroduction of the world's most recognizable science fiction magazine – AMAZING STORIES!

Set to relaunch with a Beta Test of its new Social Magazine Platform, Amazing Stories will feature content from 50+ bloggers, covering an enormous array of subjects of interest to genre fans.

“We've got authors and agents, bloggers and editors, pod casters and broadcasters; we've got gamers and game designers; artists and art collectors; pulpsters and indie authors; we've got Hugo winners, John W. Campbell Memorial Award winners, John W. Campbell Best New Writer winners, Nebula and Hugo Award winners and nominees and winners and nominees of many other awards;  people who review films, people who make films; we've got fanboys and fangirls; we've got former editors of Amazing Stories, writers who've become synonymous with the field and writers who are just getting started; comic artists, book reviewers; traditionally published authors, self-pubbed authors and authors who've done it all.  The response to my request for participation was phenomenal – it couldn't be more perfect if I had set out with a list of must-haves!” said Steve Davidson, publisher. 

Amazing Stories' Social Magazine platform is designed to create an interactive environment that will be familiar to fans with blog content designed to encourage discussion  and take things beyond the usual user-generated content model for social networks.

The Amazing Stories Blog Team will cover (for now – more coming!) fourteen popular topics – Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, (lit), Film, Television, Gaming, Comics and Graphic Works,  the Visual Arts, the Pulps, Audio Works,  Anime, the Business of Publishing, Science and Fandom itself. 

At this year's Worldcon (Chicon 7 the 70th Worldcon, Chicago), Toastmaster John Scalzi talked about what it was to be a fan and concluded by saying

We are diverse - and we are all in this together.”

We are diverse – and we are all in this together, a sentiment that captures the very heart and soul of what it means to be a fan.  Amazing Stories aims to be a vehicle through which the diversity of fandom can come together. 

Amazing Stories' relaunch will take place in two phases.  Those interested in participating in the Beta Test of Phase 1 should contact the publisher at  Participants will receive full access to the site with Member status and will receive on-site benefits as the project moves forward.

Phase 2 will introduce additional interactivity and user-customization to the site.  Following the completion and testing of Phase 2, the magazine, featuring both new and reprint fiction, essays, photo galleries, reviews and more will begin publication.  Readers who are interested in what the magazine will look like can read two Relaunch Prelaunch issues on line, or download them from the Amazing Stories store.  (Additional Amazing Stories themed product is also available here.)

Experimenter Publishing is pleased to introduce the  Amazing Stories Blog Team:

Cenobyte, Mike Brotherton, Ricky L. Brown, Michael A. Burstein,
Catherine Coker, Johne Cook, Paul Cook, Gary Dalkin, Jane Frank,
Jim Freund, Adam Gaffen, Chris Garcia, Chris Gerwel, Tommy Hancock,
Liz Henderson, Samantha Henry, M. D. Jackson, Monique Jacob,
Geoffrey James, J. J. Jones, Peggy Kolm, Justin Landon, Andrew Liptak, Melissa Lowery, Barry Malzberg, C. E. Martin, Farrell J. McGovern, Steve Miller, Matt Mitrovich, Aidan Moher, Kevin Murray, Ken Neth, Astrid Nielsch, D. Nicklin-Dunbar, John Purcell, James Rogers, Diane Severson, Doug Smith, Lesley Smith, Bill Spangler, Duane Spurlock, Michael J. Sullivan, G. W. Thomas, Erin Underwood, Stephan Van Velzen, Cynthia Ward, Michael Webb, Keith West, John M. Whalen, Karlo Yeager, Leah Zeldez


Originally published in 1926 by the father of science fiction, Hugo Gernsback, Amazing Stories helped to launch both the science fiction genre and its most enduring feature, science fiction fandom.  The magazine is well known for its Frank R. Paul covers and for publishing the first stories by many iconic authors such as Isaac Asimov, Jack Williamson and Ursula Le Guin.  Published continuously from 1926 until 1995, followed by two brief resurrections from 1998 till 2000 and again from 2004 thru 2005.  In 2008 Hasbro, the then current owner, allowed the trademarks to lapse and publisher Steve Davidson applied for and eventually received them in 2011.

Additional history and background on Amazing Stories can be found at the Science Fiction Encyclopedia and Wikipedia.  A complete gallery of all 609 previous issues with publication history is also available.

The Experimenter Publishing Company was created in 2012 for the purpose of returning Amazing Stories magazine to regular publication.  The company  shares the name of the original magazine's publisher as homage.  The trademarks for Amazing Stories were acquired by Steve Davidson in 2011,  the previous owners having allowed the marks to lapse in 2008, at which time application was made for a new incarnation of the same title.

A complete copy of this press release will appear on the Amazing Stories Blog on the date of release.

Here are some hot movies to look forward to in 2013. Not exactly uplifting, feel-good movies. But they are a testament to the determination of the human spirit, even when the world is destroyed...


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Windrider is full of delicious conflict

by S. A. Bolich
Sky Warrior Books (2012)

Windrider is the second volume in the Masters of the Elements series by S. A. Bolich, an entertaining and refreshing brand of fantasy. The novel takes the reader back to the land of Metrenna, where the powers of fire, wind, water and earth both threaten and sustain the land through their separate aspects. In the first book, Firedancer, we were introduced to Jetta ak'Kal and her struggle to keep the Ancient, the malevolent face of Old Man Fire, from destroying her newfound home in the mountainous territory of Annam Vale. In the second book, our narrator changes to Sheshan ak'Kal, windrider of the third rank, and pledged lifemate of Jetta.

All is peaceful in Annam Vale until a Messenger arrives. Driven by urgency, he fails to yield and causes an accident on the road. The Ancient takes this opportunity to strike, and Jetta, her Firedancer partner Settak and the other inhabitants of Annam Vale work to squelch the flames. The Messenger lays grievously wounded but will only speak his message to Wyth, head of the windrider clan. Wyth refuses to hear the message, and the Messenger dies unheard.

Soon enough, Wyth reveals that he has already received one message from the Storm Council and that the Messenger had likely been sent to demand his answer. The Ancient and the Hag, Metrenna's dangerous personified Fire and Wind have become unpredictable and unresponsive to the usual containment methods. Word has spread of how the firedancers and windriders of Annam Vale worked together to thwart the fires of the Ancient. Wyth decides that Clan Heshth cannot remain isolated in Annam Vale, and his clan, as well as Jetta and Settak, set out to speak with the Storm Council in distant Oppanum.

Sheshan is reluctant to face the outside world. The tempest that destroyed most of his clan and his first lifemate left him scarred in many ways. In the events of the first book, he learned to find purpose again in the defense of Annam Vale's gentle inhabitants, and love again with Jetta. But he is still unable to interact with the Wind through song, wrestling it with his will alone. Before leaving Annam Vale with the rest of his clan, he challenges the Hag, shrieking at the cruel sister to Wind. Anger drives this rash act, and the voice of the Hag stays with him, taunting him as he travels through the lowlands with Clan Heshth.

As the windriders and their companions travel, they discover that much of the world has suffered from the depredations of the untamed elements. Sheshan must fight against his own doubts, the Hag, and the prejudices of others, as well as strife in his relationship with Jetta. All these conflicts come together in an outstanding climax that makes an excellent conclusion to a middle volume while leaving enough questions remaining that readers will be eagerly awaiting the last book in the trilogy.

Those readers familiar with the first book will be swept into this second volume, and even newcomers should be able to quickly get their bearings with the series. The strongest aspects are the brilliant characters and the fascinating cultures of Metrenna. It was nice to see the characters travel out of Annam Vale so that we had a view of the rest of the land and its people. The only criticism that I will raise is that I felt like the focus of the plot drifted in the middle of the book. This was not enough of a problem to bother me much, as the characters and their problems kept my interest.

The third book, Seaborn, has no release date at this time.

Editor's note: 
This review is very timely because I wanted to write to tell you about my friend Sue (S. A. Bolich) and why you should read her work. I've known her for probably five years now and have read a lot of her short stories when I was in the online critique group, Other Worlds Writers Workshop, that she co-founded in 1998. Her rough drafts look like my finals. And her descriptions are more vivid than any I've read. She doesn't waste words and chooses them with care.

Now she needs care. The cancer she had been told was defeated ten years ago has returned, going into her lungs and bones now. Nobody writes because they think they will get rich or even live comfortably doing so. We write because we must. It's our passion. Unless we hit the bestseller lists time and time again, we will struggle financially. Sue has health insurance, but it's a high-deductible plan that are the only ones, as self-employed writers, most of us can afford. Some don't even have that.

I encourage you to buy this series of books. You'll be doing yourself a favor, while also helping a struggling writer -- at least with the bills. Cancer isn't the automatic death sentence it once was, but the treatments don't come cheap and are mostly unpleasant. And often far away - made worse by the price of gas and the taxing trip home.

Please read the Clare's review of Firedancer and my interview with Sue herein.

This holiday season, consider purchasing a gift that will keep on giving. And make one struggling writer's life a little easier. Buy S. A. Bolich's books here. There's even a facebook page dedicated to the cause.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Magnificent Minister (of Chance) is BACK!

The Minister of Chance is at it again. I can NEVER say enough good things about this exciting, well-done, audio space-opera series. The characters and settings are limited only by your imagination. The sound effects and acting are superb! If you love Dr. Who, you'll love the Minister, too. If you don't love Dr. Who, well, I guess you'll also not get half my jokes. Use the Google search engine on the right if you haven't read all my reviews of this fabulous series. There are also quite a few interview videos posted here as well.
graphic by Radio Static/Lee Sullivan
The Minister of Chance
starring Julian Wadham,  Jenny Agutter,  Gethin Anthony, Lauren Crace,  Paul Darrow,  Beth Goddard,  Tamsin Greig,  Sylvester McCoy,  Paul McGann

NEWS RELEASE -November 22, 2012
The response to our crowd-funding campaign for Episode 4 of the Minister of Chance was incredible and we were able to greenlight it entirely based on fan support.  However, as you may have already heard if you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, we then had to delay its recording because Lauren Crace, our lovely 'Kitty',  had a baby!  He's very beautiful and we're very excited to be starting recording in a couple of weeks time.

We've used the waiting time to get the Episode 5 script ready for pre-production too  -  and this would be the final one in the first season.  In an attempt to get straight onto that after Ep 4  we are therefore starting the crowd- funding campaign for Episode 5 on 23rd of November and it will run for one month until 23rd December with a host of new perks.
We are always overwhelmed by the support of our fanbase and from so many of you, and we really, really appreciate every posting, every retweet and every Facebook mention.

NEWS RELEASE -December 3, 2012
More exciting casting news for The Minister of Chance: Mad Dogs and Life on Mars star Philip Glenister joins the production for Episode 5!  Philip comes fresh from the National Theatre stage where he has been appearing in the sell-out show THIS HOUSE, which also starred the Minister of Chance's Julian Wadham. Phil is looking forward to the opportunity to play another role opposite his cast-mate. He'll play The Summer King opposite The Minister in an episode which will also include The Hobbit's Jed Brophy as The Pilot.

Episode 4 of the series starts recording this week, financed entirely by its fanbase, and a crowd-funding campaign for Episode 5 is currently underway. Fans can grab a variety of exclusive perks ranging from cast-signed art to limited-edition mugs, caps and tees..

The first three episodes and a prologue for this epic sonic movie are available as a free download from

Photo by Ian Nolan
Sylvester McCoy
at recording of Episode 3 

Our pals over at Phoenix ( have another free ebook for you...
L. Neil Smith’s The Venus Belt. December’s code is  9991305 and will be good through December 31.

The Host released a new trailer. Looks very exciting, but I kept thinking "V". I guess there really are no new plots.

And in the age of Indie Films and Kickstarter crowd-funding, there's always some new flick or the beginnings of one to share. Check it out and let him know what you think.

PROSPECT: Concept Reel from Shep Films on Vimeo.