hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

A Review of A Blink of the Screen

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 16, 2016

A Blink of the Screen: Collected Short FictionA Blink of the Screen: Collected Short Fiction by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Blink of the Screen is a collection of short stories by the late, great Terry Pratchett, which has some wonderful pieces in it and is an absolute must for any Pratchett fan. The book is divided into pieces he wrote as standalone short stories about various topics beginning from the young age of 13 with “The Hades Business,” which was published in 1963. Published. Written at 13. It’s about Hell and its need for good PR. It’s pretty funny. The writing is obviously immature and it’s not a “great” short story, but you can see the beginnings of a good writer there.

The second section is of Discworld-related short stories, involving famous Discworld characters, such as Cohen the Barbarian, Rincewind, Lord Havelock Vetinari, and of course in the longest story in the book (“The Sea and Little Fishes” (1998)), two of the best Discworld characters, in a Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax story. Asked by some younger, snobby witches not to compete in an annual witchery contest because she always wins, Granny Weatherwax decides to “be nice about” the insult. The crux of the problem and, hence, the story is, her neighbors and, most certainly the other witches, aren’t used to her being nice. At all. A delightful, yet at times, quite sad story. Very well written.

Other good stories in this collection include “Final Reward” (1988), where an author kills off his most popular character and is shocked when the character shows up at his doorstep to “meet his maker.” The character is a seven-foot tall barbarian with a monstrous sword. What to do?

Another good one is “Death and What Comes Next” (2004). Death is my favorite Discworld character. Philosophers evidently think they can argue with Death when he comes for them. However, Death can apply some philosophical logic, too.

ASTONISHING, said Death. REALLY ASTONISHING. LET ME PUT FORWARD ANOTHER SUGGESTION: THAT YOU ARE NOTHING MORE THAN A LUCKY SPECIES OF APE THAT IS TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE COMPLEXITIES OF CREATION VIA A LANGUAGE THAT EVOLVED IN ORDER TO TELL ONE ANOTHER WHERE THE RIPE FRUIT WAS.

There’s a story about the game, “Thud,” which I believe may have been a real game in England, based on the Discworld novel. “The Ankh-Morpork National Anthem” (1999) is short, but funny. “#ifdefDEBUG + `world/enough’ + `time'” (1990) is actually a pretty good cyberpunk story. Not William Gibson good, but startling good for an author who doesn’t usually dabble in such things.

Of course, there are some stories that are less interesting, but that’s always the case in any short story collection. Some stand out, some do not. Overall, this is a solid four star collection. And as I said, a must for any Pratchett fan. Definitely recommended.

View all my reviews

Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Review of Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories Volume 1

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 23, 2015

The Complete Stories, Vol 1The Complete Stories, Vol 1 by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This 600+ page book of short stories is a pretty good collection of Asimov’s early 1950s work. Some of the stories are very, very good, such as “Nightfall,” which I was delighted to find had been turned into a full novel later, which I recently bought and intend to read. Others are not quite as good. One that irritated me was “I’m in Marsport Without Hilda,” where a man comes “home” to a space station after being out in space for a long time and as he’ll be heading for the planet and his wife in another day, he contacts a local woman for a one nighter — even though he’s married. Events occur that delay their tryst and she gets impatient with him and I guess the humor lies in his attempts to solve everything so they can get together and hit the sack. Finally, everything has been taken care of and he’s ready to go meet the whore, when he hears a woman call his name and turns around to find his wife unexpectedly greeting him — and he’s ticked. To me, this was a very offensive and sexist story. I didn’t think it merited inclusion in an anthology of collected works since it was in such poor taste. But then, as I’ve discovered, Asimov — if you go by his early work — was a bit of a sexist himself, as he rarely used female characters and with one exception I can think of, when he did, they were typically window dressing — poor, helpless, empty headed dullards completely dependent on men to save them from whatever was happening to them. Oh, and as we learn in one story here, woman like to talk. A lot. I guess that’s all they do. Pig. I try to give him the benefit of the doubt by saying maybe he was a product of his times. It was the 1950s after all and women’s lib hadn’t occurred and a woman’s place was in the home, so maybe…. And I haven’t read enough of his later work to know differently, although I just finished Foundation’s Edge today and it had strong female characters, although one was evil. It was written in the 1980s. Maybe he adjusted with the times.

In any event, the stories in the book are largely pretty good, until you get to about the last 100 pages or so and then the quality of the work drops off immensely. I’m not sure why that is, but the last several stories are quite bad. There’s a marked difference between them and the earlier pieces. Again, I don’t know why the editors decided to do it that way, but that’s just the way it happened, so I guess you have to live with it. One thing that was interesting is Asimov’s obsession with computers, using one giant computer he calls “Multivac” repeatedly in his stories. Multivac is a computer that pretty much runs the world and everything in it. It is hundreds of miles big and spits out data punch cards, much like the giant 1950s-era computers did, requiring specially trained computer programmers and operators to interpret its results and instructions. He also worries about man versus machine and sides with man virtually every time, which is interesting as he is constantly writing about machines such as robots. I find Multivac interesting because it’s proof that Asimov had absolutely no sci fi foresight like other sci fi writers, such as Philip K. Dick, did. He never was really able to guess at desktops, laptops, smart phones, or anything like that. Meanwhile, so many other early sci fi writers were able to envision things such as these that I am continually amazed that Asimov maintains the massive sci fi reputation he enjoys. Personally, I think he was stuck in a 1950s nuclear-era technology rut with absolutely little ability to think ahead creatively like so many of his peers and while the stories in this book are generally pleasantly well written, except for much dialogue, which Asimov always seems to have problems writing, his writing skills don’t even begin to measure up to so many other sci fi writers, it’s not even funny. Personally, I think he had several decent ideas and could tell a decent story, but then so could hundreds of other writers, so in my opinion, he was just a hack. I can easily name numerous other sci fi writers who are infinitely better than he ever was.

Whatever the case, and no matter how poorly Asimov wrote most of his novels, most of these short stories are quite good and are pretty well written. I assume he must have had a good editor. This book is the highest rated book I have ever seen on Goodreads, with a 4.36 out of 5 score. I certainly don’t think it deserves a 5 at all and I’m not even sure it deserves a 4, but I’m going ahead and giving it one just because so much of it was entertaining and after all, isn’t that what you want out of a good short story? I’m curious, now, to see how his writing matured in the ’60s, so if I see Volume 2 of this series, I’ll probably get it. As for this book? Recommended.

View all my reviews

Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Review of The Best of Frederik Pohl

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 9, 2012

The Best of Frederik PohlThe Best of Frederik Pohl by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another book of short stories by Frederik Pohl that I’ve read and he really doesn’t disappoint. I like his short stories much better than his novels, to be honest. “The Tunnel Under The World” was published in the mid-50s, but reads like The Truman Show. It’s quite interesting. “The Children of Night” is disturbing and spooky. Actually, there are several disturbing pieces in this book. “The Midas Plague,” however, is not one of them. In this story, there’s rampant over-consumption throughout the world and the poorer you are, the more you have while the wealthier you are, the less you have. The goal is to get the least amount possible. You see, robots are out of control making things like crazy and society has to consume or be overwhelmed. It’s an interesting concept. Pohl takes his usual skewering of advertising and PR to new heights in several of these stories, including the aforementioned “The Children of Night.” What won’t an advertising campaign buy, right? “The Census Takers” is ahead of its time in dealing with pollution and overpopulation. Really, there aren’t many weak pieces in this book. It’s a good collection, and it’s all comprised of stuff written from his first 50 years. (I think he’s close to 100 now.) So no newer stuff. That’s OK though. These stories stand the test of time and don’t feel dated. I strongly recommend this book if you like sci fi with some social commentary and humor, as well as some possibly disturbing ideas mixed in. It’s a good read.

View all my reviews

Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: