Archive for the science fiction Category

Short Stories 2: The perfect mood of Edgar Allan Poe

Posted in book, crime fiction, fantasy, mystery, review, science fiction, short stories, speculative fiction, thriller, US writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Hit PLAY on the YouTube cast and read on.

Previously I made a case for rebranding short stories and giving them the luxury publication they deserve. If you hang on through this series of comments on my favourite short story writers and the editors who’ve compiled them, I have some ideas on how that might be achieved. But for today, let’s share short story favourites.

First off, I have to admit, my tastes lean heavily towards the weird and grotesque, probably because I followed my dad around emergency wards when I was young and saw things kids don’t ordinarily see, and because of a hundred year old tomb I inherited from my grandmother when she died, called A Century of Creepy Stories.

It’s inside the covers of this monster that I first discovered Edgar Allan Poe.

edgar alan poe “And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” – Masque of the Red Death

Depending who you speak to, Poe has been credited with inventing just about any of the modern sub-genres of fiction – the mystery, detective fiction, science fiction, horror to name but a few – but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. What these attributions do attest to is how influential he has been in reshaping how we approach the modern novel and short story. Personally, I’m more infatuated with his macabre prose and the way he deftly crafts suspense than the themes of his finest works.

His writing is always ominous, the ebb and flow of the poetical narration often building into a crescendo that perfectly reflects the ideal form of the modern thriller, hardly ever dropping off into lengthy dénouement. The themes of his best known works often revolve around death and being buried alive, guilt and fear, murder and its consequences, and of course the supernatural. His choice of words is almost always in perfect harmony with the atmosphere he is attempting to create – surely a result of his being a poet first and foremost. His densely packed narratives are imbued with such rich textures that they lure the imagination into a realm where you forget it’s just a … short story.

An excellent example of this skill is his surreal description of the masked ball in The Masque of the Red Death , where the revelers are doing their utmost to pretend that they are not mortal and a mysterious plague cannot touch them. It’s the desperate act of embracing life and hope that ultimately makes them as ugly as any demon painted by Hieronymus Bosch. Hieronymus Bosch

My essential reads (roughly in order of favourites):

1.The Masque of the Red Death (for an excellent reading, download at Librivox here)
2. The Pit and the Pendulum
3. The Cask of Amontillado (for an excellent reading, download at Librivox here)
4. The Fall of the House of Usher

Fans reputedly include:

Bob Dylan, Stephen King, H.G Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, H.P. Lovecraft

Check out what others thought of Poe’s writing at Goodreads and at Amazon.

Best read to the music of:


Review: Veniss Underground, Jeff Vandermeer

Posted in book, fantasy, lord of the rings, review, science fiction, US writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by richardkunzmann

veniss-underground Any crime writer or reader that thinks nothing can be learnt from writers outside of the field, particularly in other sub-genres, has sorely missed the joy and necessity of reading widely. Jeff Vandermeer shows how a sense of place completely alien to the world we know can be rendered with absolute clarity and wonder at the same time.

Nicholas, a washed-out holo artist, is desperate to secure the patronage of a mysterious man only known as Quin who, through biological engineering, creates fantastic creatures to serve the city-states of Veniss. When Nicholas disappears, his twin sister Nicola launches a frantic search for her brother which brings her and her former lover Shadrach ever closer to the ultimate truth behind Quin and the dank subterranean world of Veniss Underground.

Many years ago I happily walked away from fantasy, thinking the genre had reached its pinnacle with Lord of the Rings and was now deadly repetitive. But Vandemeer’s vision debunks all my preconceptions and exposes my hubris in thinking the genre has nothing new to offer. Mixing fantasy with science fiction and adding a hefty dash of the Kafkaesque, this author produced a haunting and beautiful tale. It helps that he has kept the story short; if it had been any longer one’s willingness to suspend belief would have been sorely pressed. What makes this novel especially intriguing is the author’s style and language: it is playful and poetic, while remaining streetwise and gritty. There isn’t a lot of character development – a problem that’s endemic to a genre that focuses on place – but Vandemeer has more than enough made up for it with a breath-taking and phantasmagoric world.

Review: The Third Person, Steve Mosby

Posted in book, crime fiction, Michael Marshal Smith, review, science fiction, speculative fiction, Steve Mosby, thriller, UK writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by richardkunzmann

third-person1Steve Mosby published his first book at about the same time as me, and at about the same age, around 26. When I read The Third Person, it left me gobsmacked and not a little jealous. If he can keep up the raw energy of his debut, he could develop into a dangerous writer. Very dangerous. I haven’t read anything this dark since Michael Marshal Smith’s Spares.

Jason’s fiancé disappeared four months ago. The police say she left of her own accord, but he knows differently. Perhaps it had something to do with the macabre sites she’d been visiting on the internet; or maybe with his spurious infidelity. When a woman he met on the internet delivers his first solid clue as to what might have happened to his girlfriend, Jason decides to take matters into his own hands and begins to hunt for the murderers, rapists and art collectors who came into contact with Amy. The truth that our protagonist unravels isn’t pleasant, not pleasant at all, mostly because Jason’s story is entirely plausible if you’ve looked into the darker corners of your own soul and the internet.

I’m glad to see that Mosby hasn’t allowed himself to be chucked into a box. This book is part crime fiction, thriller, but there’s a distinctive speculative fiction undercurrent, with a dash of horror and science fiction added to the mix.

The maturity with which Mosby explores the demise of Jason and Amy’s relationship is exemplary. Maybe I think that because I was going through a really bad break up at the time I read it, and I saw my relationship mirrored in the pages, but it was more than that. My copy of the book is full of highlights where sentences capture fresh metaphors, complex emotions, and unique insights into our dark halves. Mosby uses interesting conventions to build a tense novel, and at ever corner there’s a sense of impending personal doom for our protagonist. It reminded me a lot of 8mm with Nicholas Cage; you kinda know this is all going to end terribly, but like our detectives you must have the answer before you can rest.

Every now and again there is some confusion in the logical flow of the unravelling mystery, but this in no way should digress from a superb debut novel. Note to self: Buy more books by this twisted bastard. I mean that as a compliment.

Review: Pandora’s Star, Peter F. Hamilton

Posted in book, Peter F. Hamilton, review, science fiction, South Africa, UK writers, writing with tags , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by richardkunzmann

bcs_hamilton_pandorasstar Let me take some liberties once in a while in posting to this blog, which is supposedly dedicated to crime fiction, but in reality also to the things that I’ve enjoyed and which have influenced me to a greater or lesser extent. If you’re still clamoring as to why I’ve posted an SF review here, there’s a cracking murder investigation running through this complex story, as is an investigation into terrorist organisations.

With Pandora’s Star, Hamilton embarks on an 880-page deep space science fiction epic. In the year AD 2380 humanity has colonized over six hundred planets using a technology developed by two stoner student physicists called Wormholes. The society of the Intersolar Commonwealth is peaceful and wealthy, if plagued by an occasional attack by the Guardians of Selfhood. When the astronomer Dudley Bose observes the sudden disappearance of a star over a thousand light years away, the Commonwealth is anxious to discover what happened. In order to reach it they must build the first ever faster-than-light starship. The fact that something imprisoned an entire solar system with a massive force field does not bode humankind well at all.

AD 2380 and the Commonwealth are both alien and strangely similar to our terran societies. Wormhole trains are the major mode of transport between planets, while rich enough people live for hundreds of years using genetic rejuvenation. Illustrious family enclaves, including the powerful Mandelas from South Africa, control entire planets.

The author examines a richly inventive universe through the eyes of numerous characters on various planets, and builds his plot at a leisurely pace that allows us to get to grips with his expansive universe. It is a well-crafted novel, though some of the characters seem somewhat flat and some of the worlds over-simplified. In places it drags a bit and you’re left rather frustrated, but at no point did I feel I can chuck it aside. Is this taking suspense to the extreme? The author has obviously made certain trade-offs to present a comprehensive tale that does the many themes it explores justice. The stretch where Hamilton explores the evolution over time of a hostile alien intelligence that ultimately cloaks its star is an impeccable and thrilling piece of imaginative science and biology, and cleverly plants an “against the clock” element to the building of the FTL spaceship.

This book had me quailing for more, and now, with more new SF under the belt, I realise exactly how exemplary this book is. I also finally have all three editions in hardback and can’t wait to get started at the beginning and end at the end, as Einstein once advised.