Archive for the 3:Lunar Category

Review: The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag

Posted in 1959, 3:Lunar, Review with tags , on March 20, 2009 by Aaron

Robert Heinlein
1959

Wow.  It’s such a pleasure to read Robert Heinlein.  I haven’t actually read a book of his for… well, I don’t know how many years.  Before the era of modern communications and the Internet, I was a huge consumer of Heinlein fare.  I cut my teeth – literarily speaking – on his juveniles.  And in the last few years I have listened to practically everything of his on audio book, some more than once.  This book however, has been one that has somehow stayed low on my radar.  I have of course known of it’s existence, but never had the opportunity to take it in for some reason.  Until now.

This is a collection, the title story occupying about half of the book.  It’s a horror.  Or, it’s supposed to be a horror, I think.  Heinlein’s style doesn’t translate well to the horror genre.  I wasn’t scared, or troubled.  He just doesn’t write with enough gravity.  It reads more like a noir or hardboiled crime fiction/ fantasy crossover.  Ok, there were a couple of instances which I found a little disturbing – the necessity for the Sons of the Bird to cover their faces with their hands upon mention of the Bird – was an unusual example.  But with Heinlein’s trademark easy style and dry wit always present, there is a disconnect between the subject matter and the way it is delivered.  Don’t get me wrong, the title story is a good read (an excellent read in a couple of ways I’ll talk about later), but it doesn’t read the way it is, I think, meant to.  Some of the elements in the story also brought to mind a couple of examples of contemporary horror: the recent movie Mirrors and to a lesser extent, Stephen King’s The Mist.

The remaining stories are a mixed bag.

The next – The Man Who Traveled in Elephants –  is a strange story about an elderly man passing into the afterlife.  In that story the main character makes a passing reference to the book  And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street first published in 1937 by Dr Seuss, and there are obvious similarities between the two tales.

After that we have a time-travel tale with a twist in the mold of By His Bootstraps, a paranoid questioning reality, another bizarre story that I can only surmise is some sort of political commentary (I didn’t enjoy that one very much), and finally another reality warping play on time and space in the form of a tesseract-shaped house.

As much as I did or didn’t enjoy the stories in this book, there are some things about Heinlein’s writing I always appreciate.  the first are the puzzles or paradoxes he bases some of his short work around.  In this volume, All You Zombies— (the time-travel one) and —And He Built a Crooked House— are fine examples of this kind of work.

The other thing that I enjoy so much in Heinlein’s work are his characters.  Or more precisely, the insight he has into relationships – especially between men and women – that comes through in his writing.  The protagonists in the title story are a husband and wife team of private investigators, and I got as much (if not more) enjoyment from their interplay – both spoken and unspoken – than from the actual story itself.

Another thing I love about Heinlein’s characters from this period (his early work and the juveniles) is that they are spiritually rooted in the 1940s and ’50s.  This comes through so clearly in the vernacular they use, they attitudes they have and many of the social customs they display.

Randall had been married too long and too comfortably not to respect danger signals.  He got up, went to [his wife], and put an arm around her.  “Look kid,” he said seriously and gently, “I’m not pulling your leg.  We’ve got our wires crossed somehow, but I’m giving it to you as straight as I can, the way I remember it.”

If that isn’t pure ’40s or ’50s, I don’t know what is.

I mentioned a mixed bag earlier.  This collection is certainly that.  I suggest this is equal parts classic short Heinlein, fantasy and something from left field.  I think most everyone will find something to their liking contained within, but I think not many will like everything.

All You Zombies— and —And He Built a Crooked House— can be read online via Best Science Fiction Stories.

Review: Agent of Vega

Posted in 1960, 3:Lunar, Review with tags , on February 21, 2009 by Aaron

James H. Schmitz
1960

I want to be a Zone Agent from Vega.  Agents from Vega are the coolest law enforcement dudes ever.  You can keep your lightsabre and mind tricks.  I don’t want a Lawgiver and a fancy uniform.  All that gimmicky stuff out of the Applied Sciences Division of Wayne Enterprises can’t hold a candle to the gear that a Zone Agent has access to.  A Zone Agent has psi-powers.  A Zone Agent is a skilled negotiator, but has the authority use brutal and terminal force without hesitation – and they will.  A Zone Agent has the unquestioning co-operation of local governments all over Vega.  A Zone Agent has a spaceship.

A spaceship??  So what!!  Even Flash Gordon had a spaceship.

Yes, but he didn’t have a spaceship that was custom crafted to an Agent’s exact requirements with no expense spared.  A spaceship that has an artificial intelligence built from the Agent’s own, yet develops it’s own personality.  A spaceship stocked full of all manner of trick gear that can get you out of any jam.

This book is full-on space opera and starts off at speed and never lets up.  This is a reflection of the of the book’s short story origins.  As with quite a few Gnome Press books, this is a collection of work previously published in pulp magazines and presented via hardcover format.  It reads as such, though this isn’t a bad thing, but it does impact on the ‘setting of the stage’ so to speak.  We never really know exactly what ‘Vega’ is, or where or when it is.  I assumed from the hints presented throughout the book that it’s made up of ‘Zones’ and part of much larger (but never mentioned) Galactic Empire of some sort.  I imagined Vega to be located out towards the edge of the galaxy because of the impression I got during the course of the stories.  In other words, the broader setting is very vague.  However, we do know that it is a long, long time in the future.  Mankind has settled the stars and has had enough time to develop localized physical adaptations, and some alien species are incorporated into the greater Vegan society.  Like any society, Vega has law enforcement and the cream of the crop are the Zone Agents.  Somewhat analogous to the FBI, but with much wider ranging responsibilities and powers.  The Agents operate out of shadowy Department of Galactic Zones based on the dedicated planet of Jeltad.

The common thread of the Department runs through the book.  Also, out of the four stories, Zone Agent Padagan makes an appearance in first three and Agent Grandma Wannattel figures in the final two.  As a result, it does give the illusion of an ongoing story rather than four different but related tales culled from separate publications.

If I was to be critical, the final story is a little weak, or slow might actually be a better way of putting it, compared to the preceding space romps.  The characters throughout the book are a little thin, but to be fair they do exist in a limited context due to the nature of the stories.  Also, there is nothing hard about the science, theres no science at all actually.  Things like faster-than-light travel, tractor beams, myterious ‘grapples’ that pick up things outside the ship and the ‘Emergency Treatment Chamber’ within – they… well, they just are.  They’re never explained, or described even.  But this is space opera after all and I, for one, am quite happy to put all that aside as this book is a very enjoyable read for fans of this genre.

My only regret is that Mr. Schmitz didn’t write more in this universe.  I would love to spend more time on assignment with the Agents of Vega.  Now, where can I sign up……?