What can I tell you about Warren Ellis? The mad hermit from the Thames Delta, cranking out magnificent streams of comics scripts, film scripts, books, late-night mixtapes (look up Spektrmodule), and brain-scrambling edicts in his Morning.Computer newletter? He’s the author of the NYT best-selling novel Gun Machine, the writer behind the graphic novel RED, now also a Bruce Willis/Helen Mirren - starring movie, of award-winning graphic novels like Transmetropolitan, Ministry of Space, and of course the brain behind the beloved Freakangels web-graphic-novel-serial.
But enough about the man - if he isn’t on your radar already then you have some catching up to do!
So. What can I tell you about this (short) story, called Elektrograd: Rusted Blood? It is, in first approximation, a Police Procedural, or maybe rather a Detective Story. And whilst the Detectives - old, mind-game playing Inspector Ervin Strauss, his sidekick, the ambitious up-and-coming Sargeant Alia Noton, and rookie Constable Isaac Goldmark - are decidedly human (and so appears the murder victim to have been), the story itself is entirely circling the story of the first robot. Because Barbel Thaler, the (now) ex-Private Investigator, was found close to the former Meeting-Hall of the Philosophic Society, where in 1939 Dr. Wilhelm Rosetta first presented his Electrical Man. Things went wrong - the Electrical Man had a mind of his own, got out, was shot by Police, and Rosetta died of a Heart Attack in the chaos. Nobody ever found his laboratory, his notes, or the other two robots…
What do you do if you were born in Israel, and have grown up on a Kibbutz, which you left to travel at the age of 15? If you have lived in South Africa, Laos, Vanatu, the UK, and many places in-between since? Lavie Tidhar’s answer is that you write about what used to be home - about Israel, and about what the future brings. Actually, that’s quite unfair. He has written about topics as far and wide as he has travelled, he has headed up the award-winning World SF Blog, has edited the first 3 instalments in the Apex Book of World SF series, and has published a long list of novels, collections, novellas, graphic novels, and non-fiction of his own writing. I guess the one thing you really cannot accuse him of is being a white, male, and UK/US centric writer. OK, he cannot help the male bit, but I’m sure you see what I mean!
But to come back to it - for Central Station, the novel/collection at hand, he returned his focus to the country, or at least the area, he was born and brought up in.
The Central Station of the title is a spaceport, a huge edifice reaching up towards the Stratosphere, providing a landing spot for the traffic coming in from the Moon, Mars, the Asteroid belts, and more exotic, ‘frontier’ type locations. It stands over and links the twin cityscapes of Arab Jaffa and Jewish Tel Aviv, and seems to have accumulated its own diaspora of immigrants from Africa and Asia at its base; what we find in the stories are families of mixed heritage, who have been here for generations, who helped build Central Station, and whose lives are intertwined with it.
On a lighter note, for once - here is a classic little tale, written by the inimitable Seth Kallen Deitch, called The Gaon of Chozzerai, published in Rudy Rucker's currently dormant Flurb magazine (worth reading around in, much recommended!)
I leave it to the reader to establish the meaning of the title - let's just say that it's quite pertinent to the story, which deals with a parallel dimension where things that are lost end up, and the fortunes of the (failed) scientist who finds his way there. If you ever wanted to know where your missing single socks go, this story provide an solution to the riddle.
This is a fun story, and whilst not terribly deep or important, but well worth reading.
The picture on the right is unattributed, and comes from a alien conspiracy site. If it's yours please let me know, and I'll add a reference!
Bruce Sterling is an award-winning American SF author who rose to prominence with the seminal Cyberpunk genre-defining anthology Mirrorshades. He has meanwhile 12 novels and 7 Collections (plus other publications) to his name, including the proto-steampunk novel The Difference Engine, written with William Gibson. He also writes non-fiction.
Heavy Weather is a (maybe overly?) prophetic book, set in a near future where the human impact on the biosphere has had major consequences. Essentially humanity messed up - the biosphere, and especially the atmosphere is shot. And it feels like a straight extrapolation from where we are now (never mind pre-95, when this was written…). There are whole swathes of land which are now simply uninhabitable where they used to be fruitful, and the weather is messed up, badly. Heavy Weather, they call it. It’s violent, unpredictable, and highly damaging.
The story starts with Alejandro ‘Alex’ Unger, prodigal son of a moneyed family, in an illegal/black market Mexican clinica, in a fug of self-administered medication, and about to undergo a lung enema (no, really). He is broken out of the establishment (where he meant to spend his remaining time) by his sister, Juanita ‘Jane’ Unger.
She takes him to the camp of the Storm Troupers, a gang of scientific Tornado/Heavy Weather chasers led by the charismatic Jerry Mulcahey. Jerry is a Mathematician, one of the best. And he specialises in extreme weather events, modelling them, forecasting them, measuring and documenting them, and comparing the actual data with his models, to make them better. You see, his troupe are not the usual tornado chasers and thrill seekers. Well, not solely thrill seekers. But his is a scientific approach, and so he employs Media Artists like Jane, and Scientists, and Lawyers, too.
Jerry has modeled and forecast an entirely new event, an F6 tornado, with never-before seen destructive force and impact. His simulations suggest that this monster might, under the right circumstances, become permanent, like the red spot on Jupiter.
Neal Asher is a British writer of large-scale high-octane Space Opera - if you are looking for horrific alien biology or simply a bigger kaboom then you cannot go much wrong with his stories. War Factory, the first book he publishes after the death of his wife (he stopped writing for a while) is the 2nd volume in the Transformation series, which follows an Artificial Intelligence which has gone ‘dark’ - translate this as mad, or unknowable, if you wish. It is set in his Polity universe (I count 13 novels and one short story collection in this so far).
The book starts with potted descriptions and background of the main characters, and a glossary of the main concepts and history of the Polity universe, inasmuch as it pertains to the story at hand. There are also a few further information dumps within the story, too. I did not really feel that this was conceived as a jumping-on point for the series (hey, it’s only the second book, ok?), but more as an anchor for the reader in the series and the world it plays it, given the substantial body of work this is by now!
There also appears to exist a record by composer Steve Baik (evokescape.com) inspired by the story, and apparently available via Amazon or iTunes. I have not heard it, so cannot comment on enjoyability, or suitability for listening to whilst reading the book!
We start more or less where the first book in the series, Dark Intelligence, let off: Penny Royal is back on the run after its short ‘official’ sting on Masada. It’s unclear if it’s up to more of its tricks, or making amends and fixing things it broke in its previous career. It is definitely pulling a lot of strings, mostly behind the scenes… Thorvald Spear is now linked to Penny Royal’s discarded spine, which seems to contain recordings of a lot of Penny Royal’s victims, which are uploading to Thorvald’s brain one by one. He is still on the his mission to chase Penny Royal down and kill it, somehow. Riss, the assassin drone/terror weapon from the Prador war 100 years hence is travelling with Thorvald. It is looking for meaning in its life, given that the war is over and it cannot fulfil its sole target in life and kill Prador anymore.
Let me draw your attention to an older story - Spider the Artist was Nnedi Okorafor's first 'pure' Science Fiction story (her words). So no Fantasy, no Folk Magic (well...), but, even with this first effort, her very own, distinct brand of African Dystopia.
The story is set around an oil pipeline, with the usual going-ons that such a transport for valuable goods brings. Except that pipeline is guarded by 8-legged, spider-like robots who do not take kindly to people tapping the pipeline, or interfering with it in any way. But it is also a love story, and a promise for the future, which is something I greatly appreciate in such a setting.
This was first published in an anthology called Seeds of Change (worth reading!), and later on re-published in Lightspeed Magazine, where you can read the story in full.
The picture on the right are illustrations from the Finnish translation of the story, as published in the magazine Tähtivaeltaja.