I Am Crying Inside and Other Stories
The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, Volume I
By Clifford D. Simak
(with Introductions by David W. Wixon, Editor)
Open Road Media – 20th October 2015
ISBN 9781504012652) – 332 Pages – eBook
Source: NetGalley

UPDATE: The release date for this was marked incorrectly on NetGalley and Goodreads, so I ended up publishing this WAY earlier than I would otherwise have. I’ve now updated the date here and on Goodreads based on the information on Amazon.com and the publisher’s website.

“Installment Plan”
“I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Away Up In the Air”
“Small Deer”
“Madness From Mars”
“Gunsmoke Interlude”
“I Am Crying All Inside”
“The Call From Beyond”
“All the Traps of Earth”

Aside from Isaac Asimov novels and the first volume of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, I haven’t really read much classic science fiction. I feel there is something worthwhile in expanding horizons, also into the historical context of the past, so I was pleased to have a chance to check out the start to this collection of the complete short fiction by Golden Age author Clifford D. Simak.
As you might expect for something written over half-a-century ago some of Simak’s stories are a bit dated in terms of both the science and culturally. But they aren’t particularly offensive to modern sensibilities and there is still a lot to be enjoyed within these stories. It should appeal to anyone wanting more exposure to classic tales of the genre from an author whose stories age relatively well and people who want to revisit beloved Simak tales.
This first volume of a planned fourteen in the collection doesn’t seem to have any particular scheme to its organization, but the tales do span a range of the types of stories and themes that I gather Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Simak is best known for. Each story is preceded by a short introduction from editor and executor of Simak’s writing estate, David W. Dixon.
I Am Crying Inside and Other Stories begins with a longer story that features Simak’s repeated exploration of robotic intelligence and emotion. Robots are obviously a frequently visited topic in SF, not new even in Simak’s time. Despite the familiarity of the types of questions/dilemmas regarding robots that Simak delves into, his take still doesn’t come off as cliched now, or dull. While I find the opening story “Installment Plan” to be overly long, it did resonate with how human the robots were it in, not mere automatons, but created instruments that had emotions and personalities. Simak’s robots seem more alive and human than many of his human protagonists. The concluding story “All the Traps of Earth” returns to the robot themes in a far more powerful story where a robot who has escaped mandatory memory erasure finds a home and purpose elsewhere beyond, but not completely divorced from, humanity.
“Small Deer” and “Gleaners” are two representatives of Simak time-travel stories. The latter is about a group that goes back in time to retrieve objects of value and felt like an early version of a story that I’ve seen crop up often in recent years still. Simak’s seems less about the cleverness of the time-travel setup as about the intrigue of the story and characters. “Small Deer” on the other hand is more about the idea than the particular adventure of the plot. In it a man goes back in time to witness the extinction of the dinosaurs and discovers what killed them may be back again for humankind. I enjoyed the story for its “Twilight Zone” type vibe, and it is an example of a Simak tale that includes some elements of horror.
Simak, who won a Stoker achievement award in its first year of being offered, does employ light horror in some of his stories, most evident here with “Madness from Mars” and “The Call from Beyond”. The latter can be accurately described as Simak trying some Lovecraft flavors. Both stories feature humanity discovering something unsettling and strange as a result of space exploration. These weren’t my favorite stories here, and the science in “Madness from Mars” is particularly dated, but they are fairly good.
The titular “I Am Crying All Inside” and “Gunsmoke Interlude” were the stories I least enjoyed. The latter is straight up pulp Western, a genre I simply could care less about. “I Am Crying All Inside” is one of the most emotionally resonant stories here, the most touching. While Simak made his robots larger-than-life, it seems he usually made his humans more salt-of-the-Earth. Wixon quotes Simak in the intro to this story as responding to criticism of his human protagonists as ‘losers’ with the explanation: “I like losers”. The folksy nature and regional dialect of the voice in the story ruined it for me.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, “I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Away Up In the Air” and “Ogre” were my favorite stories of the bunch. I largely liked both of these stories because of the biological elements they contained and their shared theme of anti-exploitation.
The former story though is weakened by going on far too long for what it is, and with a fair amount of repetition. In it a man arrives on another planet intent on stripping it of its resources for his own economic benefit, with nothing but contempt and disregard for the planet’s ‘simple’, ‘uncultured’ inhabitants. But after an ‘accident’ leaving him dead, the planet’s lifeforms resurrect him in a body more suitable for the environment and he learns the hard way that his preconceptions are way off, and his greed abhorred. Actually, the guy never really ‘learns’ the errors of his way as much as the reader is given a cautionary tale. I loved the biological alien detail here linked to the planet’s properties, and for a time at least I read with an interpretation that the planet itself was a sentient life guiding these events.
“Ogre” is another fairly long story, but this time rightly so. It features wonderful biological speculation of sentient plant life and plant life adopted to give photosynthetic capabilities to humans through symbiosis. Interesting stuff, and coupled with it we get a plot again warning against the dangers of exploiting another culture and resources. In this story, members of exploration group try to prevent another human from harvesting sentient trees (that are also musical) and taking them back to Earth. Another notable aspect to the story is that it features a set of space exploration rules very much akin to what years later would form the ‘Prime Directive’ of Star Trek‘s Federation.
Overall I’m looking forward to seeing the other volumes collecting Simak’s fiction, and this reaffirms to me the use of at least trying out some classic Golden Age SFF. It is impossible now to read everything that has gone before to form the genre field and still keep up with the exciting directions it is going today to evolve from that past. But dipping into the historical perspective is valuable not just in showing what has been done well, but also what mistakes to not make or move on from. And it is reassuring – though simultaneously slightly depressing – to see social themes still explored today already brought up so many decades ago in that Golden Age of SF.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


DIVIDEND ON DEATH, by Brett Halliday


Dividend on Death
(Mike Shayne #1)
By Brett Halliday
Open Road Media – 16th June 2015
(First published 1939)
ISBN 9781504012737 – 218 Pages – eBook
Source: NetGalley

This is the first of the Miami-set Mike Shayne noir novels, written by Davis Dresser under the pseudonym Brett Halliday. The style of the novel will be familiar to anyone who has read pulp crime or seen film noir. There is a hard-boiled private investigator, murders, a beautiful woman in distress, thugs, and dangerous twists and turns for the hero.
A young woman named Phyllis Brighton shows up in PI Mike Shayne’s apartment/office in psychological distress. Both her doctor and her new step-father believe that she has a mental complex that could lead her to unconsciously harm – even kill – her mother. No sooner does she leave with Shayne’s guarantee that he will work for her to prevent her from killing her mother than the step-father also shows up at the door to hire Shayne to protect his wife from Phyllis. Two payments for one job, what could be better? But before Shayne can even start the job(s), he finds Phyllis covered in blood and her mother lying dead with a knife in the back.
Dividend on Death is primarily interesting as a curiosity from its age and as the first Mike Shayne novel. The psychological, medical aspects of the story are influenced from the theories of the late 1930s, and are nice to see played out here. In a way the novel falls into the ‘mad scientist’ genre perhaps as equally as the crime fiction one. So readers interested in that historical perspective, or the role of psychology in fiction, could find something of great interest here. I wasn’t previously familiar with the character of Shayne. Given that the character is one of the giants of the field (featured in novels to the late ’70s and appearing in radio, TV, and film) some readers might consider the start of the series worth checking out.
As a pulp crime novel, however, Dividend on Death isn’t anything exceptional; the character of Shayne doesn’t have any personality traits that make him particularly compelling compared to other well known characters of that age or of more recent decades. (Perhaps the character is fleshed out and develops more unique personality in later books?). The story and the writing in this are neither superb nor poor for the genre. Dividend on Death in most respects is just average: a decently entertaining read.
Compared to some pulp of the era and beyond this novel doesn’t focus on a femme fatale relation or steamy scenes, instead featuring the criminal action and Shayne’s attempts to find the truth and ‘capture’ those responsible. Fans of the genre who favor action and punching over the sexploitationesque elements in crime fiction may then appreciate this.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


21842809Bad Grrlz’ Guide to Reality
(Wild Angel and Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell)
By Pat Murphy
Open Road Media – 15th April 2014
ISBN 1480483206  – 578 Pages – eBook
Source: NetGalley

 I had originally planned for this one to fit into Skiffy & Fanty’s 2015 theme of female authors, but after reading it I wasn’t sure that the genre would be a suitable fit, as wonderful as this omnibus is. Composed of two complete novels, Wild Angel and Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell, Bad Grrlz’ Guide to Reality is two thirds of a meta writing exercise tried out by Pat Murphy, a writer whose back catalog of fiction I increasingly realize I need to seek out in its totality.
The one third missing from this omnibus is There and Back Again, the first novel of the loosely linked ‘series’, and as you can probably surmise from the title, it’s inspired from The Hobbit. And, apparently the Tolkien estate took exception to that. Following some threats it was apparently taken out of print, and in this state it remains. The purpose of the three meta volumes and some of their links (which arise mostly in the third novel) seem to be lost due to this unfortunate control, but for the most part the two novels here can be read effectively on their own (particularly Wild Angel) or in combo as presented by Open Road Media in electronic format for a great price.
There and Back Again was the fantasy component to the trilogy and you can probably tell from its titel that the second novel of the omnibus here is the science fiction component. This leaves Wild Angel, which is basically a Western adventure, or historical novel. I found Wild Angel absolutely brilliant and empowering, dominating over Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell, which seems bound in the meta construction of the trilogy, interesting, but not profound.
In Wild Angel, a young girl named Sarah witnesses, while hidden unseen, her parents horrifically murdered by opportunistic bandits in the hills of California. Scalping the victims to make the attack superficially appear like a native American raid, the bandits steal the gold that Sarah’s parents were collecting while Sarah flees silently into the wilderness. Traumatized and alone amid nature, Sarah is adopted by a she-wolf who raises her among the pack. As Sarah grows and learns survival as a wolf, one of the thieves secures the gold and begins using it to establish a reputation in the budding old west town, only to hear rumors whispered of a young wolf-girl in the wilds, a potential witness to his crimes and ill-gained position.
 Partially inspired by Tarzan, more generally the novel seems influenced by timeless legends of feral children and most particularly the archetype of the wild woman (turned to from time to time for feminist analysis as by Estés). Murphy also uses Sarah and the plot to explore feminist themes and to criticize concepts of Western culture exceptionalism. The civilization of Western expansion is contrasted to the civilization of native populations and the inherent biological capabilities, instincts, and intelligence of humans when even stripped of all ‘civilized’ remnants. This permits Murphy to highlight absurd social constructs that people, especially females, are expected to conform with for no rational purpose other than to facilitate separation or oppression. Things that otherwise we take for granted until stripped down to the simplest of lives that Sarah enjoys.
Beyond the significance of its themes, Wild Angel is simply well written and a fun read. It has a good mixture of contemplative seriousness, light humor, conflict and danger, and tenderness. In contrast, Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell is far more limited in scope and vision. Taking place on a cruise ship full of eccentric characters as it heads into the Bermuda Triangle, the novel mixes quantum physics with a murder mystery to tie together the other two novels in the series into its recursive plot. It is in this third novel that the Bad Grrlz’ Guide (to Physics) comes into play, comparing facts of quantum physics such as entanglement, with events in the macro. Aboard the ship reality begins to go askew as events turn surreal and the line between characters real and imagined, living and dead, begin to blur as if existing in two states simultaneously.
Events from both There and Back Again and Wild Angel are retold by characters in this book, for instance one ‘scene’ in Wild Angel where a surreal turn of events uncharacteristic for that novel’s setting and tone. In Wild Angel, this is where the universe of Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell become entangled with its plot. Characters appearing in Wild Angel (and presumably There and Back Again) reappear in this third novel, including a character named Pat Murphy. The real Pat Murphy actually writes Wild Angel as an artist and adventurer named Max Merriwell, who is also a major character in that novel, and who writes frequently under pseudonyms like Mary Maxwell. This recursive structure for the novels with its gender swapping is in the background of the other novels, not essential to the stories or themes, but relating to them. In b Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell this becomes the crux, in relation to modern physics and in relation to writing. Point to point decisions, quantum events end up defining observed reality as a wave of possibilities collapse. Or in the Bermuda Triangle, the reverse happens and perspectives, possibilities all coexist like in the mind of an author, a creator.
Personally I found Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell too gimmicky in this respect, and think that its surreal, almost farcical nature would have fit better into shorter form. Though more lighthearted, Murphy does still compose this final novel exceptionally well, keeping a consistency with references to the previous novels and vice versa, despite the walls, laws, of normal macro reality breaking down. Very different novels, though interlinked on many levels, both are worth checking out. And now I’ll have to scour second-hand shops for There and Back Again.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from Open Road Media via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


21822369Crude Carrier
(Touchstone Agency Mystery Series #2)
By Rex Burns
Published by MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Media – 7th October 2014
ISBN1497641543 – 242 Pages – Paperback
Source: Goodreads

Here is a case where verisimilitude kills a book for me. I recall being in college back in the late ’90s hearing a talk from an alumni who had become an FBI agent. He explained how after Silence of the Lambs and particularly The X-Files they had to explain that life of an agent was not that exciting. Mystery novels similarly frequently have far more intrigue, action, and sex than the average life of P.I. or detective would enjoy. If nothing else, the novels skip over the dull minutia of the job, the routine of paperwork, checking facts, making phone calls without repartee.
Crude Carrier is about a family hiring a pair of detectives (father and daughter, James and Julie Raiford) to investigate the mysterious death of their son on a shipping vessel (oil tanker) while at sea. Receiving unsatisfactory explanations from the company as the parents did, James goes undercover on the ship to discover the truth while Julie stays in the office to handle the paper trail and business record side of things.
Readers are then treated to the tedium of leg work in researching the shipping industry and the daily life aboard one of its vessels. For someone that is really intrigued by oceanic matters, boats, etc, then maybe this would be fascinating. But I just wanted the action to get going. While it eventually does, Burns’ straightforward, no frills approach makes even the mystery and danger so routine that the realism of it all just couldn’t win my interest.
Though I really didn’t care for this, fans of mysteries and thrillers who do appreciate this kind of realism in how investigations would really proceed with a hint of very honest danger looming overhead from going undercover will enjoy the detailed minutiae of Crude Carrier. This is my first Rex Burns work, so while I think the overall style is what he known for, I can’t say if this is typical of his writing, or if it sits on one end of a spectrum. If you are interested in nautical tales, technology and learning about shipping then this also should be a book you’d enjoy.
The setting for Crude Carrier is definitely uncommon, and I admit that is refreshing to see, I just wish the story moved a little earlier with a bit more flare and less technical detail.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from Open Road Media/MysteriousPress.com via Goodreads’ First-Reads Giveaway Program in exchange for an honest review.

BLACK SWAN, WHITE RAVEN, Edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

22910783Black Swan, White Raven
The Snow White, Blood Red Anthology Volume IV
Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Published by Open Road Media, 30th September 2014
(Originally Published June 1997)
ISBN: 1497668603 – 368 Pages – eBook
Source: NetGalley

“The Flounder’s Kiss”, by Michael Cadnum
“The Black Fairy’s Curse”, by Karen Joy Fowler
“Snow in Dirt”, by Michael Blumlein
“Riding the Red”, by Nalo Hopkinson
“No Bigger Than My Thumb”, by Esther M. Friesner
“In the Insomniac Night”, by Joyce Carol Oates
“The Little Match Girl”, by Steve Rasnic Tem (Poetry)
“The Trial of Hansel and Gretel”, by Garry Kilworth
“Rapunzel”, by Anne Bishop
“Sparks”, by Gregory Frost
“The Dog Rose”, by Sten Westgard
“The Reverend’s Wife”, by Midori Snyder
“The Orphan the Moth and the Magic”, by Harvey Jacobs
“Three Dwarves and 2000 Maniacs”, by Don Webb
“True Thomas”, by Bruce Glassco
“The True Story”, by Pat Murphy
“Lost and Abandoned”, by John Crowley
“The Breadcrumb Trail”, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Poetry)
“On Lickerish Hill”, by Susanna Clarke
“Steadfast”, by Nancy Kress
“Godmother Death”, by Jane Yolen

While I adore fantasy, retellings of myths or fairy tales aren’t the flavor that I’d first go for. Other than a handful of really well known classics, I’m not generally familiar with the source material, leaving at least one level of a retelling inaccessible for my appreciation. But, I wasn’t about to pass up a chance to try something a bit different from my favored norm, particularly when Ellen Datlow’s name is attached as editor. Terri Windling is just as respected, but I am far less familiar with her work. Probably because of this branch of fantasy in which she specializes.
And I was just enraptured from the moment starting this classic collection. Though I hadn’t heard of it before, Datlow made a comment on Twitter regarding how she was glad it was available again and in eBook form for those (like me) whose radar didn’t pick it up in the late 90s. After reading this I’ve since picked up all the other volumes from the series during an Open Road Media sale and look forward to enjoying them all.
The stories in this volume at least vary nicely in style and tone from the more serious to the light-hearted, and mix up the genres from an expected fantasy to something closer to science fiction or mystery. Beyond even the stories, there are also a couple of poems. Try as I might, I still can’t manage to get much appreciation out of poetry. I have gotten better, but still a long way off. So I didn’t read the poems in this. Nonetheless I’m glad they are there because I think the art form would give great opportunities for briefly retelling the cores of fairy tales. And these fairy tales, already existing ‘classically’ in myriad form, really are about some general ‘core’ elements rather than any given specific details of the plot.
While some of the stories stick to classic messages, perhaps in a new setting or from a new point of view, a large number serve to invert or recast elements that in this era would be considered problematic due to things like race or gender, or use the existing shell of a classic tale to create something wholly new that empowers and speaks to a group of the population that the tales of old rarely did.
For me personally on the two ends of the spectrum I cared least for “The Trial of Hansel and Gretel” and “On Lickerish Hill”. I found the former, casting the eponymous characters into a courtroom drama, to simply drag, and for the Clarke they style of the language was too much (though I managed her Strange & Norrell novel just fine).  My most beloved readings here were “Godmother Death”, “The True Story”, “The Dog Rose”, “No Bigger Than My Thumb”, and “The Black Fairy’s Curse”. Many of those I enjoyed most fall into that category where a basic assumption from the original tale is taken and inverted to show a novel perspective or truth previously hidden or, within the confines of the story, ‘suppressed’.
Honestly I could list even more of the contents that I enjoyed, but the simplest thing is to let you find this and discover them all for yourself, if you haven’t already. Or perhaps to discover them all again. Whether this volume or (it is probably safe for me to speculate) any of the volumes of the Snow White, Blood Red series, you’re sure to find a good deal thought-provoking and entertaining.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic reading copy of this from Open Road Media via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Books of Note: THE SALT ROADS, by Nalo Hopkinson and STEEL VICTORY, by J.l. Gribble

As I now get back into catching up on reviews of things I have read, I wanted to mention two books that I’m excited about, but haven’t gotten to read yet.

The first was first released back in 2004, but just had an e-reader release from Open Road Media at the very end of January: THE SALT ROADS, by Nalo Hopkinson. I’ve heard nothing but utter praise for Hopkinson, including from writer Juno Diaz, so I’ve been looking forward to reading her work and regretted having to turn down the chance to review it. But I still feel comfortable in recommending it as something worth looking into if you missed it.

9781504001168From Open Road Media:

Nalo Hopkinson’s third novel invokes the goddess of love in the name of redemption

Hopkinson’s time-traveling, genre-spanning novel weaves a common thread of spiritualism and hope through three intertwined stories of women possessed by Ezili, the goddess of love, as she inspires, inhabits, and guides them through trying personal and historical moments. Jeanne Duval is a talented entertainer suffering from the ravages of a sexually transmitted disease; Mer is a slave and talented doctor who bears witness as Saint Domingue throws off the yoke of colonial rule in the early nineteenth century; and Meritet is a woman of the night who finds religion her own way. Though the three are separated by many miles and centuries, a powerful bond draws them together.

Epic, wrenching, and passionate, The Salt Roads is laced with graceful, lyrical prose. Hopkinson has crafted a one-of-a-kind novel that spans hundreds of years and multiple countries to tell a mystical, heartrending story of self-worth, respect, and salvation.”


The second title I’m really looking forward to is STEEL VICTORY, an upcoming title now available for preorder from Dog Star Books (Raw Dog Screaming Press), written by J.L. Gribble. Out in June, today was the cover reveal and exclusive spotlight on the novel at Dirge Magazine. It looks fantastic with another superb cover for this small press by Brad Sharp. I look forward to getting my paws on a copy.

Steel VictoryFrom Raw Dog Screaming Press:

“One hundred years ago, the vampire Victory retired from a centuries-long mercenary career. She settled in Limani, the independent city-state acting as a neutral zone between the British and Roman colonies on the New Continent.

Twenty years ago, Victory adopted a human baby girl, who soon showed signs of magical ability.

Today, Victory is a city councilwoman, balancing the human and supernatural populations within Limani. Her daughter Toria is a warrior-mage, balancing life as an apprentice mercenary with college chemistry courses.

Tomorrow, the Roman Empire invades.”

The Genome, by Sergei Lukyanenko (Translated by Liv Bliss)

Never got around to posting my last review for Skiffy & Fanty, on Sergei Lukyanenko’s The Genome, as translated by Liv Bliss. Well-known for his series of fantasy/horror novels that start with Night Watch, his entry into science fiction parody is world’s apart.

“…If given a more serious tone, a science fiction set-up like this plot could be used to explore such concepts as individuality, free-will, class relations, racism, and colonialism within the murder mystery context. In its parody (or perhaps pastiche – it is never quite clear if Lukyanenko mocks or celebrates space operas of bygone years), The Genome doesn’t put much energy into these kinds of explorations. Instead, its focus is on making the characters and their behaviors fit into science fiction (or mystery) novel stereotypes, thereby coming off a lot like a space opera mashup in the style of the 1976 film Murder By Death written by Neil Simon that did similar things with the mystery genre and its iconic characters….”

Read my entire review at Skiffy & Fanty!