Hal Clement at 100: Five Favorites From a Master of SF

Harry Clement Stubbs was born May 30, 1922, a century ago, more or less (or exactly, if you’re reading this on May 30th). Readers of a certain age know him as the science fiction author Hal Clement. Younger readers may not know him at all, because Clement died on October 29, 2003, and death often confers obscurity. Which is too bad, because younger readers are missing out on some fine stories. Here are five works by Clement that are well worth reading.

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Travel and Reading: A Vacation in Pages

Is it still vacation when you go somewhere you used to live? For the first time in two years, I did a bit of traveling, and it was weird. Weird to be on planes. Weird to remember all the awkward dances of cramming into tiny places with strangers, a weirdness exponentially compounded by pandemic anxiety. Weird to get on the subway, weird to return to a place I haven’t been since before the pandemic began. All the weirdnesses of the last two years, compacted and intensified in my old home, now far from home.

Traveling is reading time. All that between-time, the between-spaces of planes and airports and trains and every other mode of transit: Since I was old enough to read, I’ve filled those places with pages. Thousands of miles on Greyhound buses, moving between parents, is equal to hundreds of books read. Flying home from college, reading things entirely different than what I’d read for class. Commuting on the subway with a book carefully held in one hand. (Anyone who’s ever commuted in New York knows how many ways you can find to hold a book and turn pages single-handed, if you must. And often, you must.)

But travel reading is not unchanged by the last few years, either.

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Speed Racer Is Getting the Live-Action Treatment Again—This Time as a Series

To answer the first and most important question about any new live-action Speed Racer creation: No, the Wachowskis are not involved. The next version of Speed Racer comes from Apple TV+, executive producer J.J. Abrams, and writers/co-showrunners Ron Fitzgerald (co-creator of the new Perry Mason) and Hiram Martinez (a producer and writer on Snowpiercer).

Will it be candy-colored and bright? Will the villain be capitalism? Or will we get a dark and gritty Speed Racer that takes its cues from, say, the Fast and/or Furious franchise? So much remains to be seen.

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Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Eighty

Welcome back, y’all. It’s Thursday again, so here we are! This is a weighty chapter: pain and agony, but also beauty and humor. Weird combo, eh? It’s Kaladin’s only POV in Part Four. (The rest of his arc is told through the eyes of his Bridge Four companions.) There’s a brutal nightmare, a ray of hope, a plunge into despair, brightness, an elegant Cryptic, and Wit’s story entry for this book. Come on in and join the discussion!

[Dogs can’t be dragons!]

Series: Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

An Intrepid A.I. Reporter: Announcing Aimee Ogden’s Emergent Properties

Tordotcom is thrilled to announce that Christie Yant has acquired from Aimee Ogden, author of the Nebula Award-nominated novella Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters, a standalone novella titled Emergent Properties about an intrepid AI reporter hot on the heels of a world-changing story, perfect for fans of the Murderbot Diaries and Catfishing on CatNet.

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Amphibious Vampires: J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (Part 8)

Welcome back to Reading the Weird, in which we get girl cooties all over weird fiction, cosmic horror, and Lovecraftiana—from its historical roots through its most recent branches.

This week, we finish J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, first published as a serial in The Dark Blue from 1871 to 1872, with Chapters 15-16. Spoilers ahead!

[“The grave of the Countess Mircalla was opened…”]

Series: Reading the Weird

Scorched With Great Heat: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when I was growing up, the issue of nuclear war was not just on people’s minds, it was a kind of mania that gripped the nation. I was one of the people caught up in that fear, and when I read Alas, Babylon at what was probably too young an age, the book was seared into my memory. Apparently, I was not alone, as the book went on to be a perennial best seller. Current events, which have revived concerns over nuclear weapons, brought the story to mind, so I dug a copy out of the basement to see how it held up.

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Vashti is a pathogenic diplomat—an ambassador to the world of viruses, whom she communicates with through a machine that can translate their chemical signals into images, tastes, smells, sounds, and memories. She begins a negotiation between the US Government and a diplomatic contingent from Arenavirus, a virus which has just begun spreading a deadly mutation in Florida. If Vashti is successful, she and Arena will reach a diplomatic agreement; if not, the Arenavirus infection will continue to spread, and humans will have to race to try to find a vaccine or treatment. As she navigates the diplomatic discussions, Vashti is also trying to connect with her daughter Alma, who lives on the other side of the country in a technology-averse commune. By the time the negotiation ends, Vashti discovers that Arenavirus have learned some impressive and deadly tricks from their interactions with humans.

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Finn Wolfhard Guessed Idea for Stranger Things Spinoff, Though Duffer Brothers Claim “No One Else Knows!”

We’ve known since February that Stranger Things 5 will be our last season with the kids from Hawkins and their dealings with all things Upside Down. When show creators Ross and Matt Duffer announced the end of the series, however, they also teased that “there are still many more exciting stories to tell within the world of Stranger Things.”

It turns out that the Duffer Brothers do have a very specific and “very, very different” spinoff idea. And the only person who knows about it besides the two of them is Finn Wolfhard, who plays Mike Wheeler on the original show—but not for the reasons you might think.

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Five SF Books Featuring Flights Into Exile

History is full of stories about folks who dislike (or fear) their governments, have no way to alter said governments, and must relocate (or flee): Huguenots fleeing persecution in France, Irish fleeing famines that English colonialists ignored, and the Pilgrims fleeing Dutch religious tolerance all come to mind.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that numerous science fiction authors have written about politically-motivated migration.  Consider the five following works, representing only a small sample from a well-populated category…

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Of Gods and Queens: Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

The ancient Sanskrit epic the Ramayana is the story of Lord Rama’s quest to rescue his wife Sita from the evil clutches of the invincible demon king Ravana. Along with the Mahabharata, the Ramayana is a vital text in Hinduism, which means millions of people all over the world know it well, and would probably hold to high standard any story based on it. 

Luckily for debut novelist, Vaishnavi Patel, many western readers would have absolutely no idea of the source material at all, and will probably enjoy what will be welcomed as a fresh new voice offering a diverse non euro-centric ‘fantasy’. Her new book Kaikeyi is touted as a feminist retelling of the story of a vilified queen from the Ramayana, the second wife of Dasharath of Ayodhya, a woman known for having forced Rama into exile for fourteen years, and so setting him on his personal hero’s journey. It’s been compared the Madeline Miller’s startling Circe, which is probably an unfair comparison, even for a novel less confused and untethered as Kaikeyi

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A World Filled With Demons: Satanic Panic in The X-Files’ “Die Hand Die Verletzt”

Welcome to Close Reads! In this series, Leah Schnelbach and guest authors will dig into the tiny, weird moments of pop culture—from books to theme songs to viral internet hits—that have burrowed into our minds, found rent-stabilized apartments, started community gardens, and refused to be forced out by corporate interests. This time out, author Liz Harmer looks back at a particularly unsettling episode of The X-Files, and muses on religious trauma.

The X-Files feels formative to me, in the same’ way Star Trek: the Next Generation does, in the way that TV still could in those pre-streaming days. Shows just came on—you didn’t choose them; they were bestowed upon you. But even though The X-Files was often unfurling in the background of my neighbourhood and in my own house, “Die Hand Die Verletzt,” a standalone episode from season 2, is the only episode I can remember with any specificity.

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Series: Close Reads

Arrival Wonders What We’d Do If Life Came with Spoilers

At the risk of sounding self-indulgent, let me point out that film criticism is not born in a vacuum. Much as I try to keep myself “pure”—not reading reviews, not consulting PR synopses (at least before my first viewing), going all the way to tackling people who say they’ve already seen the film to keep them from revealing what they thought of it—I still go into a screening with expectations and prejudices. I carry my personal baggage wherever I go, and there’s a lifetime in every word I write—including, to radically paraphrase Mary McCarthy, “if,” “and,” and “but.”

Cognizance of where I’ve been steers where I’m going. If I feel that A Monster Calls (2016) is a grievously undervalued film, I can’t discount that that opinion may well have roots in a particularly devastating event in my own life. The question I’m obligated to confront is: Do I factor my personal biases into my reviews and temper my evaluation accordingly, or do I accept them as a part of the things that form me, and stand by my judgement? How much do I let cognizance of the past alter my present…and future?

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