Category Archives: Updates + Articles

Guest Post: The Last Video Store on Earth

And now for something completely different… While an undergrad at The University of Texas (Austin) (2005-2009), my saved dollars went to Vulcan Video—a purveyor of cult films (science fictional, foreign, unusual). Between Vulcan Video and the university audio visual library, I spent the majority of my free time transported to unusual worlds. I asked a friend, Christopher Giles, who returned to Austin after college to work at the store to write a guest post on the intersection of science fiction cinema/fiction and Vulcan’s last days, a victim (at least partly) of Covid-19.

Enjoy!

And as always, I look forward to your thoughts.

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The Last Video Store on Earth

Christopher Giles

Vulcan Video was an independently owned video rental store located in Austin, Texas. Enjoying a stock of literally thousands of titles, with a focus on classic, foreign, and rare genre oddities, Vulcan stood as a beloved cinematic hub in a town uniquely suited for such a space, one of the few remaining businesses of its kind left standing. Unfortunately, recent years dealt Vulcan with the twin blows of increased rent prices and decreased customer traffic in the age of digital streaming, and the unavoidable realities of COVID-19 forced the store to permanently shut its doors in early April 2020.

Working at a video store, one grows accustomed to seasonal rushes on particular genres: lots of romcom rentals in February; the Horror section picked dry by the end of October; frantic, last-minute requests for It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) the week before Christmas. It’s to be expected, and can often lead to opportunities for customers to discover overlooked gems. When all copies of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) are predictably checked out weeks prior to the titular holiday, a slasher-starved customer might instead leave the store with Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (1971) in hand, none less the richer for the alternative. As video store clerks, we looked forward to these days on the calendar and prepared for them accordingly.

Even the occasional curveball of unexpected news could be met with quick action, like, say, the untimely death of a beloved actor; when Burt Reynolds passed in 2018, the Vulcan Video staff quickly put together a tribute section for the mustachioed icon. This allowed for grieving customers to easily locate and snatch up copies of tried and true favorites like White Lightning (1973) and Continue reading Guest Post: The Last Video Store on Earth

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLVIII (Mary Gentle, Philip Wylie, Bruce Sterling, and a New Dimensions anthology)

1. More post-apocalyptic fictions…. I dunno about exclamation points in titles! More seriously, I’ve yet to read any of Philip Wylie’s novels—this one is at the top of the list.

2. Before I explore an author’s best known fictions, I enjoy nosing about the periphery first. Here’s Mary Gentle’s first collection of short fiction (I’m most interested in the SF stories).

3. I might have read Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net (1988) in my late teens. I know I had a copy that I gave away. I can’t remember anything about it other than the cover–if there’s a cover that screams 80s cyberpunk it’s that one!

I’ve previously reviewed Sterling’s Involution Ocean (1977).

A little research reveals the female figure was repurposed (sans the original spaceship background) from an earlier Luis Royo cover—Mike Resnick’s The Dark Lady: A Romance of the Far Future (1988) (cover link).

4. I adored Robert Silverberg’s original anthology New Dimensions 2 (1973) — I’m a bit closer to owning the entire series.

Let me know what books/covers intrigue you. Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

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1. Tomorrow!, Philip Wylie (1954)

(Uncredited cover for the 1954 edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLVIII (Mary Gentle, Philip Wylie, Bruce Sterling, and a New Dimensions anthology)

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLVII (Candas Jane Dorsey, Michael Elder, Garry Kilworth, Sterling E. Lanier)

1. Sterling E. Lanier is best known for Hiero’s Journey (1973), which I procured in 2012 but haven’t yet read. Here’s the second of his singleton novels—Menace Under Marswood (1983). SF Encyclopedia describes it as “tamely repeat[ing]” (SF Encyclopedia) material from his earlier novels.

I’m a fan of the Darrell K. Sweet cover! Especially the mysterious creature decked out in scepter, robe, and hat.

darrell k. sweet Menace Under Marswood

(Darrell K. Sweet’s original canvas for the 1st edition)

2. A discussion on twitter about female authors of cyberpunk yielded a name unfamiliar to me — Candas Jane Dorsey. I procured a collection of her best known short fictions, which “polemically re-use and rework sf and fantasy tropes from a Feminist perspective, engaging most memorably, and fascinatedly [sic], in the title story of the first volume, “(Learning About) Machine Sex”, with the phallocentrism of much Cyberpunk” (SF Encyclopedia). Count me in!

3. My Garry K. Kilworth exploration series continues with Gemini God (1981). I must confess my enthusiasm has waned a bit after I read In Solitary (1977). See my review of The Night of Kadar (1978) for what he’s capable of.

4. This cover…. the gauze… the sheen…. the cheesiness. Explorations of media in SF is always something I gravitate towards—even when “graced” which such dismal artist failures.

Haven’t read anything by Michael Elder. I do not have high hopes!

Let me know what books/covers intrigue you. Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

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1. Menace Under Marswood, Sterling E. Lanier (1983) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLVII (Candas Jane Dorsey, Michael Elder, Garry Kilworth, Sterling E. Lanier)

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLVI (Michel Jeury, Sheila MacLeod, Vietnam War anthology, The Year 2000 anthology)

1. I’m a sucker for themed anthologies! Especially of original stories… This one is on the top of my list to read!

2. The lengths the cover blurb goes to proclaim Sheila MacLeod’s Circuit-Breaker (1978) not SF is humorous. The blurb writer ends up describing the aim of New Wave science fiction (interior vs. exterior space). So many of these arguments demonstrate a lack of knowledge of genre and depends on dismissive stereotypes. As it my practice, I try to avoid these exclusionary/gate-keeping arguments. I recently picked up a copy of her only other SF novel Xanthe and the Robots (1977).

Curious about this one — and all SF about potentially insane astronauts.

A handful of favorite stories of (possibly) insane astronauts

Barry N. Malzberg’s Beyond Apollo (1972), The Falling Astronauts(1971), and Revelations (1972)

Gene Wolfe’s “Silhouette” (1975)

3. Another themed anthology! The topic here is the Vietnam War. Huge fan of Vietnam War inspired SF — especially Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest (1972) and Kit Reed’s Armed Camps (1969).

What are your favorite Vietnam War-themed SF works? I’m thinking of putting together a resource on the topic.

4. French SF in translation. Here’s Michel Jeury’s bibliography. This appears to be the only one of his MANY SF novels to be translated into English. Alas.

Let me know what books/covers intrigue you. Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

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1. The Year 2000, ed. Harry Harrison (1970)

(Pat Steir’s cover for the 1st edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLVI (Michel Jeury, Sheila MacLeod, Vietnam War anthology, The Year 2000 anthology)

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLV (John Brunner, Marta Randall, Brian Herbert, Amanda Hemingway)

1. A complete unknown! As is frequently the case, I discovered it during a lengthy Internet Speculative Fiction Database browse a few weeks back. I’m not sure what to expect. Although the back cover is problematic –“In danger of losing her sanity, her virginity, and even her life”–is her sanity less important than her virginity? Who knows.

2. John Brunner short stories! He’s a favorite and I buy his collections on site.

A few John Brunner short fictions I’ve particularly enjoyed:

3. In my late teens I read every Dune novel I could get my hands on—including those written by Frank Herbert’s son Brian (I don’t remember being impressed). And yes, I’ve decided to read some of Brian Herbert’s non-Dune related SF.

4. I’ve enjoyed the two Marta Randall novels I’ve reviewed.

Might as well grab the last one I didn’t own? Right? It’s the sequel to Journey (1978).

Let me know what books/covers intrigue you. Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Pzyche, Amanda Hemingway (aka Jan Siegel) (1982)

(Uncredited cover for the 1982 edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLV (John Brunner, Marta Randall, Brian Herbert, Amanda Hemingway)

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLIV (John Shirley, Carol Emshwiller, Daniel Walther, and Jacques Sternberg)

1. Few themes make me as excited as dystopic urbanism: the city or suburbia as an arena of all the malignancies of societal decay. The progressive SF symbol of progress, a lake of uplifting spires, tossed into anarchy and chaos….

John Shirley’s City Come A-Walking (1980) takes this premise to its extremes—the city of San Francisco, the “pulsing heart of urbanized madness” gains sentience. Definitely the Shirley novel I’ll read first (recently nabbed Shirley’s 1985 novel Eclipse).

Tarbandu read it and didn’t care for it over at The PorPor Books Blog. I hope my experience is different!

2. Back in 2017, I read and reviewed Carol Emshwiller’s masterful short story “Animal” (1968). It’s about time I read more of her short fictions.

3. I recently read and enjoyed Jacques Sternberg’s collection Future Without Future (1971, trans. 1973). He was a Belgian author who wrote in French. Unfortunately, the only other one of his SF works available in English is Sexualis ’95 (1965, trans. 1967). I’m not sure this erotic SF novel has any merit. We shall see.

Too bad his first SF novel La sortie est au fond de l’espace (1956) remains untranslated. Its premise seems like SF I could get behind: “a black comedy set in space and featuring the last human survivors of a bacterial Holocaust” (SF Encyclopedia).

4. Daniel Walther, a French SF author, positions The Book of Shai (1982, trans. C. J. Cherryh, 1984) as a deliberate anti-Ayn Rand novel. Considering the one man saves everything nature of so many post-apocalyptical and sword-and-sorcery adventures, I’m intrigued how it plays out! I don’t have high hopes.

Translated by fellow author C. J. Cherryh, who appeared to translate a bunch of the DAW French editions….  lists of translations should be a feature of her  isfdb.org listing — alas.

I also find it humorous that Cherryh gives the sequel, which she also translated, 1 star on Goodreads! The third volume of the trilogy remains untranslated.

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1. City Come A-Walking, John Shirley (1980) (MY REVIEW)

(Catherine Huerta’s cover for the 1st edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLIV (John Shirley, Carol Emshwiller, Daniel Walther, and Jacques Sternberg)

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLIII (Mary Gentle, Robert Reed, Mike Resnick, and Jayge Carr)

1. As a historian, I am particularly fascinated by future histories—stories or novels chronologically organized to convey the historical scope of a society’s evolution. Mike Resnick, a new author to me, presents a future history in the form of linked original short stories. The format reminds me of Michael Bishop’s Catacomb Years (1979), although the stories in the latter volume were previously published.

Barry N. Malzberg also tried his hand at a future history (albeit, a distinctly Malzbergian take) in the underrated Universe Day (1971).

2. I’ve read extensively about Mary Gentle but I haven’t picked up one of her novels–until now. I’d love to know your thoughts on this one.

3. Jayge Carr is best known for Leviathan’s Deep (1979) which I bought a few years back but haven’t read. Here’s a lesser known work—it only received one printing—in a trilogy.

4. And finally, another complete unknown…. SF Encyclopedia describes Robert Reed’s first novel, The Leeshore (1987), as “a tale which combines adventure-sf plotting (a pair of twins, the sole humans left on the eponymous water-covered colony planet, must guide a task force in pursuit of the Computer-worshiping zealots who have killed everyone else) with an almost mystical sense for the genius of place, the intricacies of self-hood.”

Count me intrigued! I’m all for unusual planets…..

As always, let me know what you think of the books and covers in the comments!

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1. Birthright: The Book of Man, Mike Resnick (1982)

(Uncredited cover for the 1st edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLIII (Mary Gentle, Robert Reed, Mike Resnick, and Jayge Carr)

Updates: A New Resource on Sports and Games in Science Fiction

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1972 edition of The Space Olympics (1967), A. M. Lightner)

Official Resource Page LINK (this will be updated based on your suggestions).

In the era of Covid-19, sports leagues and events around the world have been cancelled. ESPN runs replays of the glorious past…. partial sports fans like myself miss Major League Soccer and the conclusions to various European football leagues. I thought it would be fun to put together a new resource on Sports and Games in Science Fiction. And, these resources serve as a way to organize my reviews (links provided).

To quote from my review of William Harrison’s “Roller Ball Murder” (1973), “I am (generally) not a fan of sports. I am a fan of science fiction about sports. More specifically, I’m a proponent of sports as a SF vehicle for social commentary on commercialism, trauma, alienation, and violence.”

One last thing before I discuss the list I’ve compiled, let me know your favorites. I am open to tracking a bunch down for my reading pleasure in this sports-deprived Continue reading Updates: A New Resource on Sports and Games in Science Fiction

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLII (C. J. Cherryh and T. A. Waters)

All the following books came from the Chicago, IL bookstore Bucket O’Blood. I bought them online to support one of my favorite bookstores negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Check them out!  If able, support your favorite stores (buy online, buy gift cards for later purchases, etc.) in this trying time.

I hope all of you are well.

1. Book two of C. J. Cherryh’s Faded Sun trilogy. I bought the first one a few months ago.

While I’ve only reviewed two of Cherryh’s novels on my site—-Merchanter’s Luck (1982) and Port Eternity (1982)—she was one of my favorite pre-blog authors. I’ve previously read fifteen or so of her novels including Cyteen (1988) and Downbellow Station (1981). I have yet to read any of her pre-1980 novels so I look forward to diving into this trilogy.

2. An unknown author and novel (at least to me)…. with a flashy/fun cover. According to SF Encyclopedia, “A counter-cultural ethos also inspired the grimmer Centerforce (1974), in which motorcycle dropouts and commune dwellers combine in opposition to a Near-Future police-state America.”

3. One of C. J. Cherryh’s few standalone novels–Hestia (1979). Seems like a standard anthropological mystery on an alien world. Thoughts? As always, annoyed by the cat woman alien art….

4. Book three of C. J. Cherryh’s Faded Sun trilogy.

Let me know what you think of the books and covers in the comments!

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1. The Faded Sun: Shon’Jir, C. J. Cherryh (1978)

(Gino D’Achille’s cover for the 1979 edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLII (C. J. Cherryh and T. A. Waters)