time travel notes: langford's complete critical assembly

[reblogged from my old blog at sun microsystems]

lately i have been enjoying david langford's witty and sharp white dwarf SF reviews between 1983-91, collected in the complete critical assembly [cosmos books, 2002]. it is a reader's time travel: nearly every review mentions SF books i still have on my shelves or in my overflow boxes. first piece, march 83 review includes asimov's foundation's edge and heinlein's friday both of which i had read that year. [never wanted to re-read them since]

Robert Heinlein's Friday was also enthusiastically greeted, largely because it came as such a relief after his unreadably awful The Number of the Beast.
i could not agree more. NOTB is beyond awful, and it has a special place in my memory because it is the only book that i have ever thrown in the garbage, a place rarely so well deserved. even going back to pulp through recycling is too good for this.
june 83 review includes stanislaw lem's more tales of pirx the pilot which i have re-read a couple of times since. lem is a genius, and i wish some of his other writing would show up in english. [for example, his 2003 dilemmas has yet to be translated. peter swirski had mentioned that there was interest in translating summa but i do not know if there is a translation underway.] july 83 review includes amazing randi's the truth about uri geller, flim-flam, and this line:
Even if inclined towards the loony, i mean the uncritical viewpoint, you should consult these books for the devil's advocate arguments. They are important. In a world where an ounce of sensationalism sells better than a ton of rationality any day, they are very important.
two decades later, we are in a lot worse situation, but at least flim-flam is still in print.
jan 84 review includes lem's masterpiece his master's voice, and douglas adams and john lloyd's the meaning of liff. i have been meaning to go back to HMV, and liff of course have been re-released.
massachusetts: those items or particles which people are searching for when they look into their hankies after blowing their noses.
may 84 review includes the robots of dawn, a good but not great followup to asimov's great caves of steel and the naked sun. [i treasure my original pbk copies of these two now because of the cover art as well]
A considerable improvement on the terminally flatulent foundation's edge, it recaptures the feel of those two robotic puzzles which most critics regard as asimov's best books.
feb 84 review mentions herbert and ransom's the lazarus effect as enjoyable, good average SF, neither unputdownable nor unpickupable. langford says jesus incident [previous book] is fairly awful. i do not know. the first book was destination: void which i liked enough to read twice in one year, and i did pick up the late sequels. for whatever reason [awfulness sense?], i could never get into jesus incident so both books in sequence remain unread to this day, in one of the back rows of my double-packed sf shelves. sigh. this reminds me: some of herbert's non-dune sf, eg. saratoga barrier, dosadi experiment etc. have been re-released by TOR. [never mind links. i would visit my local sf bookstore for these, eg. Incomparable bakka in toronto.]
july 84 review has gardner's wheels, life and other mathematical amusements and dewdney's planiverse. i think i had a copy of the first one and second one was always in the list of books i would pick up if i ever find it remaindered. [i also keep waiting for a definitive gardner encyclopedia of all his sciam columns. i have his wonderful colossal book of mathematics and his lesser known but very thoughtful the whys af a philosophical scrivener - thanks henry]
aug 84 review mentions deadeye dick, my introduction to kurt vonnegut, even though usual starting points seem to be sirens of titan, cat's cradle or bluebeard. after the shooting incident (hence deadeye) i just could not put it down.
kurt vonnegut's deadeye dick makes it as near-sf by including the neutron-bombing of a US city, but is chiefly a straight tragicomedy of power, responsibility and the awful things we do to each other.
[i absolutely detest those "V" cover designs of dell's reissued vonnegut trade pbks. literary giants should not be handed off to unimaginative amateurs. an undergrad can program a robot to design better.] sep 84 reviews pohl's heechee rendezvous which i think is still (after all these years) in one of my to be read someday boxes. of course pohl's gateway and beyond the blue event horizon were favorites, so i am not sure why i never got around to reading the last book in the trilogy. langford also reviews james p. hogan's voyage from yesteryear which i read at least a couple of times.
background is presented in stodgy lectures, most readers will skip the one on physics occupying most of chapter 24. solid and quite worthy stuff, but practically devoid of characterization.
oct 84 reviews get into some of the best sf reading for me in those days: benford's across the sea of suns, [the sequel to in the ocean of night] and his against infinity. benford is one of my scientist/writer heroes; i think by now i have everything he has ever published, including the recent reissues of the galactic center series in preparation for another (last?) book in that series. [i first came across benford through his collaboration with brin in the heart of the comet and picked up all his other books]
gregory benford's across the sea of suns is a fat, impressive demonstration that one can do ultra-'hard' sf with every rivet placed just so, and still write well.
indeed, every benford book is just such a demonstration.
[to be continued]


meme of four [revised edition]

four jobs you've had in your life: cartographic draftsman [northway survey company], cartoonist/graphics designer, systems administrator, programmer

four movies you could watch over and over: galaxy quest, tampopo, incredibles, ladies man [brilliant work by lewis in front and behind the camera. lewis/buddy lester hat sequence leaves me in stitches every time]

four places you've lived: ankara, bursa, istanbul, toronto

four tv shows you love(d) to watch: house, firefly, chef! [lenny henry], big bang theory

four places you've been on vacation: mexico, new brunswick, bodrum, northern cape.

four websites you visit daily: dpreview, cbcnews, bythom, ars technica.

four of your favorite foods: tom yum soup, eggs [in any form], russian salad, circassian chicken [i am amazed that food network has a recipe]

four places you'd rather be: provance, tuscany, barcelona, montreal