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Send us your letters! Locus Online has more room than the magazine for letters. They can be about Locus or the SF field in general.

November 2000

Letters on this page
Posted 22 November:

Posted 8 November:

Note: Return e-mail addresses will be posted only if you include it in your closing, or your subject matter specifically requests some sort of response; otherwise it will be omitted.

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Dear Locus,
     All right, I had a special reason for wishing and hoping they might find a way to save the MIR space station. Let me explain why I mourn its coming demise.
     Years ago, my astronaut pal Michael Foale was aboard MIR on that unlucky day when an exhausted cosmonaut blinked at the wrong moment, sending a teleoperated cargo craft crashing into the station. For twenty heart-pounding minutes, Mike and the Russians scrambled to cut cables and seal hatches to save their lives before the air all went away. Abandoned in the SPEKTR capsule -- which had been ripped-open by the collision -- were Mike's sleeping bag, toothbrush, family photos... and a manuscript copy of my novel, Brightness Reef, which he had taken along as personal cargo. (Mike took galleys of Glory Season on a previous mission.)
     Some time after they succeeded (miraculously) in stabilizing the rest of the damaged space station, Mike's wife phoned me to say they were sending up a Progress Capsule with more supplies. She would enclose a new toothbrush and photos... and Mike was eager to finish the novel! Would I please send the second half to be included in the supply launch?
     Of course I did, feeling honored to have the first novel rocketed as 'emergency equipment' for a space mission. More powerful was my sense of gladness when Mike made it home at last, safe & sound.
     And yet, ever since then my thoughts kept drifting back to the other copy, the one Mike left inside SPEKTR when they sealed it for good. By now, after rounding Earth every ninety minutes for over six years, is it the most-travelled novel ever? Has there been any appreciable effect from time dilation? Exposed for all that period to hard vacuum and sleeting cosmic rays, would the manuscript show evidence of "criticism" by the Great Big Universal Editor in the Sky?
     I hoped someday to find out. But alas, now we'll never know.
     Is it petty of me to worry over a one-pound sheaf of paper, when the investors in MIRCorp have lost their shirts and some two-ton hunk of space hardware may soon plunge into downtown Brisbane? I guess so. Maybe it's just been my own way to feel a sense of private involvement, since it seems unlikely that I'll ever go to space in person.
     Anyway, better a living book than an orbital relic, no? Then there's the notion that a burnt offering, in the form of a brief, flaming meteor, may be the best use for some manuscripts...
     So be it. I plan to raise a glass when MIR goes down and I hope you'll join me too, in saluting both a bold venture and a passing era. Let's all share fond hopes for much greater things to come.

David Brin
18 Nov 2000

Dear Locus,
     Subject: Continuing Saga of Bookstore Discount Programs
     I don't believe it has been widely publicized, but B. Dalton, the mall bookstore chain owned by Barnes & Noble, has quietly done away with its 10 percent off everything for $10 per year discount program (with an additional $5 coupon with every $100 in accrued purchases).
     I happened to be in one of the stores today when the cashier wouldn't renew the discount card for another customer. The program will continue until all outstanding memberships have expired and then will terminate. According to the clerk, the program is ending so B. Dalton can "increase other discounts." The same nonsense story that B&N used when the slowly eroded in-store discounts from the original everything in stock to today's fewer than 200 titles at any time.
     It's interesting that B. Dalton is doing away with its discount program at the same time that B&N is in the process of starting their own "preferred customer" discount program.
     Waldenbooks (part of Borders) has its own similar in-store discount program, and we can probably count on it disappearing too.

Bruce Appelbaum
14 Nov 2000

Dear Locus,
     About 25 years ago, Lin Carter wrote this in an appreciation of L. Sprague de Camp:

The way he takes care of himself, Sprague will still be going strong at ninety, by which point I, twenty-two years his junior, will probably have been a good ten years in a cigarette-smoker's grave.
     He was right on both counts, too.
     (Source: "Quixote with a Pen", reprinted in de Camp's Footprints on Sand (Advent, 1981), p. 19.)

David Bratman
14 Nov 2000

Dear Locus,
     I see here in the Letter Column a reference to ungodly early writers of science fiction and hasten to give my penny’s worth.
     In 1952, when I was 11, I wrote a short story called "Kalles planetariumfärd" ("Carl’s Planetary Trip") featuring a trip to Mars, various BEMs and even flying saucers. The Swedish Radio Broadcasting dramatized it as a radio play and sent it the same year. Does this make me the youngest, or is there an even younger SF monster around?

Sam J. Lundwall
12 Nov 2000

Dear Locus,
     As a high school English teacher for the past 13 years I can attest to the dismal state of reading in America. Most of the kids I've taught find reading a chore. No matter what it is (and I do my damnedest to find novels that they might like, from "The Hobbit" to "The Wizard of Earthsea" to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" to "Dune", etc., etc.), kids who have been raised in front of the boob tube have stunted imaginations, find reading "boring", and have no interest in such time consuming inactivity. Yes, parents are largely to blame for not instilling a love of words in their children, but how many parents love to read and encourage their children to settle down with a good novel when there is Nintendo and "Buffy" ready to hand?
     The SF readership may be graying but it's not the fault of the writers who seem to be creating ever more brilliant works of imaginative literature. Of course, there is the argument that if the SF readership is no longer the province of the 14 year old geek perhaps it is because SF novelists have become ever more literate and appeal to a more sophisticated readership. In that sense perhaps it is only the kid who truly likes to read (a rarity) and who happens to be interested in SF who can appreciate its wonders.. For the past 4 years I have taught a year-long SF elective and have had the good fortune to encounter those rare adolescents who can be turned on to "Ringworld" or "Eon" or who must read the entire "Dune" cycle. But, sadly, in 4 years I don't need two hands to count them all.
     The fault, dear Brutus, lies with ourselves for not creating an environment where reading is perceived as a legitimate and pleasurable pastime.

Lucius M. Nelligan Sorrentino
10 Nov 2000

Dear Locus,
     I was saddened to read of Robert Cormier's death. Although he is only tangentially a part of the field -- with only one genre novel by your count -- he was an enormous influence on my writing. It would be a surprise if this was not true of other writers, especially those with a leaning towards horror.
     While not a genre novel, Locus readers could not go wrong with Cormier's I Am the Cheese, which remains one of the best examples of structure and plotting ever seen in print. It also unleashes an emotional bombshell at the end with devastating understatement. This is, after all, what plotting is really about: building emotional tension and then releasing it without histrionics.
     Nominally a YA writer, Cormier was prepared to go where most novelists would not. The intensity of his violence, mostly emotional but occasionally physical, left most "mature" novels looking pale and mannered in comparison. As one of his blurbs said, calling Cormier a YA writer was like calling Lord of the Flies a children's book.

Chris Lawson
9 Nov 2000

Dear Locus,
     I would like to make a couple of small corrections to my review of British short SF previously posted here. Alastair Reynolds informs me that "Hideaway" is not really intended to be part of the same future history as his novel Revelation Space, though he allows that it's not necessarily ruled out. And Charles Stross tells me that while he lives in Scotland now, he was actually born in England, and in 1964, not 1966.
     I noted the reviews of the December Analog by Pete Tillman in the Letters column [below], and by Michael Swanwick separately, and I agree with both of them that that issue of Analog was pretty strong. Indeed, I felt that overall 2000 was one of the best recent years for that magazine.

Rich Horton
8 Nov 2000

Dear Locus,
     The December 2000 issue of Analog (on sale through November 20) is the best issue of Analog in some months. The standout is J.R. Dunn's science-fact article on why history suggests we needn't fear Global Warming -- a rare example of clear thinking on this sadly-politicized topic. Dunn, a professional historian, plans to expand his article into a book. I'm looking forward to it. My rating: A+
     Brian Stableford's "Snowball in Hell" is an intriguing look at a new-to-me way we might improve our genetic inheritance. It's a bit heavy-handed as fiction, easily forgivable for the strong hard-sf content. (Yes, that's the Animal Farm Snowball.) Rating: A
     New writer Christopher Bennett is off to a strong start with "Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele," an insightful look at artificial evolution among the auxons, autonomous terraforming robots-run-wild. It's too clumsy and heavy-handed to be first-rate fiction (and has the second Least Likely Romance of the month), but as sci/tech-speculation it's top-drawer. Rating: A/A-
     Larry Niven gives us a nice (if confusing) new Draco Tavern tale with "The Missing Mass," featuring the Terminator Beaver's quest for same, with a little 'help' from the chirpsisthra. A fine addition to the series -- I liked it much more than his new Kzin story in last month's Asimov's. It's good to see Niven writing short fiction again. Rating: A-
     This month's cover story is Jack Williamson's "The Ultimate Earth", a 'plucky primitives save their advanced descendants' bacon' tale that is OK but nothing special -- which, it may be unkind to say, has been my impression of almost everything he's written since "The Humanoids." Still, it's good to see a nanotech story by Williamson, and Alan Gutierrez's cover art is very nice. Rating: B/B+
     Also included is Stephen L. Burns' minor, hokey-but-entertaining "Eden Tag," which includes the least-likely romance I've seen in some time -- rating: B. And Jerry Oltion's "It's the Thought That Counts," a Christmas story. Of sorts. Rating: C
     Plus the usual features: a dullish editorial, good book-reviews, a slight J. Kooistra Alternate View, windy letters, etc. You'll easily get your $3.50 worth. Recommended.
     I would ordinarily refer you to Analog's web page for excerpts & TOC , but it hasn't been updated in some time: the opening teaser screen advertises a "live" online chat with Spider Robinson last July 11, and has a TOC and excerpts for the (weak) October issue. Good grief.
     Analog's been in a slump for some time, to the extent that I may not renew my decades-long subscription. I get the feeling that long-time editor Stanley Schmidt is getting tired of his job. Bruce Sterling once remarked on (quoting from memory) "Analog's desiccated techie-drivel," a sad-but-fair summation. I'm pleased to see a good issue, but they've been few and far between. Sigh.

Peter D. Tillman
3 Nov 2000

[ For a more detailed look at several stories from the December 2000 Analog, see Michael Swanwick's review.
--ed. ]

Dear Locus,
     To be attacked in cyberspace; life is full of new experiences.
     How many other books did the kids who read Harry Potter read this summer? Not many; hell I doubt they even read one other. As for not buying, well library circulation across North America seems to be falling every year, so I don't think the kids are borrowing them. Maybe they're stealing them.
     Harry Potter has struck me in one way: the look of desperation in parents' faces when they buy the books, as if these novels will suddenly turn their kids onto reading, and save their sorry asses. They should have had the kids reading The Cat in the Hat when they were younger; it's too late now, Harry isn't that good. A whole generation of parents have raised another entire generation of illiterates, and they know it, and they want Harry to save the day. Not going to happen.
     Does anybody think that Goosebumps actually got children to read other books, of any genre? Philip Pullman's great, but that doesn't matter, he didn't sell a bazillion copies, he's not doing a reading at The Skydome in Toronto.
     Behind all the media hype of Harry Potter, how many kids really read the book? It reminds me of another huge selling book, A Brief History of Time; how many people really read that book, and how many only got through the first chapter?
     I really wish that more people, especially kids, were reading today. It's a sorry old thing that they're not.
     By the way, I'm Canadian.
     Eagerly waiting Dan Simmons' Darwin's Blade,

Alan Gilbert
24 Oct 2000

Dear Locus,
     After reading Alan Gilbert's [first] letter on the "graying" of the SF audience, I felt someone had to stand up for my generation. There are quite a few of us under 30 but old enough to have our own collections out there buying SF. Really. Mr. Gilbert looks at the web the wrong way and calls it useless -- I have my own serious doubts about the feasibility of Internet-published fiction, but keep in mind that most of us youngsters are as comfortable buying books from a .com as from a superstore.
     Disposable income is a major issue as well, particularly when dealing with teenagers and shorter. Why spend the little money they have on books, when they can read them for free? Kids who want to read are showing up at libraries more than bookstores.
     Kids and young adults do read. When I look around me I see over twelve hundred books on overstuffed bookshelves in our one-bedroom apartment, and more in boxes. Here we subscribe to F&SF and Analog, and the back issues are practically crowding us out. Sounds like someone who reads for pleasure, doesn't it? Oh, one more thing -- I'm 21 years old.

Tim Cooper
5 Nov 2000


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