Light in the Bushel No. 2 -- Autumn 1986
Brad Foster

"His mind sharpened as he peered through the gloom and studied the beings around him with mingled incredulity and disbelief."

Terry Brooks, Magic Kingdom for Sale: Sold!

Yeah, Terry, I feel that way whenever I come across a line like that. I do read the stuff, on occasion, and it has always struck me how when writers deal with aliens, no matter how exotic their physical appearance and superficial behavior, at heart they're really just human beings in funny plastic disguises. Oh, they may be alien--in the same sense that, say, the Japanese are alien to our culture--but they fail to be non-human. Obviously a tough situation for a writer to describe. (A common cop-out is to decide that one's aliens are so different that their behavior need not be explained at all--or justified; witness the inscrutable aliens who provide the deus ex machina rescue at the end of The Pride of Chanur.)

Then along comes Joe Haldeman, whose story "Seasons" confronts a group of human anthropologists with some aliens who are superficially humanoid, but who in time turn out to have bizarre behavior patterns tied biologically to changes in their planet's seasons. The researchers make the same mistake as many an sf writer, and anthropomorphize their aliens. In this case the error proves fatal. A powerful story (perhaps too graphic to have won favor with the voters this year), but also an importmnt contribution to the field, for Haldeman has actually succeeded in creating aliens who are something other than human, an all too rare achievement.

'Seasons' is in Alien Stars, edited by `Elizabeth Mitchell" (Betsy's getting pretty high-falutin' now that she's working in books), from Baen Books. Baen has really gone whole-hog for the original anthology market, starting off pretty well with the first Far Frontiers anthologies, co-edited by Baen and Pournelle. The early books had pretty good stuff, even if you had to sit through the editors' constant forced reminders about their positions on SDI. (Oddly enough, Baen couldn't put out an SDI-oriented anthology when they tried. At least, Janet Morris asked all her friends for SDI-oriented stories for a Baen anthology on post-Holocaust themes. "All I got were stories about elves," she laments. Rather than do the decent thing, she printed some of them...) But then Baen started excerpting novellas from forthcoming linked-world anthologies, and we end up with something like Far Frontiers V, with one excerpt from a shared-world anthology, one Retief novella that will be reprinted in a linked anthology, and an excerpt ripped bodily from David Drake's Ranks of Bronze, which Baen candidly admits is intended to send you rushing forth to buy the novel. Even this outrageous padding is not enough to fluff up the page count, so a 32-page catalog of Baen Books titles is appended. (If your library, like mine, got suckered into buying this overpriced promotional piece, the short story by Lois Bujold is kind of weird, and really pretty good.)

Meanwhile, Baen Books has had some weird blurb quotes on their covers lately ("Reading Sheffield is like using a mind-link!"--Robert L. Forward), and I see now that one of their new paperbacks has a laudatory quote from--of all people--Jim Baen. Couldn't find anyone else to put in a nice word, Jim?

Moving on to Questar Books, those fans who enjoyed Asa Drake's first novel about the warrior witch Bloodsong will be delighted to know that in the sequel, Death Riders of Hel, raiders once again savage the village of Eirik's Vale and Bloodsong is strung up again from the exact same tree. For those who can't get enough of this sort of thing, I suppose ....Whoa, talk about deja vu. Talk about Nerilka's Story by Anne McCaffrey (Del Rey). On second thought, let's not....Let's talk about the same author's Killashandra instead (Del Rey again). This book is quite enjoyable in parts, with its heroine's mocking manner, but it's a very awkwardly plotted book, requiring its author to be whisked away from the center of events for long enough to pad this story out to a novel. Then, once she's back in her proper setting, McCaffrey keeps staving off the resolution long after it's clearly inevitable to one and all. If you've ever read Atanielle Annym Noel's broad farce, The Duchess of Kneedeep (Avon), you may be stricken by the similarity of its wild-goose plot, but then her book was intentionally ridiculous.

Say, has anyone else noticed how Michnel Whelan painted over the cover of Friday and got the cover for Questar's Journey?

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