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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, April 27, 2007 - 06:39 am:   

NOVELLAS
Stars Seen Through Stone -39- Lucius Shepard

NOVELETS
Daughters of Prime -6- Lawrence C. Connolly
Car 17 -115- P. E. Cunningham

SHORT STORIES
Cold Comfort -111- Ray Vukcevich
PowerSuitTM -141- M. K. Hobson

DEPARTMENTS
Books To Look For -29- Charles de Lint
Books -33- Elizabeth Hand
Films: Supercalifragilisticexpialimonstrous -135- Lucius Shepard
Coming Attractions -160-
Curiosities -162- Graham Andrews

CARTOONS: Arthur Masear (28, 134), Bill Long (140).
COVER BY KENT BASH FOR "STARS SEEN THROUGH STONE"
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PM
Posted on Friday, April 27, 2007 - 09:16 am:   

Glorious!
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PM
Posted on Monday, May 07, 2007 - 04:15 pm:   

Hand's review of Crowley's Endless Things was helpful by mentioning other authors/works which Crowley has used to ground his cycle.

de Lint was too apologetic for my taste.
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John William Thiel
Posted on Thursday, May 17, 2007 - 03:45 pm:   

The July issue has arrived. It's somewhat of a surprise that it did, as I received a note from Hoboken saying that I would not receive the next issue because my subscription had run out. Needless to say, I sent in a new subscription.

Very good cover, although it doesn't leap out at the viewer enough. I haven't seen Kent Bash's work before and wonder if he's a new artist in the field.

I see from the Marketplace that Robert Madle has started selling fanzines on top. I wish him luck. I've been trying to sell fanzines for ten years and not a taker, although before that I sold a lot of them at once for a hundred and fifty dollars plus postage. It seems to me that the rise of computer fandom has something to do with the bottom falling out of fanzine sales.

"Coming Attractions" has the bad news and the good news! Bad news, that postal rates are going up. Good news, there's some ultra-novaic writing coming up.

I was already aware that this is the age of hyperbole, as well as over-inflated rhetoric, but found Lucius Shepard's observations about it interesting and amusing. Likely the tendency originates among the 19th Century raftsmen on the Mississippi River.

Also amused by the turtle in Arthur MaSEAR's cartoon.
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Amy Sterling Casil
Posted on Thursday, May 17, 2007 - 03:58 pm:   

> Very good cover, although it doesn't leap out at the viewer enough. I haven't seen Kent Bash's work before and wonder if he's a new artist in the field.

No, he is an "old artist" but most of his genre covers have been for F & SF, and frontispieces and plates for special book club or collectors editions.

He is very sweet and was a nice friend to me. His whole house is filled with paintings from top to bottom, including the ceiling (upside-down) and any nooks and crannies, and he has two vehicles that he's painted called "art cars." He also has painted some very well-known pictures that were sort of used commercially without his permission, like a group of cops at the coffee shop in an Edward Hopper style that somehow the LAPD and other departments got hold of and used for t-shirts and coffee mugs for sale.

He's kind of a car culture, So Cal counterculture hot rod kind of guy, very mellow.
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Dave Truesdale
Posted on Thursday, May 17, 2007 - 05:04 pm:   

Harlan is a big fan of Bash's work. All of my F&SF's are boxed up in the other room, but Harlan had a cover story in F&SF a number of years ago. He convinced the editor (KKR or GVG) the cover had to be by Kent Bash, and that it had to run without any names on the cover as well; nothing but the F&SF logo and the art. I think there was a clown on the cover, IIRC. This was my first introduction to Kent Bash.
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Amy Sterling Casil
Posted on Thursday, May 17, 2007 - 05:36 pm:   

Yes, Dave - that was the "Nazi Clown" cover for the "New Writers" issue of F & SF, June, 1996, in which my first genre SF publication appeared.

And I became friends with Kent because Harlan insisted and thought we would "get along," Kent being an artist and my being an artist in my closet life and all that. Harlan I don't think knew about how much So Cal Car culture Tiki Man stuff we'd enjoy talking about, or Fantagraphics or the hot rod or cruising Ventura Blvd. or any of that.

Harlan has appeared on the cover of now three F & SF's in which I've appeared. I think it's the only reason he'd ever be aware I even existed or wrote a thing any longer, and most of the time I think he's just about my only reader.
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Dave Truesdale
Posted on Thursday, May 17, 2007 - 06:09 pm:   

June, '96...June, '96...Nazi Clown. I'm pulling this one out of my *ss, Amy, but I want to say your story had something to do with a...pumpkin? Is that even close? Sometimes my memory is almost eidetic; other times it's almost Alzheimerdetic. :-)
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PM
Posted on Thursday, May 17, 2007 - 06:24 pm:   

Amy, I'll try to show you some love at some point. But I do have thousands of unread pages and the number continues to grow.
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Amy Sterling Casil
Posted on Thursday, May 17, 2007 - 10:25 pm:   

Hey Dave - you must have something going on because you're right, it was "Jonny Punkinhead."

PM, you are a sweetie.

And in late-breaking news, the kind they call "paying forward," my student Pat Lundrigan just won the first prize in the Writers of the Future contest. That means Pat could have a chance at the big $4,000 grand prize.

Several former students have done well in the contest and have won prizes and also published in the "big three" and so-on.

Pat, however, said, he would always remember the theme of the class, which was "Being honest is making the story your own." Those are Pat's words, but yes - that's it. That's what I taught, and that is always how I have written.

Harlan was my instructor at Clarion. I have always said that A.J. Budrys was my "favorite" teacher at Clarion because I learned the most from him (he in fact was the only one I think I learned from AT ALL). But Harlan has been my personal "beacon" of inspiration in the sense that I've always thought if Harlan could write as he did and does, I could always at least TRY. I consider Harlan a courageous writer. I think that the internal editor is what I have always wanted to overcome and to me, Harlan always does that.

He is, as I have told him, "My bright star, ever shining upward."

So what I meant was - I was stunned when I realized Harlan was actually reading what I wrote when he arrived at it in his "stack" (described to me as beyond enormous) and he would, eventually, always respond.

And he's said some things to me I'll never, ever forget.

So even if you only have one reader, he's one that is beyond price.
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Amy Sterling Casil
Posted on Saturday, May 19, 2007 - 12:23 pm:   

Here's more news about Pat's prize-winning work. It's called "Hangar Queen" and it's a far future, somewhat military SF story about an intelligent bomb named "Gina."

All this attempt to categorize stories and so-on. It's a character story and a "choice" story. It's set in a wartime milieu. It is hard SF with many speculative elements. And the bomb has feelings and is named "Gina." And Pat, albeit with a gender-neutral name, is "Patrick."

I'd love to see more wonderful writing like this - from Pat and any others.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Wednesday, May 23, 2007 - 08:01 am:   

My first copy of this issue arrived in Hoboken today. We've heard from a few subscribers who received copies of this issue before their June issues arrived.
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daniel barrett
Posted on Thursday, June 14, 2007 - 05:57 am:   

Hmmmm...still haven't seen my July issue. Were there any problems with it going out (I'd go buy it at this point, but last time I did that, it came the next day :-)
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John Lodder
Posted on Thursday, June 14, 2007 - 08:15 am:   

I'm in the middle of "Stars Seen Through Stone," reading it in snippets on the train. My walk to work takes me past the Harold Washington Library; today I couldn't help but imagine Shepard's setting as I went past...
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, June 22, 2007 - 06:17 pm:   

Here's a blogger's comments on this issue: http://puttputtproductions.com/blogetary/2007/06/20/fantasy-and-science-fiction- july-2007-a-review/
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Joe Overton
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 03:09 am:   

I have some comments on "Daughters of Prime." This story was well set up as far as SF goes, but it totally ignored the fact that the researcher(s) lost their objectivity in the situation described. Anthropologists and similar researchers do not get involved with situations they don't understand, as this can destroy an ecology, population balance, etc. Any scientist sent off on a mission like that should have been screened for unprofessional and unscientific responses, and not only did the observer on the ground get emotionally involved, but the monitor in orbit did as well. This failure of rationality should have been a major discussion point in the story. I know from reading the magazine that you like emotional issues, but this is carrying it too far. Sorry, but I couldn't suspend my disbelief on this one.
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John William Thiel
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 06:24 am:   

Great Gawd, Kent Bash did the "Lady Luck" cover! I should have said, "I haven't noticed Kent Bash's name before."

Joe, you are saying that there was a possible violation of the Prime Directive in the story.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 08:13 am:   

Isn't the Prime Directive a Star Trek fiction?

I read this online and don't have the story in front of me, but the Primes appeared to be a xenobiological researchers gathering data on foreign worlds. We're asked to infer that a group of villagers in this instance are a dominant life-form preyed upon by monsters, and after a sacrifice of the village children, the Primes take it upon themselves to slay one of these monsters. Then, of course, it turns out there is a whole population of monsters that the villagers expect them to slay.

Taking a scientific viewpoint, the Primes have really screwed up. The set-up is culturally skewed, asking me to make this same emotional decision that the young should be protected by visiting scientists at the expense of another species. The Primes were completely unaware of this other species before the incident, so have no idea if it's an intelligent and/or culturally advanced species. To reference older SF, what if we have another case of Eloi vs. Morlock here?

How much did this expedition cost, anyway? May as well trash any further data from this world. It's been contaminated by the researchers. All this unaddressed by the story, of course.
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GSH
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 01:52 pm:   

Spoiler Warning!

In my view, the underlying story of "The Daughter's of Prime" has to do with the reclamation of a lost but vital aspect of human nature.

The protagonist is one of a series of reconstructions originating with Cara Randall, a 23 year old student who was voluntarily (we presume) disintegrated so that her "essence" could be transfered into a pair of crystals. While the memories of the original and of each subsequent version pass on to the newest copy, it's apparent that there's also a break in the continuity of being: Each knows herself as separate; the individualizing something of each who came before has ended. So, we've got a technologically advanced species (presumably our own) that places higher value on obtaining new information than on the continuation of an individual member's existence. The original Cara Randall bought into this, knowing that she would never know anything after that "blinding flash" that her successors all remember. The supremacy of detached, calculating rationality over the value of an individual human life seems pretty well established.

What happens on the planet's surface is that a dormant aspect of human nature reasserts itself. Cara Gamma comes to see an alien creature as an important individual being rather than as an object for study. Once she's emotionally engaged, she chucks the role of detached, dispassionate observer in favor of involvement, and in so doing reclaims her own humanity.

I suppose some might argue this represents a betrayal of her culture, her mission, and her predecessor. I'd point out that the people who sent her to a star system light years distant are already long dead; that if the mission was undertaken to learn something important, she has (and so, too, will they, since they'll learn about her transformation, and still have that second crystal in the Ministry vaults); and that the decision was in some sense made by whatever might be left of the original Cara.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 02:47 pm:   

Right. That's a good plan, but, as written, the story accepts that this reclamation of humanity at the expense of the mission is good. That's just not what science is about. So Cara made a huge sacrifice and now she's incompetent to carry through? Is this group of clones now going to go from world to world with each successive clone "reclaiming their humanity," contaminating the research, and trashing the local ecology? Are the folks who are funding this now going to abort the mission and destroy the reserve crystal when they find out Cara goes off on these tangents? Again, she ought to have been better screened for impartiality and adherence to scientific principles. (Is NASA behind this?)

This incident constitutes a major scientific failure. I'd have liked to see more discussion of this problem in the story and less reliance on emotional issues to carry it.
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John William Thiel
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 03:36 pm:   

Other series shows seem to have bought the similitude of this Directive.

Humanity vs. science, or tempering science? Seems to me this is what a lot of sf is about.
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daniel barrett
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 04:12 pm:   

I don't think the story ever addressed why they were studying the planet (I may be wrong, its not in front of me) and I don't think it delved into the nature of the Ministry that sent her there. I don't think it was the point of the story.

And while there's certainly an argument to be made that at some point the reclamation of humanity "at the expense of the mission" IS good, I for one am glad the story didn't get bogged down in that kind of obvious, overdone moral hand wringing. There was a lot more going on--not the least of which was the implication of an underlying mystical element to the appearance of the fieldworkers from the native's point of view. To criticize the story because the protagonist didn't practice good science seems strained.
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GSH
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 04:22 pm:   

"Humanity vs. science, or tempering science? Seems to me this is what a lot of sf is about."

As it well should be! It's a topic of speculation that's enormously important, and one that's entirely native to science fiction.

Will technology and science remain a servant to Humanity, or will our fundamental humanity be lost as we unwittingly become the servants of technology and science?

It's an urgent, real-world question, addressed by philosophers only in obscurity, but by science fiction authors right out in the open. It's part of the evidence that contemporary science fiction may be not only culturally relevant, but essential to our ultimate survival.
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John William Thiel
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 04:29 pm:   

LOL, right on! SF isn't science, it's science fiction, and it discussses, it doesn't indoctrinate. Here's looking for more and more serious discussions of the issues involved.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 04:58 pm:   

Rolls eyes.
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GSH
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 06:25 pm:   

Yeah, I know, it sounded like hyperbole, but I'm actually making a serious statement.

Consider: In all industrialized nations, the human species now exists in what is essentially a symbiotic relationship with the products of its own technology. We're almost totally dependent upon an artificial "organism" that's capable of evolving far more rapidly than we are ourselves. Currently we're mostly in control--we like to think--but lately much of our creative energy has been involved with providing our creation with an artificial "nervous system".

If you've been on the planet long, you've probably noticed that lately our technology is modifying human behavior as much as humans are modifying their technology. Plot the curve over the past 50 years. Then extrapolate 10 years ahead. Try 20.

Maybe we should work up a SF Manifesto and get hold of a mimograph machine. (One with a handcrank. It's less likely to turn on us.) Or, I suppose we could simply continue cranking out our science fiction stories and sending them off to Mr. Van Gelder & company...)
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Joe Overton
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 07:50 pm:   

What. You're talking about Cara's response to the alien children here? To a species in need? To her own desire for heroism? Fighting to defend them is "getting in touch with her humanity" because she's really just a copy? Crap.

Maybe the problem is that she's just a "student" and not really a scientist. It didn't recall that, but if it's true, it's a huge flaw in the setup of the story. How do you justify that they sent an unsupervised "student" out on what has to be a multi-zillion dollar mission? Would NASA send a "student" on a multi-year mission to Mars to gather data? Of course not. A student would muck it up. Instead, they'd send a mature, well-trained scientist that would follow the rules and gather and return uncontaminated data.

No amount of "interpretation" of the story is going to fix structural flaws like this.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 08:13 pm:   

>To criticize the story because the protagonist didn't practice good science seems strained.

It's not strained. Any story has to be realistic enough that the reader will accept it. If the writer had indicated Cara was magically influenced in some way, then that would have been a different story. However, this is science fiction, so it has to meet certain real world critera. Economics will be a big one: 1) How do you justify the cost of this mission? 2) What has the funding entity done to ensure they get their money's worth? Etc.

>What happens on the planet's surface is that a dormant aspect of human nature reasserts itself. Cara Gamma comes to see an alien creature as an important individual being rather than as an object for study. Once she's emotionally engaged, she chucks the role of detached, dispassionate observer in favor of involvement, and in so doing reclaims her own humanity.

So now she's in deep doo-doo, right? The story does correctly indicate that, by the way. It just doesn't explain why the Ministry would send out such an idiot.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 08:17 pm:   

>not the least of which was the implication of an underlying mystical element to the appearance of the fieldworkers from the native's point of view.

If there is some real magical element in play here, then that would justify the clones' decent into madness. However, this is not presented in a way that would provide justification. What you get is just a badly constructed story.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 08:42 pm:   

I don't want to get into a pissing match about it. The story does have some really great elements--it just fails on the reality checks.

This is not just a problem with SF stories, either. Fantasy stories have to justify motivations within the reality established by the story. Otherwise, they're crap, too.
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GSH
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 09:28 pm:   

Suppose the author had chosen to have his protagonist follow the Ministry mission plan to the letter. She would have remained a detached observer, dutifully recording the decimation of the alien village and its inhabitants. Not only would that have made for a very different and far less interesting story; it would have given the reader a rather dismal vision about what it might someday mean to be human.

I much prefer the story the author did give us. I see the protagonist's choice as an affirmation of both her individuality and her capacity for empathy--things I believe we must carry with us into the future if we wish to remain fully human.

Good stories are open to interpretation. Probably your expectations have set your focus on one thing, while mine have set my focus on another. I'm not trying to say anything you've said is wrong. We're just looking at this one from different angles.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 10:28 pm:   

>She would have remained a detached observer, dutifully recording the decimation of the alien village and its inhabitants.

Definitely she should have remained the detached observer, given the underpinnings of the story, but I truly doubt the alien village would have been "decimated." We don't have enough information from the story to draw an informed conclusion as to the situation, and you're making too many assumptions about an alien environent. The villagers may have been stealing the lizards' eggs and making them into tourist mementos. These could be interdependent species and killing off the one will cause the other to die off as well. The lizards are a dominant intelligence and the villages are actually farms where they fatten their "cattle" before herding them off to market. At the least, this has to be a stable system, or it wouldn't have existed over the time period suggested by the story.

The situation is not clearly outlined within the story. We are nudged to make assumptions based on old horror films where huge dinosaur like creatures prey on innocent human villagers. This is not earth in the story, these are not human villagers and we have no idea where the lizards fit into the ecology. The observer has clearly made a serious error in getting involved, and the villagers are expecting her to stay and protect them. She now has to make a decision as to whether she can take on a whole species of creatures that are extremely dangerous and possibly highly intelligent. If so, how is she going to do it? Clone off whole armies of herself and go to work manufacturing high-tech weapons? Pass along alien weapons to the villagers that they might then turn on one another?

Project it for me, please. What's going to happen next? How is her sudden empathy and appreciation for the individual going to work out in the next year or so?
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GSH
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 11:47 pm:   

*S* Your guess is as good as mine.

You're right, of course, about why we make certain assumptions. The author has utilized some very old fantasy archetypes to communicate idea and meaning to the reader: The alien beast is a dragon; innocent children are periodically sacrificed by terrified villagers to appease it; Cara Gamma becomes the virtuous knight, taking up her lance and mounting her steed to slay the Evil Beast. It's all there, repeated in the distant future on a distant world, and we immediately recognize and resonate with the ancient pattern. This is probably why the other legitimate possibilities that you mention remain in the background. If "The Daughters of Prime" had been chosen as the cover illustration story, we would probably have immediately recognized the archetypes behind the image.

The impulse to spin out a story beyond its end is a very writerly tendency, btw.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 05:52 am:   

Thank you. And I'm just saying that these fantasy archetypes are inappropriate for a science fiction situation. This prepetrates the idea that we should make knee-jerk decisions about species eradication when we don't know how the system is working.

>The impulse to spin out a story beyond its end is a very writerly tendency, btw.

Not really. Cara has been manipulated by the villagers into taking up this fight for them, and her dilemma at the end is pretty clearly presented in the story.

That is an interesting comment, though.
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daniel barrett
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 06:19 am:   

I for one don't necessarily accept the Star Trek-y premise that higher technology visitors would never be allowed to interfere in indiginous, primitive societies anyway. This isn't watching water buffalo being attacked by lions.

If we ever get to the point where such questions become pertinent, there may well be descretion given to the field workers--in fact I hope there would be.

And anyway, there was no indication that there was never going to be formal contact initiated--it just came earlier than planned, and with all the buzzing around and transporting they were doing, it can't have been that unexpected a contingency. And once it did happen, she may well have been expected to join their society to whatever extent possible, just like missionaries do on earth--basically, as a benevelent ambassador, helping as an active part of their society.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 07:44 am:   

That's reasonable, but again, it was not presented in this story as a basis for her actions. Because the story doesn't properly support Cara's actions, it fails as a well-constructed story. It presents an erroneous, emotional decision on the part of the Primes and asks the reader to buy into it because of the archetypes.

My complaint still remains that she has taken action without knowing anything about the lizard/dragon species. They appear to be intelligent and from what the villagers say, capable of team behavior in taking their revenge. It's another knee-jerk response for readers to support the more humanoid culture over the less and to assume the villagers are innocent victims.

>This isn't watching water buffalo being attacked by lions.

This is an interesting comment. What makes it different? Water buffalo are reasonably intelligent and are very protective of their young. Shouldn't we be concerned enough to interfere?

How do we make this decision on interference? On level of intelligence? Then why do we prey on whales that are highly intelligent and likely have a complex society and thus an alien "civilization" on our own world? Shouldn't we interfere when other predators kill whales? Or when whales kill one another?

Is it a matter of humanoid characteristics? Should we interfere when we find a species that uses tools and builds villages? Then why do we prey on orangutans and similar intelligent apes that use tools and build primitive shelters?

Is it a bias against predators? We're the biggest one on earth--maybe we just don't want the competition?
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Dave Truesdale
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 08:34 am:   

"Because the story doesn't properly support Cara's actions, it fails as a well-constructed story. It presents an erroneous, emotional decision on the part of the Primes and asks the reader to buy into it because of the archetypes."

Well said, Joe. I happen to agree with your observations about this story.
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daniel barrett
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 09:50 am:   

"Water buffalo are reasonably intelligent and are very protective of their young. Shouldn't we be concerned enough to interfere?"

Maybe, but we don't, which should tell you something right there. We have a history of remaining scientifically detached for non-humans (not non-humanoids) on earth, and it's reasonable to assume similar biases would extend in our interaction with aliens as well--not necessily "humanoid-centric", but subjective to human values nonetheless.

Would you have a problem with a scientist, sent to study a remote tribe in New Guinea, sharing medicine if there was an outbreak of malaria? OK, take that scenario to another planet. Should the field worker distribute medicine to kill what could be a sentient micro-organism, "taking sides" with one alien over another? Is there any line you would allow to be crossed to aid one species over another in such a situation? And if so, what is the basis of determining one aliens value over another if not human-centric, arbitrary ones?

The reason your criticisms fall flat with me is that I felt I would have acted exactly the same way as the protagonist did given the circumstances, regardless of the remote possibility that the slavering dragon might be an intelligent being and deserving of the same consideration as the villagers. Screw that. Good science or bad, it felt like the way a real person would behave. And this is a story about a PERSON, not some robotic prime-directive spewing caricature.
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GSH
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 10:41 am:   

Yep, I agree. "It felt like the way a real person would behave."

In the context of the story, Cara Gamma has had all ties with her homeworld forever severed as the result of a decision she had no part in. She has only her original progenitor's memories as a connection with humankind. She has never interacted directly with another human being and--if the Ministry script is followed to the letter--she never will.

Given the circumstances, it seems very natural that she should cast in her lot with a sentient species she can both relate to and communicate with--particularly when the "dragon" that menaces them is quick to show hostility toward her as well. That she was destined to live her entire life alone--except for the disembodied voice of an orbital AI--may explain why she's so quick to order up her reinforcements.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 11:47 am:   

>Well said, Joe. I happen to agree with your observations about this story.

Thanks. It seems I may be on a board where rational viewpoints aren't the norm.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 12:05 pm:   

"Water buffalo are reasonably intelligent and are very protective of their young. Shouldn't we be concerned enough to interfere?"

>Maybe, but we don't, which should tell you something right there. We have a history of remaining scientifically detached for non-humans (not non-humanoids) on earth,

Actually we don't have much of a history of detachment. The policy of non-involvement is fairly new in biology, where researchers actually gather data about lion and water buffalo populations without mixing into the fray. Predator populations were nearly wiped out in a number of cases because they are a danger to or compete with human beings. There are strict rules in African parks these days to protect the lion population, and biologists studying them are bound by these rules. Otherwise they could very well be extinct by now. You're advocating a return to the idea that all predators are bad and the animals they prey on should be allowed to propogate uncontrolled? That's proven to lead to overpopulation, then disease and starvation. Wolves have been re-introduced in the U.S. to control deer populations. This is what an ecological system is all about.

>Would you have a problem with a scientist, sent to study a remote tribe in New Guinea, sharing medicine if there was an outbreak of malaria?

No problem with me, but this doesn't really fall under a scientist's job description and he/she is likely to carry a limited supply. Better to get in a medical team to deal with it.


>OK, take that scenario to another planet. Should the field worker distribute medicine to kill what could be a sentient micro-organism, "taking sides" with one alien over another? Is there any line you would allow to be crossed to aid one species over another in such a situation? And if so, what is the basis of determining one aliens value over another if not human-centric, arbitrary ones?

I have no opinion on this. I'm not responsible for the policy of non-involvement, but I can easily see the reasons for it. I've read some very good science fiction on the subject you outline above.

>The reason your criticisms fall flat with me is that I felt I would have acted exactly the same way as the protagonist did given the circumstances, regardless of the remote possibility that the slavering dragon might be an intelligent being and deserving of the same consideration as the villagers. Screw that. Good science or bad, it felt like the way a real person would behave. And this is a story about a PERSON, not some robotic prime-directive spewing caricature.

And how will you handle Cara's dilemma now? Emotional responses feel great (Yeah! Whack that dragon!), but then you've got to deal with the fall out (Ooops. More of them coming!).
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Joe Overton
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 12:25 pm:   

>Given the circumstances, it seems very natural that she should cast in her lot with a sentient species she can both relate to and communicate with--particularly when the "dragon" that menaces them is quick to show hostility toward her as well. That she was destined to live her entire life alone--except for the disembodied voice of an orbital AI--may explain why she's so quick to order up her reinforcements.

Again, this is a perfectly fine thought--it's just not presented in the story. What I'm saying about the story is that it needed more discussion of her motivations and reactions. The situstion is a very good set up for discussion of emotional versus thought-out actions, but it didn't follow through. She has clearly screwed up through unconsidered responses and now faces some really tough choices.

You guys are getting off on the feel-good emotional charge, but really this story clearly suggests that she has been manipulated, and what she's done is wrong, because at the end she is faced with such hard choices. I can play these out in at least four different ways: 1) She withdraws at this point and leaves the villagers to be overrun by the now angry, revenge-seeking dragons. 2) She likes being the hero (or can't get out of it) and turns all the resources of the mission to cloning that army and making enough weapons to kill all the dragons. We go to all-out war, with whatever consequences for the local environment and whatever other species are trying to live there. 3) She splits the difference, using up some of the mission's resources in making weapons that she gives to the villagers, then leaves them to their fate. They kill all the dragons and then go to war with one another using these weapons. 4) Cara decides she's just a copy anyway and offs herself to get out of a difficult situation.

Un-thought out emotional responses are a problem in real life, say in politics, for example. I really don't care to read stories that affirm this a good way to go through life. This one needed more discussion in the story to clarify the message.
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daniel barrett
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 12:54 pm:   

>> Actually we don't have much of a history of detachment.

Even more to my point.

>> You're advocating a return to the idea that all predators are bad and the animals they prey on should be allowed to propagate uncontrolled

No, not at all. But in the case of this story, the protagonist wasn't defending "animals" (except in the most stringent biological definition). She had chosen to defend aliens that fell into the sphere of characteristics that she, as a human, values (however arbitrarily that may be). And there's absolutely no reason to believe that won't be the case in reality. I just don't see us traveling to low-technology planets and sitting idly by while they die of plague that we can easily cure, for example.


>OK, take that scenario to another planet...
>>I have no opinion on this. I'm not responsible for the policy of non-involvement, but I can easily see the reasons for it.

Ack! You have no opinion now on a policy of non-involvement??? That's been your argument all along, that scientists wouldn't get involved, that its bad science, that the story is ill-constructed because that wasn't her central conflict. And now you have no opinion???

Is it the tiny little micro-organisms that make it a moot issue in this case? Cuz it sure doesn't seem to be a neutral issue for you when there's dragons involved...


>>And how will you handle Cara's dilemma now? Emotional responses feel great (Yeah! Whack that dragon!), but then you've got to deal with the fall out (Ooops. More of them coming!).

Well, she IS dealing with it by creating more duplicates of herself...but that's beside the point in terms of the story itself—even if she had no recourse, and was now doomed, the argument that this is a poorly constructed piece of fiction because you don't agree with her decision from a scientific standpoint is just...strange. It’s a story about a person reacting to unusual, stressful circumstances as a human, regardless of what you think of the wisdom of her actions or the final outcome of them. And many stories leave that last bit for the reader to sort out--it's called ambiguity, and it's often a good thing.

(And speaking of ambiguity, there's certainly a lot of it regarding the motives of a Ministry that would force her, a human being in every respect, on such a hopeless, lonely mission as if she had no value whatsoever. An entity that could treat their own species that way is hardly likely to be all that concerned with the well being of an alien species. They could well be scoping the planet out for resource mining, or for sources of exotic, sentient meat for that matter. Why assume it's such a moral dilemma for her to abandon her mission? The author obviously didn't see that as the central conflict in the story she was telling, why should you?)
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GSH
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 01:36 pm:   

"This one needed more discussion in the story to clarify the message."

Hmm... Should a story necessarily be the carrier of an embedded message?

Sometimes a story presents us with compelling ambiguities that leave us to work out the important questions and answers for ourselves. The extent to which we find ourselves engaged and needing to do that might be one measure of how good the story is.

IMHO, rational thought about any issue involving human behavior must always take the emotional dynamics of the situation into account. The natural impulse of pure rationality is to render all things understandable and predictable, by reducing the world to Newtonian physics and mathematical equation. We can sometimes become so focused on the beauty and usefulness of our elegant equations that we forget there's unquantifiable and unqualifiable stuff going on outside the box.

As Mr. Barrett's final comment in the post above suggests, maybe the big screw-up was actually on the part of the Ministry. Maybe their focus on unadulterated rationality blinded them to the human element in the equation?
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Joe Overton
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 07:57 pm:   

>I just don't see us traveling to low-technology planets and sitting idly by while they die of plague that we can easily cure, for example.

Yeah, I'm sure it will go as well as the AIDS thing in Africa.


>>OK, take that scenario to another planet...
>>I have no opinion on this. I'm not responsible for the policy of non-involvement, but I can easily see the reasons for it.

>Ack! You have no opinion now on a policy of non-involvement??? That's been your argument all along, that scientists wouldn't get involved, that its bad science, that the story is ill-constructed because that wasn't her central conflict. And now you have no opinion???

Right. It's not my policy. I'm just saying that's the way observation is done. It's no longer observation once you mix into it. I read science magazines, so I'm aware of how it goes. You've been thinking I made it up?


>Is it the tiny little micro-organisms that make it a moot issue in this case? Cuz it sure doesn't seem to be a neutral issue for you when there's dragons involved...

It depends on the circumstances. Most missions like this would take care not to damage the environment or contaminate the data, regardless of what organism it deals with. If the micro-organisms are vital for the survival of some ecosystem, then they're as important as anything else. What would we do if some alien came in and destroyed lactobacillus, for example?
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Joe Overton
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 08:45 pm:   

>this is a poorly constructed piece of fiction because you don't agree with her decision from a scientific standpoint is just...strange.

It's not a problem with the scientific viewpoint. The big hang up is the reality check, as I said above. Would scientific researchers behave this way?

BIG SPOILER WARNING!!!

After a couple of days of trying to discuss this from memory, I finally downloaded the story again to have a look at it, and it says the mission is a xenthropology study and they are reporting to the Ministry. The dominant culture tends to war, but the Primes have found a peaceful village on an island to study. There has been several months of observation and they've noticed ruins, but never seen the lizards/dragons before. The way I read this, Cara finished her studies and took vows (???) before starting off, so she is fully trained. She looks at the choices at the end of the story and decides they need to divert the mission's resources to fight the lizards/dragons that Long Eyes says are "rising from the forest floor." Alpha, who is in orbit, initially refuses, but then supports her in this decision.

So, having read this more carefully, I'm thinking there is a religious subtext. Cara works for a Ministry and, having taken vows, is possibly a minister of some kind. She is forecast by a prophesy. Are the dragons rising from hell? Is she really fighting demons and saving souls here?

Also, I think the author is suggesting that the clones are defective. There is no other reason to include the information that Cara Beta was put down and that the process is not precise.

So now I have more questions on the reality check. The lizard hatch seems to be a localized problem since the village is located on an island away from the larger civilization. Wouldn't a simpler solution be to move all the villagers to a different site?
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GSH
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 09:35 pm:   

"...I think the author is suggesting that the clones are defective. There is no other reason to include the information...that the process is not precise."

That's an interesting point. There might be another reason. While the story gives a sort of borderline fantasy impression, the author may actually be remaining within the bounds of rational science. This one might be hard science fiction.

Strictly speaking, the members of the Cara sequence aren't actually clones, which would be biologically produced replicas. Instead, they're computer generated copies from the master pattern stored in the second crystal up on the orbital vehicle, fabricated via some sort of teleportation technology.

There's a result of quantum mechanics known as the no cloning theorem, for which a mathematical proof exists. (Don't be impressed. To me the math is totally incomprehensible.) The theorem states that it is impossible to create identical copies of an arbitrary unknown quantum state. This means that it has been proven impossible to create an identical replica of anything, regardless of the sophistication of the technology at our disposal. We're not forbidden by the theorem from making close copies, but perfect ones are impossible. The author acknowledges this limitation.

He's also recognized the apparent impossibility of FTL travel.

Much less is arbitrary here than we might at first suspect.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Sunday, July 08, 2007 - 06:06 am:   

>Much less is arbitrary here than we might at first suspect.

I didn't say it's arbitrary; it's just failing too many reality checks.

Again, this mission is covering 30 parsecs and taking more than a lifetime. The Ministry will have tested to make sure the copies are reliable enough or they would not have invested the money. The Caras would follow the rules. They would not expend the mission's resources to save a small group of the planet's population when other options are available. If this is about incompetence, then where is it in the story?

I know the feel good response is going to snag a lot of people, but you just can't make me believe this.
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Dave Truesdale
Posted on Sunday, July 08, 2007 - 07:21 am:   

Joe: "I know the feel good response is going to snag a lot of people, but you just can't make me believe this."

Not necessarily commenting on the story under discussion here, but as a general observation:

This "feel good" response and aspect in stories these days drives me nuts. In many instances it totally ignores reality and logic in favor of either a character or the reader "feeling good" about something. And the phrase "what it means to be human" and all of its variants drives me nuts, too. It's often tossed into a review or a discussion to cover up a lack of logical behavior, or a plot hole.

And then it is pointed out in response to the above objection that "people don't act logically all the time." Sigh. True, but what about at least once in a while? And why don't authors construct their stories so that there is at least some foundation for this, rather than using it to excuse poor writing? "Feeling good" and "acting human,(i.e. acting irrationally or illogically)" can only cover for so many poorly thought out stories or plot deficiencies so many times, and is more often than not just an excuse for poor writing.

I think it's time we began holding stories to a higher standard, to begin applying stronger standards, and holding writers' accountable for their weaknesses. I think many readers today are misunderstanding what is meant by a "suspension of disbelief," and extending it to cover elements of a story to which the phrase was never intended.

We should grant the author his initial premise, regardless of how outlandish or improbable--thereby granting them our "willing suspension of disbelief"--but then we need to put on our critical hats and make sure they don't take advantage of this suspension by asking us to accept all sorts of story weaknesses, whether in character, storyline, plot, or the final resolution.

Just my two cents.
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Dave Truesdale
Posted on Sunday, July 08, 2007 - 07:31 am:   

To further explain my previous post, I quote from my F&SF column on Alien Invasion, and from a quote by James Gunn I used therein:

"from an article by Professor James Gunn titled "The Academic Viewpoint." It ran in Nebula Winners Twelve, edited by Gordon R. Dickson (Harper & Row, 1978). While discussing the teaching of SF. Dr. Gunn poses the question:

'What is not immediately observable to a casual reader of science fiction? The best way to answer that question might be to list aspects of fiction that a good teacher looks for.

1. Consistency of Story
2. Story Premises
3. Application of the Premises
4. Credibility of the Characters
5. Consistency of Theme
6. Imagery
7. Style
8. Total Artfulness
9. Challenge to the Imagination
10. Overall Impression

I cite from #3, the Application of the Premises:

'A good reader challenges the writer at every point, debating the working out of the author's thesis, his arrival at the conclusions, checking back continually against what he already knows, theorizing that any discrepancy must be significant. This is not a tedious process but one that, once recognized, becomes automatic with the alert reader.'

Very often a writer makes unconscious assumptions in his work which play out (or are in some way brought to light) in unexpected ways in his stories. I enjoy trying to find them. Very often it can be these unconscious assumptions (i.e. the very foundations of the tale) that make a good story an excellent one, or break an otherwise terrific story off at the knees."
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daniel barrett
Posted on Sunday, July 08, 2007 - 10:22 am:   

I completely agree that a story has to maintain consistency and logic (with the exception being the "gimme" of the initial premise). But the necessity of that is not what's being argued here. What's being argued is, DID the author actually break that "rule".

This story did -not- ring my skeptic bell the way it obviously did Joe and yourself. A character not behaving as one might think a good scientist does is certainly not breaking rule number 3. Nor is a character "acting human" breaking it, no matter how much that may irk you in a story. The key is, do they act human in a believable way given what we know of them as characters and the circumstances they are in. (By the way, when I see characters behaving so flatly, whatever the circumstances, that one would think they had no emotions whatsoever, it drives ME crazy. I think it's harder to write a believable "human-acting" character then one that never seems emotion driven--authors often go too far, using human nature as a kind of plot-crutch. But that did not happen here).

The arguments against this story seem to be:

1.) The Ministry would not have sent someone so likely to abandon the mission, and 2.) No trained field worker would have so quickly intervened in favor of one alien over another (at least without a lot of hand wringing over the issue).

Neither of these caused the slightest pause for me when reading.

For the first complaint, the premise itself gave a dark spin to the Ministry, which made it quite easy to believe one might have no deep loyalty to it. That, along with the fact that no enterprise involving human-beings (trained or not) is immune from the wrench-in-the-cogs that is human-emotion (just ask NASA what part of their training included wearing a diaper and traveling cross country to eliminate a rival for your lover's affections) made this complaint seem, well, ridiculously trivial and over-reaching.

For the 2nd complaint, the unexpected nature of the circumstances the protagonist found herself in, and their obvious emotional impact, along with her "disconnectedness" from the Ministry, made her actions seem absolutely natural. This wasn't an instance of a "just being human" or a "feel good response" plot contrivance—it was a person acting in a way one would expect her to. Sometimes "just being human" is EXACTLY what's called for to render a character AS human.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Sunday, July 08, 2007 - 11:10 am:   

>A character not behaving as one might think a good scientist does

That's not the problem. It's economics.

1) People just don't fund missions like this and then choose incompetents to carry them out.

2) The amount of supplies these gals have to to turn into copies/food/shelter/tools is limited and they're about to squander a bunch of it on a feel good war when they should just move the natives, or get out. Really stupid plan.
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daniel barrett
Posted on Sunday, July 08, 2007 - 11:42 am:   

1.) Of course they do. There's many, many examples in real life and fiction of people choosing to go against their training for a multitude of reasons.

2.) Moving the natives is -really- reading something into it. There's no indication of what the surrounding terrain is, what the dangers are, or the willingness of the natives to leave their land. Or if there is a suitable place to go that's any better. Not to mention the idea that, if moving was that easy, they'd have done it themselves. Talk about implausible...
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GSH
Posted on Sunday, July 08, 2007 - 01:12 pm:   

This "feel good" response and aspect in stories these days drives me nuts. In many instances it totally ignores reality and logic in favor of either a character or the reader "feeling good" about something. And the phrase "what it means to be human" and all of its variants drives me nuts, too. It's often tossed into a review or a discussion to cover up a lack of logical behavior, or a plot hole.

Yep, I've got to concede those are entirely valid criticisms. If I argued the point you could probably bury me under an avalanche of recent examples.

Transparent manipulations toward a "feel good" ending leave discerning readers mildly dyspeptic. Seduced by the sugary coating and the promise of a creme filling finale, you're left to contemplate the fact that you've just eaten a greasy donut and that something isn't sitting well.

Justification by way of an appeal that we consider human nature (with particular emphasis on its understandable limitations and failings) is another common cop out. Worse still, it's corrosive, suggesting that our failings are understandable, acceptable, and forgiven. The message--most likely unintended--is that there's really no need to aspire to anything better.

Still, I much appreciate the "feel good" response when it logically follows from what I perceive as right action. In science fiction and fantasy, I'm always looking for an affirmation that we're ultimately capable of transcending our limitations, however dark the surroundings might be. I figure the "feel good" response is entirely appropriate when that possibility is convincingly demonstrated.

It seems to me that an examination (or exposition) of how human nature fits in is pretty much central to the unfoldment of a good story. Human nature, after all, is the lens we see through, the thing that reacts, and the thing that is acted upon.

(Much enjoyed your Logorrhea review in this month's Off On A Tangent, btw. Sounds like we might keep a copy handy as an antidote for too many shallow "feel good" stories.)
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Dave Truesdale
Posted on Sunday, July 08, 2007 - 03:20 pm:   

GSH: "Justification by way of an appeal that we consider human nature (with particular emphasis on its understandable limitations and failings) is another common cop out. Worse still, it's corrosive, suggesting that our failings are understandable, acceptable, and forgiven. The message--most likely unintended--is that there's really no need to aspire to anything better.

Still, I much appreciate the "feel good" response when it logically follows from what I perceive as right action. In science fiction and fantasy, I'm always looking for an affirmation that we're ultimately capable of transcending our limitations, however dark the surroundings might be. I figure the "feel good" response is entirely appropriate when that possibility is convincingly demonstrated."

Exactly! Especially the first graph quoted above. Right on the money, GSH. Thank you.

Glad you liked this month's piece on Logorrhea, but I'm afraid I'll take a pass on your keeping a copy around to use as an antidote to faux "feel good" stories. After reading _Paraspheres_ and then _Logorrhea_ I've pretty much had it for awhile with downbeat stuff. :-)

Have just given myself the perfect antidote (to depressing stories) by just having finished Gardner and J. Strahan's THE NEW SPACE OPERA, Haffner Press's mammoth and wonderfully crafted hc of Ed Hamilton and Leigh Brackett's STARK AND THE STAR KINGS (it includes 2 Hamilton novels, 3 Brackett Eric John Stark stories, and the first ever publication of their only collaboration, "Stark and the Star Kings." It was supposed to be in Harlan's The Last Dangerous Visions but Haffner somehow got the rights to it; the book weighs easily 5 lbs.), and Baen Books huge retrospective of seven of Poul Anderson's longer stories titled TO OUTLIVE ETERNITY (500 pp.). All of the foregoing is _my_ antidote to depressing anthologies, and it works every time.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Sunday, July 08, 2007 - 07:21 pm:   

It's nice to come back from Readercon and find this long discussion of "Daughters of Prime" here.

Larry Connolly says he's working on a follow-up story, so perhaps some of these issues will be addressed in the next one.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Sunday, July 08, 2007 - 09:12 pm:   

>it was a person acting in a way one would expect her to. Sometimes "just being human" is EXACTLY what's called for to render a character AS human.

What's she going to do when she's out of supplies? A war like this could run through them pretty fast.
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Joe Overton
Posted on Sunday, July 08, 2007 - 09:16 pm:   

I'd like to continue the discussion, folks, but I'm off for a vacation. Catch you later.
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daniel barrett
Posted on Monday, July 09, 2007 - 06:12 pm:   

>> What's she going to do when she's out of supplies? A war like this could run through them pretty fast.

Maybe, but that detracts from the story how?

Anyway...I enjoyed the discussion--hope there are more like it in the future! Enjoy your vacation, Joe!

-Daniel
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daniel barrett
Posted on Monday, July 09, 2007 - 06:19 pm:   

>>It's nice to come back from Readercon and find this long discussion of "Daughters of Prime" here.

Yep--I would love to see more of this kind of analysis and discussions around here.

>> Larry Connolly says he's working on a follow-up story, so perhaps some of these issues will be addressed in the next one.

I look forward to it--there's a nice mystical/fantasy vibe underlying the sf element that I'd like to see elaborated.
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Saturday, July 14, 2007 - 04:17 pm:   

Vote in the favorite story poll!

What was your favorite story in the July 2007 issue?

http://www.tuginternet.com/jja/journal/archives/005918.html
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Blue Tyson
Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2007 - 08:50 pm:   

Shepard first, daylight second. Ok, well, a fridge second. :-)

http://notfreesf.blogspot.com/2007/08/fantasy-and-science-fiction-663-gordon.htm l

A sequel to the 'Daughters' story would be interesting, sure.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Tuesday, September 25, 2007 - 05:55 am:   

Another review of the issue here: http://www.bestsf.net/reviews/fsf0707.html
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Wolf Trubshaw
Posted on Thursday, September 27, 2007 - 01:44 am:   

Wow, that Mark Watson blogger from the last link seems a kindred spirit. Wrote exactly what I thought when reading that issue.
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Danny LTK
Posted on Tuesday, October 09, 2007 - 01:58 am:   

The July 2007 issue of F&SF is the best of any SF magazines I have ever read. Not only did I not feel the urge to skip a story, every story in fact was hugely entertaining. I would like to say something like "Well done and keep doing this" but since this is a next-to-impossible feat, I'll just settle for "Thanks for filling a few hours of my life with some white-hot reading frenzy".
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Wednesday, January 02, 2008 - 09:05 am:   

Review:
http://andyspackman.wordpress.com/2008/01/01/fantasy-science-fiction-july-2007/

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