Review of “Carpe Glitter” by Cat Rambo

Leave a comment

This fantasy novelette is a finalist for the 2019 Nebula Award. It was published by Meerkat in October 2019 and runs 62 pages. This review contains spoilers.

Grandmother Gloria’s motto was always carpe glitter (seize the glitter). She was a glamourous Vegas performer at the Sparkle, but a hoarder in her old age. After she dies, her granddaughter Persephone starts to clean out the house and finds a magical Nazi artifact from World War II, an automaton named Heinrich that seems to be currently disassembled but still alive. Her mother makes a desperate attempt to get control of it, and Persephone also finds that mysterious men in black have an interest. The automaton could be dangerous. What should Persephone do about it?

On the positive side, this is an interesting little mystery that emerges slowly out of Persephone’s efforts to clear away the mess left by her grandmother. (Hoarders out there, are you listening?) She works through piles of family history and moldering sequins, trying to sort out anything of worth, and eventually happens on the still-working parts of the evil automaton. Along the way, we start to get a feel for how Persephone relates to her grandmother and her mother, and reconnect with Eterno, who might be Persephone’s grandfather.

On the not so positive side, Heinrich doesn’t seem to be evil enough for all the fuss and the climax isn’t climactic enough—there’s not enough at stake. Heinrich turns out to be relatively easy to deactivate, so why didn’t somebody do that a long time ago instead of dissembling the parts as an attempt to disable it? If the parts can move around, why haven’t they crawled to one another and put themselves together? Also, some of the events that shape this feel like afterthoughts, not really significant enough to drive the story. Why didn’t Gloria have some bigger investment in the automaton? She could have been a spy during the war, for example. Or it could have been her lover. And if Eterno is Persaphone’s grandfather, why hasn’t he been a guiding presence in her life before now?

Three stars.

Review of Hidden Histories edited by Juliana Rew

Leave a comment

This is Juliana Rew’s 25th themed anthology of short stories, a collection of alternate secret histories that range from fantasy to science fiction and various slipstream combinations in between. There are 28 stories in this collection, all original, and written by international crew of authors, followed by a little clutch of flash fiction stories. This collection runs 276 pages and is published by Third Flatiron, which publishes digital science fiction and fantasy anthologies and other projects, with print editions also available.

It’s always hard to review a collection of short stories, as it’s not something you can summarize in one easy paragraph. Let me say that Juliana Rew is reliable to find good quality stories without the heavily political messages that often run through SFF and fantasy these days. These stories are quick reads, interesting and often touching in the way they express the theme. Each author has taken an event from history and imagined how it might have happened and what might have gone on behind the scenes. Standouts for me this time include the following: Jimi Hendrix meets an alien that influences his music; a commander flies a secret shuttle mission as part of the Cold War; a Native American researcher gets strange results when she extracts DNA from an ancient bone; the patriot John Wilkes Booth writes letters to his mother; ancient sentinels try to save humanity from itself; a Nazi wonderwaffen project continues on long after the death of its authors; and from the flash fiction at the end–strange tourists try to order pizza in Eugene, Oregon

On the not so positive side, the story length here means the stories are less well developed than they could be. Many of these could have benefited from a longer treatment.

Authors include: Bruce Golden, Matthew Reardon, Brenda Kezar, Kai Hudson, Brian Trent, Jonathan Shipley, Dantzel Cherry, Edwina Shaw, Dennis Maulsby, Michael Robertson, Mike Barretta, Ricardo Maia, J.D. Blackrose, John A. Frochio, Arthur Carey, Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, Elizabeth Beechwood, Robert Dawson, James Chmura, Tony Genova, Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, Simon Lee-Price, Shannon McDermott, Jennifer Lee Rossman, H. J. Monroe, Evan A. Davis, Tyler Paterson, and A. Humphrey Lanham.

Three and a half stars.

More on how to separate bullying from activism


55327_girl-writing_mdHere’s another article on bullying versus activism from the MacKenzie Institute, with no byline in this case. The author divides people into two categories, reformers and people who are comfortable with things as they are. S/he notes that sometimes these roles are identified with liberal and conservative views, but not always. The author also identifies situations that result in conflict about change. One is when it’s clear that some kind of change is necessary, but people disagree on ways and means. Another is in response to personal tragedy. Last is the division between activists and their “targets.”

According to the author, activists may or may not have praiseworthy goals. Activism becomes terrorism when the person is acting for personal gain and/or causes real harm to others. Terrorists tend to shop around for an ideology that permits them to engage in this kind of violence and then allow the ideology to shape their actions. The role of bullies in a social situation is to enforce conformity and defend the correct social order. They are generally people of low to middle status who expect this activity will raise their social standing in the group. For this reason, bullies tend to become the tool of dictatorial regimes. The author gives examples that include Nazi Germany, The Ku Klux Klan and the 19th century Temperance movement.

It’s fairly easy to fit some of the cases I’ve listed of author bullying into this model of how bullying works. When you accept that the role of bullies is enforcement, then it’s easy to understand that authors who get out of line somehow will be attacked. This suggests that there IS a reigning ideology in the speculative fiction field, although it may have come about without anyone realizing it was forming up. In the days where editors worked as gatekeepers, few stories or novels that challenged the reigning ideology would have slipped through. Not all editors are infallible, so Kate Breslin’s romance novel For Such a Time made it all the way to an awards nomination before being challenged as anti-Semitic. Given the recent attack on the Sad Puppy authors, they’re apparently seen as trespassing, too.

Dangerous Ideas


55327_girl-writing_mdFollowing up on the analysis of bullied authors, what was it that triggered the attacks on Man, Breslin and Foyt? Are some ideas dangerous? More specifically, are there some ideas that we do need to suppress? Some that are too perilous to allow out there, even in fiction? Ann Rice calls this transgressive fiction.

I have to think this is the issue with the attacks on these books. There are certain views that have been established by political pressure groups that are carefully defended. For example, the views challenged in these novels are: 1) Thomas Jefferson as a racist and child rapist, 2) Nazis as irredeemable monsters and 3) current views of what constitutes racism in literary expression. Once these views are established, then they have to be maintained, so proponents watch like a hawk for any slippage of the ideology. Any infringement offers a new opportunity to drive the point home. Blackface is a prime example, as large segments of the public persist in failing to understand the racist significance of wearing makeup that’s darker than your skin. Angelina Jolie was vilified in 2006 for her appearance in the film A Mighty Heart, for example. The trailer for Save the Pearls showing the character in blackface was one of the prime motivations for labeling Foyt’s book racist.

Ideas are curious things. I’ve been discussing the importance of ideas in hard SF—that someone has to predict the future in order for us to build it. If you look really hard at it, reality is something humans construct for ourselves. On a basic level, we understand that it’s a fragile construct. This means we will always defend against ideas that challenge our vision of reality. The question is whether we can make reality fit our specifications.

Examples of Internet Censorship/Bullying: Sarah Wendell vs. Kate Breslin

Leave a comment

Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945), dressed in military attire and giving the Nazi salute, early twentieth century. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945), dressed in military attire and giving the Nazi salute, early twentieth century. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

I’ve already touched on a couple of other examples of Internet bullying in previous blogs which I’ll review here. One of these is the 2014 novel For Such a Time.

This is a historical romance by Kate Breslin, who says on her website that she tries to write “inspirational” books. Before being attacked, her novel had been shortlisted for a RITA prize in the Romance Writers of America’s annual awards. See Newsweek article here.

The book is reportedly based on the Book of Esther with New Testament Christian overtones. In the novel, Jewess Hadassah Benjamin is blonde and blue-eyed, so able to hide behind an Aryan identity during World War II. She is pressed into secretarial service by SS Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. She is horrified by what’s going on, but needs to protect herself. To make matters worse, Hadassah finds herself attracted to von Schmidt. She makes an effort to save prisoners and converts to Christianity as the novel progresses. It’s a complex set-up, and, of course, turned out to be offensive in some quarters.

The book was denounced as anti-Semitic after a letter of complaint from Sarah Wendell to the RITA awards committee. This resulted in an apology from Breslin, but the issue didn’t stop there. A controversy about anti-Semitism erupted within the Romance Writers of America. Vox Day printed Wendell’s comments on his blog, which resulted in a backlash and attacks on her as an anti-Christian SJW. Wendell denied that her motivation was to censor the book.

Note: This should not be taken as support for Nazism or anti-Semitism in any way on my part. I just support Breslin’s right to freedom of expression.

Okay, am back

Leave a comment

Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945), dressed in military attire and giving the Nazi salute, early twentieth century. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945), dressed in military attire and giving the Nazi salute, early twentieth century. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

I had a productive holiday. I had a working vacation, but ended up driving for two whole days, which is always a very productive time for me. I was in the car by myself for 30 hours with nothing to do but drink coffee and plot novels. That means I’ve got a lot of work to do this year.

I wish I could write that fast.

Anyhow, this week I’ve pretty much finished up a 30K time travel novella about Nazis and World War II that’s been hanging around since early last year. There are still a couple of small holes it it, and I need to work on the emotional impact a bit. Still, the action part is done. Whew! There was a lot of research that went into it, too.

I also finished up a short story for an anthology call, which I managed to get submitted before the deadline. This in spite of an apparent server crash at the publisher’s office over the new year’s week end.

Hopefully you’ll hear more about both these later on.

Is hard SF dealing with obsolete topics?

Leave a comment

A while back I mentioned that anyone interested in writing hard SF should do a bit of research before starting out. This is because the increasing rate of change in technology is one of the things causing the previously discussed “conceptual block.” In the old days, one Renaissance guy like Leonardo da Vinci or Isaac Newton could keep up with most of what science there was in the world. Now there’s no way to do that. Instead, you may think you’re writing science fiction when science and technology have already passed you by.

Vivienne Raper has written a great article on this posted here. She runs down a list of advances you probably thought were still SF (leaving out a few massive advances in medicine that we should be looking at), and then makes the most telling comment: These advances make the standard SF novel obsolete. The hard truth is that a lot of standard, “traditional” SF is based on World War II technology, when the Nazis were working on ray guns, robotic artillery and orbital mirrors to focus sunlight onto the Earth.

So, if you want to be an effective SF writer, then a bit of self-education is in order. This isn’t insurmountable. The Internet is out there.

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: