Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Guest Book Review by Joseph Green: ANNIE BOT by "Sierra Greer"


Annie Bot by "Sierra Greer"


This short novel is a far departure from the ray guns, rocket ships and Colonies-on-Mars that dominated early science fiction. Annie is a sex doll, but one provided with high intelligence by the incorporation of advanced AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) programs. Her body, which had a human embryo as part of its starter base, is externally so realistic she can “pass” in a crowd, despite being a battery-operated machine. The thrust of the novel, told from Annie’s Point of View, is her struggle to become fully humanor at least to free herself from the built-in compulsion to always please her owner, primarily as his sex partner.  A major second theme is said owner falling in love with his sex doll, after a failed marriage and an unwillingness to try again with an actual (and capable of resisting him) woman. The interactions of these two characters form the bulk of the novel.


Annie provides a great deal to think about, and in places could lead you into deep philosophical queriessuch as what is truly human, and how do we judge. Because Annie was created as a sex doll, the novel has many scenes where she fulfills her built-in compulsions. But she is also “more than”, and as these other characteristics surface she begins to fight for an independent existence. This brings the question of what actually is a “human” to the fore.


"Sierra Greer" is a pseudonym for Caragh O’Brien, who is an established writer of primarily YA SF. It seems clear that with this breakout novel she has expanded her horizons with an adult and very thoughtful examination of a quite possible, and little-explored, near-future world.


Joseph Green (Wikipedia) (ISFDB)

(Copyright © 2024 by Joseph Green) (revised from a discussion-list post)

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

SSW: "Day of Succession" by Ted Thomas (1959): Short Story Wednesday

(Arguable "spoilers" for the story throughout what's below; one can read it here first, if one chooses.) 

I posted this note to a discussion list not too long ago, since I thought it might be of at least passing interest:

Probably familiar clip to some: Cassie Mackin, Arthur C. Clarke, Rod Serling on THE DICK CAVETT SHOW

12 July 1972: Clarke mentions 1959 ASF Ted Thomas story, "Day of Succession", which (pseudo-sophisticatedly) posits a pacifist US Pres. and VP, and the "necessity" of killing them to allow the Speaker of the House to do Necessary Killing as Head of State. Cavett also suggests a notional skiffy plot, and H. G. Wells is discussed briefly

Fellow panelist Cassie/Catherine Mackin, an NBC and ABC-TV reporter, died of cancer at 43.

--A fellow-member, writer and editor John Boston (see also), took issue with my characterization, which as I admitted in reply was based entirely on Clarke's description of the story (and, further blame all mine, I managed befuddledly to conflate Ted Thomas with the somewhat more knee-jerking Theodore Cogswell in memory as I watched the excerpt and, shortly after, posted the link).  

I've now (re)read the story, which, since original publication in Astounding Science Fiction in the August 1959 issue, as far as ISFDB is aware has only been anthologized three times since, albeit the three anthologies have been reprinted several times between them: Damon Knight's A Century of Science Fiction (1962),  John F. Carr and Jerry Pournelle's Armageddon!: There Will Be War [series], Volume VIII (1989), and Dennis Pepper's The Young Oxford Book of Aliens (1998; Pepper being an editor who seems to be most interested in sf to the degree that it resembles horror fiction). As John noted,"I thought 'Day of Succession' was about how we get to fascism, which never lets a crisis go to waste."

Well, it is a seemingly double-bottomed story, which has fit comfortably within the world (and beyond)-view of Astounding editor John W. Campbell, Jr., that humans are the Most Dangerous Creatures (he seemed to posit this as a plus, more or less, and preferred fiction where humans were always the superiors of any other sort of sentient creatures they might encounter--as well as avowedly loving to publish stories that would "shake up" readers), and of the militarist editors of the long There Will Be War series, while not actually putting forward any sort of argument for the Destroy the Village in Order to Save It attitude of the not quite protagonist, a highly-placed US Army general, aside from his paranoia in regards to the hostile nature of the alien visitation proving to be apparently correct, as far as we can tell...albeit, that affirmation of their hostility occurs after extreme hostility and destruction, by his command, of the first aliens to arrive, and his claim of the aliens having not being able to make any warning to their fellow-travelers. 

Ted Thomas, who also signed his work Theodore L. Thomas (and wrote, and occasionally co-wrote with Charles Harness a humorous series of patent-related sf stories as by Leonard Lockhart) never published a collection, and his only two novels I'm aware of were in collaboration with Kate Wilhelm, and the first, The Clone, is the best "Blob" story I've read and a fine novel by any standard (it expands a shorter solo story of his). His "The Family Man" (which I read upon publication in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1978)  is a story that has stuck with me much more vividly than "Day of Succession", which I first read not long after, in my copy of the Knight anthology...but this vignette makes its points...and lets you sort them out. 

(Thomas's 1962 story "Test" is one which haunted readers for decades...one of the most-remembered stories librarians and booksellers would be queried about by people who couldn't remember the author, title, or both...but the story stuck with them. It can be read, or reread, here.)

Please see Patti Abbott's blog for more of today's short fiction reviews.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

January/February Underappreciated Music: Links to reviews and performances

Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: Pussy Riot Closing Statements (2012)

Cindy Lee Berryhill on Mojo Nixon; Berryhill on Trash Flow Radio on Nixon (about 35 minutes in)

Jim Cameron: Dave "Fathead" Newman:  Davey Blue; Wayne Kramer of the MC5 

Jeff Cantwell: Totally Wired: Machine Music and the Fossils of the Future (on early electronic instruments)

Annette Crossland: Elles Bailey: "Cheats and Liars"

Jeff Gemmill: Emmylou Harris: Thirteen; The Henry Girls: A Time to Grow; The Long Ryders: Native Sons; Maggie Pope: Crow; Sarah Jarosz: Polaroid Lovers; Mol Sullivan: Goose; Hayley Reardon: Live at Starseed Studios; The Castellows: A Little Goes a Long Way; Steve Bergsman: All I Want is Loving You: Popular Female Singers of the 1950s: AI adventures in reviewing Valerie Carter and the Faragher Brothers: "Never Get Your Love Behind Me": Chat GPT and  Gemini

Ted Gioia: My 60 Favorite Nonesuch Albums (in three parts); Part 2 (in part!)Part 3 (in part!)

Music From The Morning Of The World - Album by David Lewiston | Spotify

Jerry House: Hymn Time

James Kaplan: From 3 Shades of Blue: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and the Lost Empire of Cool (via Ted Gioia)

Jackie Kashian: Ian Lockwood on recent/current Pop Icons 

George Kelley: Joni Mitchell: Court and Spark; Rosanne Cash: The WheelGirl from the North Country: The Musical; Rock Steady 1971 (a Starbucks album); Daryl Hall and John Oates: Our Kind of Soul; 25 Best Hits of the 1960s [sic]; Oldies but Goodies V. 5 (CD version); Best of the Bubble Gum Years [sic]

Tom Kraemer: John Hall & al.: "Power"

K. A. Laity: "House Music"

Barry N. Malzberg: Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Georg Solti; Bruckner: Symphony No. 6: Frankfort Radio Symphony conducted by Christoph Eschenbach

Todd Mason: 1959 Jazz Albums and the '59 Grammys

Charles Mingus, Abbey Lincoln &...

Thelonious Monk: Rewind and Play (link for beyond US)

Natasha Padilla: Mary Timoney: "Don't Disappear"; Saxsquatch

Wesley Paich: The Kiffness: "Numnum Cat"

James Reasoner:  Antii Martikainen: "Saloon Showdown"

Charlie Ricci: Creedence Clearwater Revival: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"; Brinsley Schwarz: Thinking Back: The Anthology 1970-1975; The Saw Doctors and Petula Clark: "Downtown"; J. D. McPherson: Signs and Signifiers; Muireann Bradley: I Kept These Old Blues; People!: I Love You; Billy Joel: Turn the Lights Back On; Arthur Alexander: Lonely Just Like Me; Spacehog: "In the Meantime"; The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen

Melanie Safka and Johnny Cash: "Silver Threads and Golden Needles"

Richard Williams: Yoko Ono: Music of the Mind

Friday, March 8, 2024

SSW/FFB: HITCHCOCK IN PRIME TIME edited by Francis M. Nevins, Jr. and Martin H. Greenberg (Avon 1985)

(Avon Books, August 1985, 0-380-89673-7, $9.95, 356pp, trade pb, anthology)    Can be read here.

1  Introduction ·  Henry Slesar  · in

The 1955-56 Season 
8 · And So Died Riabouchinska · Ray Bradbury · ss The Saint Detective Magazine June/July 1953
23 · The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby · Stanley Ellin · ss Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine #78, May 1950
44 · Momentum · Cornell Woolrich · nv Detective Fiction Weekly December 14 1940, as “Murder Always Gathers Momentum”

The 1956-57 Season
77 · The Better Bargain · Richard Deming · ss Manhunt April 1956
88 · The Hands of Mr. Ottermole · Thomas Burke · nv The Story-teller February 1929
109 · The Dangerous People · Fredric Brown · ss Dime Mystery Magazine March 1945, as “No Sanctuary”
121 · Enough Rope for Two · Clark Howard · ss Manhunt February 1957
152 · The Day of the Execution · Henry Slesar · ss Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine June 1957

The 1957-58 Season
163 · The $2,000,000 Defense · Harold Q. Masur · ss Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine May 1958
181 · The Dusty Drawer · Harry Muheim · ss Collier’s May 3 1952

The 1959-60 Season

The 1962-63 Season
225 · Hangover · John D. MacDonald · ss Cosmopolitan July 1956
238 · Hangover · Charles W. Runyon · ss Manhunt December 1960 

The 1963-64 Season
254 · A Home Away from Home · Robert Bloch · ss Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine June 1961
264 · Terror Town · Ellery Queen · nv Argosy August 1956

The 1964-65 Season
310 · One of the Family · James Yaffe · ss Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine May 1956

For whatever reason, this rather obvious project (an anthology of stories adapted by Alfred Hitchcock Presents: and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour) saw only one trade paperback edition from Avon, in 1985, toward the earlier years of the mass influx of Martin Greenberg anthologies, and coinciding with the 1985 latter-day revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: (one season broadcast on NBC, then three more seasons cablecast on the USA Network channel); the acknowledgements pages are misleading, and verge on useless, but, happily, along with Henry Slesar's introduction to the volume, the living and game writers (for some reason, Ray Bradbury chose not to) supplied brief but useful or at least interesting notes about the fiction and its adaptation, even when (as with Stanley Ellin), the writer in question has no clear firsthand memory of the adaptation (or, in his case, even seeing it). Co-editor Francis Nevins supplies afterwords for those writers who were already gone or unwilling (even John D. MacDonald, still ticked in 1985 that Shamley Productions had the odd idea of flanging together his story with one of the same title by Charles Runyon for that script, is game to let us know about this; Runyon not much less puzzled, but happy enough to get the check).

At least two of these stories had also made their way into "Hitchcock" anthologies I'd read in the '70s, Robert Bloch's 1961 story "A Home Away from Home" (Bloch notes that he enjoyed expanding the brief short story, an Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Poe-inspired-contest-winner, when adapting it for the AH Hour adaptation; Bloch would also employ a version of the story as the framing device for his later anthology film-script for Asylum), in Alfred Hitchcock's Noose Report (1966), one of the Dell paperbacks which were essentially best-ofs from AHMM, and Harry Muheim's "The Dusty Drawer", which leads off Robert Arthur's brilliant 1969 anthology for Random House, Alfred Hitchcock Presents: A Month of Mystery (online here)as well as the Dell paperback first-volume (of 2) reprint, AHP: Dates with Death. 

A book well worth having, as well as reading, even given the odd skipping through the seasons of the original television series. One wonders if there was some intention on the part of the editors to make a more comprehensive survey of the stories adapted for the program. Additionally, it's not the worst survey of the sorts of crime fiction one could find in magazines in the (for the most part) 1950s and '60s.

Jack Seabrook corrects Muheim's memory of the previous television adaptation of his "The Dusty Drawer" in his review of the AHP: episode and, in passing, this anthology in this Bare Bones post.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

SSW: Ellen Gilchrist: "Black Winter", THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, June 1995, edited by Kristine K. Rusch and Edward Ferman: Short Story Wednesday

Patti Abbott having posted a link in her consideration of another story by my choice of SSW author this week, I've just read the obituary for Ellen Gilchrist (1935-2024) from the New York Times by one Adam Nossiter, who gives the impression of resenting having to take a lesser role as obituarist after having been four times a bureau chief in the NYT hierarchy, or perhaps simply resents having to write one for a National Book Award winner he doesn't approve of. Gilchrist, to my knowledge, was not a great self-promoter, and if she diminished herself in her memoirs and some commentary over the years, Nossiter seems keen on making sure that's intensified in his not-quite-screed.

"Black Winter" (which can be read here) was Gilchrist's second and last story in F&SF, after her charming fantasy "The Green Tent" in the November 1985 issue (a grandmother and her grandson take the equivalent of a magic carpet ride in title device), and it's a far less cheerful item, a rather (necessarily) grim but not quite hopeless account of two survivors of a 1996 nuclear war, academics, an older woman named Rhoda (possibly not the same Rhoda who is a recurring character in earlier stories by Gilchrist) and her younger male protege Tannin, whom we meet several days after the short war, as they seek out what they can from various abandoned stores and gas stations in the midwest, keeping away from large cities in an abundance of (sensible) caution. Rhoda is writing the story in the form of a letter to her grandson, whom she hopes is still alive (but has no way of knowing, if so), in Germany; the colleagues get along, wondering if the fallout will eventually come down upon them in deadly form...and they meet up with some interesting folks with whom they can make some common cause. Rhoda had been noting with some concern the hotspots recurring in the news in 1996: Russia, Ukraine, Iran, North Korea. Things don't change so very much three decades later. 

I had never picked up a copy of the June 1995 issue of F&SF, for whatever reason (I was moving into my last Virginia apartment, at least so far, about then), so I've just read the story for the first time tonight. I read  "The Green Tent" when that issue was new, not so very long after I first read her work with "The Famous Poll at Jody's Bar" in The Atlantic Monthly for August 1982, one of her earlier publications.

It's a fine story, and makes its points well, and it (like "The Green Tent") has never been reprinted, as far as I can tell, anywhere but in an anthology in translation, by the former publisher of the German edition of F&SF (much as "The Green Tent" has only been reprinted, as far as I see, in Fiction, the French edition of F&SF). 

I've been meaning to write about Gilchrist's collection The Cabal and Other Stories for a good six or seven years, but I'll have to excavate that volume and finish it. It really has been a tough year on writers I admire. 

For more of today's short stories, please see Patti Abbott's blog, and her fine review of Gilchrist's "The Presidency of the Louisiana Live Oak Society". 

And I'll seek out some less contemptuous obituaries than the Times's.

Contents: (Edward L. Ferman, editor and publisher)

Contents: (edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Edward L. Ferman, published by Ferman)

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: THE BEST OF SHADOWS edited by Charles L. Grant (Doubleday Foundation 1988); SIXTY YEARS OF GREAT FICTION FROM PARTISAN REVIEW edited by William Phillips (Partisan Review Press 1996)

Two anthologies with content that is difficult to dismiss, if one was even to try.

Online: all issues of Partisan Review, 1934-2003, at Boston University

Sixty Years of Great Fiction from Partisan Review edited by William Phillips (Partisan Review Press, 1996 [or 1/97], ISBN 0-644377-5-9; $24.95. 425+xx pp, hc); jacket/pb cover painting by Helen Frankenthaler

vii  * Foreword * Saul Bellow * fw
xix * Introduction * William Phillips * in
3 * Two Syllables * Ignazio Silone; translated by Samuel Putnam * ss Partisan Review October 1936 (V. 3#6) 
7 * In Dreams Begin Responsibilities * Delmore Schwartz * ss Partisan Review December 1937
13 * Hurry, Hurry * Eleanor Clark * ss Partisan Review January 1938 (V. 4 #2)
19 * Red, White, and Blue Thanksgiving *  John Dos Passos * ss Partisan Review Winter 1939 (V. 6 #2)
23 * The Autobiography of Rose * Gertrude Stein * pm Partisan Review Winter 1939 (V. 6 #2)
26 * The Only Son * James T. Farrell * ss Partisan Review Spring 1939 (V. 6 #3)
34 * A Goat for Azazel (A.D. 1688) * Katherine Anne Porter * ss Partisan Review May/June 1940 (V. 7 #3)
42 * The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt * Mary McCarthy * (nv) Partisan Review July/August 1941
65 * Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk * Franz Kafka; translated by Clement Greenberg * ss Partisan Review May/June 1942 (V.9 #3)
76 * Of This Time, of That Place * Lionel Trilling * nv Partisan Review  January/February 1943
101 * The Hand That Fed Me · Isaac Rosenfeld · ss Partisan Review Winter 1944
111 * Cass Mastern’s Wedding Ring · Robert Penn Warren · nv Partisan Review Fall 1944
135 * The Prison * André Malraux; translated by Eleanor Clark * nv Partisan Review March 1948
141 * The Interior Castle * Jean Stafford * ss Partisan Review  November/December 1946
151 * Two Prostitutes · Alberto Moravia; translated by Frances Frenaye · ss Partisan Review May/June 1950
166 * The Jail (Nor Even Yet Quite Relinquish--) * William Faulkner * ex Partisan Review September/October 1951 (V. 18 #5) (can be read at the link) (apparently freestanding; often referred to as simply "The Jail"; from Requiem for a Nun, Random House 1951)
186 * Gimpel the Fool · Isaac Bashevis Singer; translated by Saul Bellow · ss Partisan Review May/June 1953 (V. 20  #3)
206 * Seize the Day * Saul Bellow * na Partisan Review Summer 1956 (V. 23 #3)
268 * The Renegade * Albert Camus translated by Justin O’Brien * ss Partisan Review Winter 1958 (V. 25 #1)
277 * Any Day Now * James Baldwin * ss Partisan Review Spring 1960 (V. 27 #2)
285 * From the Black Notebook * Doris Lessing * ex (The Golden Notebook, Michael Joseph 1962) Partisan Review Spring 1962 (V. 29 #2)
298 * It Always Breaks Out * Ralph Ellison * ex (Three Days Before the Shooting..., Random House 2010) Partisan Review Spring 1963 (V. 30 #1)
308 * The Will and the Way * Susan Sontag * ss Partisan Review Summer 1965 (V. 22 #3)
324 * Runaway * William Styron * ex (The Confessions of Nat Turner Random House 1967) Partisan Review Fall 1966 (V. 33 #4)
330 * Whacking Off * Philip Roth * ex (incorporated into Portnoy's Complaint Random House 1969) Partisan Review Summer 1967 (V. 34 #3)
339 * Mercier and Camier * Samuel Beckett * ex (Mercier and Camier, Grove Press [US] and Calder and Boyans [UK] 1974; French text published 1970)  Partisan Review 1974 (V. 41 #3--in previous numbering, this would've been the Summer 1974 issue)
353 * Levitation * Cynthia Ozick * ss Partisan Review 1979 (V. 46 #3)
362 * The Idea of Switzerland · Walter Abish · nv Partisan Review 1980 (V. 47 #1)
381 * If on a Winter's Night a Traveler * Italo Calvino; translated by William Weaver; ex (If on a winter's night a traveler 1979 in Italian; Harcort 1981 in English translation by Weaver) Partisan Review 1981 (V. 48 #2)
389 * One Summer's Morning in the Village * Amos Oz; translated  by Nicholas de Lange * vi Partisan Review 1984 (V. 51  #4)
390 * Passport Photograph * Amos Oz; translated by Nicholas de Lange * vi Partisan Review 1984 (V. 51  #4)
392 * The Red Dwarf * Michel Tournier; translated by Barbara Wright * ss Partisan Review 1984 (V. 51 #2)
401 * The Feet of a King * Daphne Merkin * ss Partisan Review 1986 (V. 53 #3)
411 * Proust's Tea * Norman Manea; translated by Mara Soceanu-Vamos * ss Partisan Review 1992 (V. 59 #1)
414 * Weddings * Norman Manea; translated by Cornelia Golna * ss Partisan Review 1992 (V. 59 #1)
422 * Serafim * Tatyana Tolstaya; translated by Jamie Gambrell * ss   Partisan Review 1992 (V. 59 #1)

Two volumes of impressive work from two of the best periodicals (even if Shadows was a series of anthologies in hardcover first, followed by paperback reprints, and never a magazine) in their respective compasses. Neither is packaged as well as the contents deserve--the Partisan Review volume is almost amateurish in that it's a poorly-bound, slightly oversized hardcover, with single-column pages that are laid-out almost as if it was a printout from a word-processing program, just wide enough across the oversized pages to make the eyetracks across those pages tiresome. I haven't yet looked to other Partisan Review Press volumes of  its era to see if they were more professionally-packaged and "better-built"; I'd hope so. The Doubleday Foundation binding and layout of this best-of anthology is a step up from what the preceding volumes of Shadows saw from Doubleday in its cost-conscious days in the '70s and '80s, but I'm not so very impressed with the cover illustration. However, a small pat on the back to Doubleday for publishing ten volumes, more or less timed for release around Hallowe'en, for a decade. As with a relatively small number of further issues of Partisan Review published after its anthology's release, there was a final volume, accurately entitled Final Shadows, released in 1981.

But for our purposes today, I'll cite only how one piece of fiction in each impressed me (to say the least) on first reading. Oddly enough, the fiction of their authors in (particularly discursive) moods can often seem somewhat similar: the offhanded erudition, the waspish (not WASPish) wit, but nonetheless the compassion, of Avram Davidson and Saul Bellow are on display here as readily as in any of their other work, in, respectively, "Naples" (1978) and "Seize the Day" (1956).  "Naples" led off the first volume of Grant's series, brilliantly; it would win the World Fantasy Award for best short fiction in 1979 (the excellent shortlist that year included another Davidson story and a story by editor Grant). I first read it in Shadows (the first volume), in a library copy, shortly after first publication in '78, and I picked up the Playboy Press mass-market paperback not too long after. "Seize the Day" I first read in my copy of  23 Modern Stories (1963), edited by Barbara Howe, which I picked up at a library sale, and read over"night" in a summer visit to Fairbanks, AK, with my family in 1981, visiting relatives and old friends of my parents' who still lived there and near(enough)by. The Bellow collection with "Seize" as title story was shortlisted for the 1957 National Book Award, losing, among several other impressive contenders, to Wright Morris's less well-remembered Field of Vision.

More to say soon, as I post this at Saturday's end...our elder cat is in need of some reassuring attention.