Book Review: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018 Edited by N.K. Jemisin and John Joseph Adams

This is the third best of the year volume of speculative fiction short stories I’ve read containing stories published in 2017. The first two massive doorstoppers, edited by Neil Clarke and Gardner Dozois, I have already reviewed. This latest anthology is about a third of the size of either of the other two volumes. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it not only includes science fiction, but also fantasy. Adams explains in the introduction that from eighty stories he sent Jemisin, she selected exactly ten science fiction and ten fantasy tales.

The science fiction stories are fairly lightweight compared to the epic galaxy-spanning and star-faring adventures in the Clarke and Dozois volumes. The main strength of this book is in its dark fantasy and horror stories. For instance, “You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych” by Kathleen Kayembe is a frightening tale of witches and zombies that emigrate from Africa to the United States and terrorize a family. “Loneliness is in Your Blood” by Cadwell Turnbull posits frightening vampires that literally shed their human skin before going forth to hunt. “Church of Birds” by Micah Dean Hicks is a dark fairy tale, a retelling or extension of the Brothers Grimm story of “The Six Swans” in which a young man partially healed from a curse that transforms him into a swan must cope with one dysfunctional swan wing still attached to his shoulder. Maria Dahvana Headley has two remarkable dark fantasy stories in this volume: “The Orange Tree” is a bizarre but fascinating story of a lonely poet creating a female golem as a housekeeper and lover in eleventh century Spain; “Black Powder” tells of an antique rifle with djinns trapped within its bullets.

Standouts among the science fiction entries in this book include “Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue” by Charlie Jane Anders, which is a dark, violent dystopian tale about a transgender woman who is captured by a government agency and subjected to tortuous and invasive procedures intended to transform her into a man. A light and unusual story, “Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim, tells of a microcosm of windup toys empowered every morning with a certain amount of energizing “turns” by a Maker; it becomes an absorbing and heart-touching parable when the protagonist creates a child, but the toy is defective and cannot move or speak much. As a result, the mother sacrifices the bulk of her own turns, wearing herself out carrying her child around on her back. “The Wretched and the Beautiful” by E. Lily Yu has a sharp political edge to it as a group of odd-looking alien immigrants crash-lands on Earth looking for asylum. However, when lovely and shapely aliens, evidently their oppressors, arrive in elegantly crafted spacecraft and want to take them away, Earth authorities do not object.

As I mentioned before, the strength of this volume is in the uniqueness of its selections, and especially the inclusion of horror and dark fantasy, which is absent from the science-fiction-only anthologies. In one long story I couldn’t find any hint of science fiction or fantasy content, but it was nevertheless a good atmospheric tale, so no harm done. All in all, this is an anthology well worth reading.

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Book Review: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas

The key to understanding the motivation for this book is found in the acknowledgement section at the end. The author explains that he himself has been part of the charity networks on which he reports, but he began to develop nagging suspicions that something was wrong. He delivered a speech expressing his doubts during a high-profile event full of rich philanthropists and “thought leaders,” although it was all but unheard-of to dwell so much on the negative, and was derided by some and praised by others. The text of the speech went viral, and the book in a sense is an expansion of it. Giridharadas says, “It is a letter, written with love and concern, to people whom I see yielding to a new New Faith, many of whom I know to be decent. It is also a letter to the public, urging them to reclaim world-changing from those who have co-opted it.”

This book identifies those who have co-opted world-changing, who have yielded to a New Faith, as people and corporations who espouse and participate in charitable giving on a massive scale. However, these mega-entities make no attempt to repair the underlying problems that have caused such a disparity between rich and poor, between those with abundance and those who are deprived, between the healthy and long-lived and unhealthy and short-lived. Instead, they seek to ignore, minimize, and even cover up the fact that their own egregious and harmful business practices caused the problems in the first place that they are now magnanimously attempting to solve. If their organizations are not directly responsible for the problems, they capitalize on the problems to primarily make money and only secondarily address the difficulties upon which they are supposed to be focusing.

I have to admit that even before I came across this book, I have wondered about these matters. Here are these immense corporations that due to their practices of charging high prices, paying starvation wages, ignoring environmental concerns, and negatively impacting entire communities have accumulated vast fortunes. Now they turn around and construct multi-million dollar offices for their charitable organizations, hire expensive speakers who are purportedly “thought leaders” to entertain them while they dine, and offer to preempt the government in caring for the multitudes – as long as their corporate iniquities are ignored and they have full say over how their donations are to be spent.

Giridharadas writes of a peculiar culture of giving in which the givers pat themselves on the back, absolve themselves of all wrongdoing, say nothing of root causes such as gender and racial inequality in the workplace, and instead focus only on solutions that favor the corporations involved and the overall marketplace. It leads up to an explanation of the reactions that provoked the surprise results of the 2016 election but the book is not mainly political in intent. The author primarily seeks to buck the trend and criticize this takeover of major charitable institutions by the super-rich in the hope that readers will look for and implement alternate solutions.

All in all, this is a thought-provoking, important book. It illuminates the hypocritical compromise of so-called charities that are motivated more by self-interest than a genuine desire to serve.

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Book Review: Best American Short Stories 2017 Edited by Meg Wolitzer and Heidi Pitlor

I look forward to reading best short stories of the year collections because I don’t have time to seek out and read all these stories otherwise. I always read them hoping that as a short story writer, apart from the entertainment value, I can glean some helpful tips on style and language use. I also tend to wonder how these stories manage to pass the gatekeepers and get published while numerous others, also probably excellent, do not.

The stories in this collection are all at least readable. In the past, stories in some collections were so boring that, despite my reluctance to do so, I had to skip over them. None of these, though. I read them all through and through and had no major problems with any of them. With the collection as a whole, yes. But not any of the individual stories.

The best in the bunch, interestingly enough, are genre stories. One, called “Are We Not Men?” by T.C. Boyle, is a science fiction tale on the effects of extreme genetic enhancements on suburban America. Since the same publishers have another volume devoted to the best science fiction of the year, I kind of wonder why this story didn’t qualify for that anthology. Another, called “Telemachus” by Jim Shepard, is a historical adventure set during World War II. Other interesting stories are set in Cuba and in India, but many of the rest have a sort of blandness to them. In saying this, I don’t mean to demean the authors or even the editors. The stories are fine, well-written tales on interesting topics. When I speak of blandness, I am referring to the social milieus of the characters. Most of them are from the middle or upper class, have plenty of money and good jobs, and face no real life and death crises. Their difficulties are personal and internal or deal with material things or their jobs. Again, nothing wrong with this, and I don’t fault the authors or even the editors. I think the problem runs deeper.

I have written about this before, in fact, in my essay “The Egregious Practice of Charging Reading Fees.” More and more literary magazines are adopting the practice of charging writers fees to submit their stories. In effect, they’re constructing a pay wall to keep out disadvantaged writers. There’s a list of magazines in the back of the book that the editors culled their selections from, and from my own research I figure that well over fifty percent demand money from writers before they’ll read their work. The figure might even be more like eighty or ninety percent by now. They’re probably not doing this intentionally. They’re probably struggling to support their magazines and figure that culling money from writers is a good financing ploy. What they don’t realize is that they’re slamming their doors on writers that can’t afford to pay them. This is most likely to be, of course, those from the lower class, those who struggle to make ends meet, those on welfare, those who live in slum-like conditions, minorities, the desperate, the homeless, and single parents like me. I can’t afford to pay three to five dollars or more for every story I send out. I just can’t. I have a child to support. I barely make the rent and bills each month. And so you cut all these people out, and what are you left with? A certain blandness of content because you’re leaving out most of the population of the world. This is wrong – so wrong. If there are gatekeepers at the doorways of artistic expression, they should not require money payments as the price of admission. It would take me too long to give you a list of writers who began in poverty who never would have been able to pay such fees. As I remember, I give some examples in the essay I mention above.

So that’s the main problem with this collection. Many of the most desperate artistic voices in America are excluded because they can’t afford the entry fees. I hope these magazine editors wake up and start getting their money from readers instead of writers again. That’s one reason why genres like science fiction and fantasy are so vibrant and lively. The magazines and anthologies with open submission calls are free, all-inclusive and do not discriminate against the disadvantaged. If this dreadful practice of charging reading fees is abolished, it’s probable we’ll get much more diversity and life in contemporary short stories.

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Book Review: Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

This book is similar to another I read recently: The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham. Both books deal with presidential leadership in troubled times, and both books have as their main examples Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Meacham’s book is wider-ranged and offers more examples, but Goodwin focuses solely on these four men. It must be a sign of the times that some of the nation’s finest historians point us to stories of mature, intelligent, sacrificial leadership, of which there is such a paucity at present.

Goodwin’s book is divided into three sections. The first deals with the rise to power of these four politicians; the second tells of the deepest times of darkness and despair that they each had to live through and overcome to mature into great leaders; the third points to outstanding achievements in their presidencies that reveal great leadership.

As a young man, Lincoln aspired to become a politician and improve the quality of life of those who lived in the rural towns and farmlands of Illinois in which he grew up. Depression and despair followed political setbacks that caused him to feel that he had failed his constituency. After a brief stint in Congress, he withdrew from politics and practiced law. During this time he began his profound lifelong struggle against the institution of slavery and took part in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. After a failed run at a Senate seat, he somehow secured his party’s nomination for the presidency. The great struggle of his presidency that Goodwin presents is his determination to declare the Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of the Civil War.

In contrast to Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt grew up in a wealthy home surrounded by all life’s luxuries. He had a strong spirit hampered by an asthmatic constitution. After early success in politics, his great trauma came when his first wife, the love of his life, and his mother, with whom he was very close, died on the same day. Roosevelt withdrew to mourn and renew himself to a ranch in the Badlands of the Dakotas. When he emerged, he became a national hero as a New York police commissioner, assistant secretary of the Navy, Roughrider during the war in Cuba, and governor of New York. While serving as vice president under McKinley, Roosevelt was thrust into the presidency when McKinley was assassinated. In the book’s final section, Goodwin highlights his leadership skills during the devastating coal strike of 1902.

Franklin Roosevelt was also born into privilege and was a natural politician. His crisis came when he was stricken with polio and was forced to endure years of agonizing convalescence and a painful yet gratifying reemergence into politics. As an example of leadership in the midst of overwhelming crisis, Goodwin recounts Roosevelt’s zeal and tenacity in creating and shaping social programs during the Hundred Days in the midst of the Great Depression.

Lyndon Johnson grew up in Texas as the son of a renowned politician and never had a doubt about his calling. He recovered from political setbacks and a massive heart attack to become a master of the Senate. When he assumed the presidency after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, his overriding concern was the passing of a civil rights act. He used the power of his office to secure equal rights, including the right to vote, for all Americans.

Each of these men had weaknesses, disappointments, and setbacks, but in spite of these, they managed to manifest great leadership and accomplish great deeds. This is a very well-written and inspiring book, and I highly recommend it.

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Book Review: Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur by Arthur Hoyle

I have to make something clear from the outset: I don’t read Henry Miller’s works very often anymore. However, when I was young, his writings were influential in propelling me out onto the road to find my own voice as a writer, along with the writings of Jack Kerouac, Jack London, Henry David Thoreau, and others. And with me, it was never about the bawdy and explicit sexual descriptions that got Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn banned for decades in the United States, England, and many other countries. For me it was all about the freedom, and of course Miller’s incomparably poetic flowing and intricately descriptive language. It was about his willingness to abandon everything else in pursuit of his dream of becoming a writer, his joyful poverty, and his literary fecundity despite extremely abject living conditions. If you are a writer, you write, despite the outward circumstances of your existence. And if your works are despised and rejected, you continue to write as best you can.

I’m not saying that Miller led an exemplary life in all respects; in fact, his personal life was often a disaster. He frequently made very bad choices regarding his finances and his relationships with women. The thing that drew me to this new biography was the fact that it focuses on the particular portion of his life when he returned from Europe and sought to reestablish himself in the United States, in his case in Big Sur, a remote, beautiful section of the California coast south of the San Francisco Bay area. The Tropics books had already been published in France and banned in the United States. He felt misunderstood and ignored as an author, yet he persevered in working on the three-volume autobiographical novel that was eventually published as the Rosy Crucifixion. I can relate to this; in fact, I’ve written my own memoir about my reactions in returning to the United States in America Redux: Impressions of the United States After Thirty-Five Years Abroad.

As I started reading Hoyle’s book, I was unsure about whether I really wanted to get into it or not. As I said, I don’t read Miller much anymore, and raising a family has caused my viewpoint to shift, or let’s say expand from the mindset I had when I first set out on the road to follow in the footsteps of my literary mentors. What drew me in was the portrait of a writer who was ignored despite his talent, who had to continually choose to keep working although he had strong societal and political forces arrayed against the books he was producing. I think that if Henry Miller were alive and writing today, he would have bypassed the traditional publishers that gave him so much grief and self-published his own work. He might have had a blog too as another means of putting his work out into the world. As it was, he felt very frustrated at the official thwarting of his literary endeavors for much of his life, and he only attained celebrity in his old age.

I emphasize again that much of Henry Miller’s personal life and literary output was far less than exemplary, and yet he made an important contribution to world literature in the liberating clarity of his idiosyncratic personal voice. I’m glad that I discovered him back when I did. He definitely was instrumental in setting free my own distinctive voice as a writer. And this book is an absorbing and interesting study of the struggles of a flawed but fascinating anomaly on the world literary scene.

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Book Review: Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

This novel has a terrifically compelling premise. In an alternate world, instead of settling in Israel, disenfranchised Jews are given a homeland by the British government in East Africa. I have to admit that I brought some expectations and hopes into the reading of Unholy Land because I had recently finished reading the superb novel Everfair by Nisi Shawl, which posits the establishment of a homeland for native-born whites and freed slaves in central Africa. Shawl’s book goes deep into the lives of the characters, their backgrounds, their motivations, and their dreams, so that the reader becomes profoundly invested in the story as it sweeps forward through decades and generations. I was expecting something similar from Tidhar: a comprehensive look at a unique and fascinating society.

Tidhar, however, takes the different approach of action and adventure. Thus the pace of the novel is rapid, but the characters are not explored in depth. In fact, they remain little-understood enigmas rushing pell-mell through one crisis after another, diving and sliding through multiple universes whose significance and histories they do not comprehend. It makes for an entertaining chase through an East African backdrop reminiscent of present day Israel and Palestine, but leaves little time to become invested in the characters or the society to which they may or may not belong.

One of the strengths of the novel is its attention to background details such as the flora, fauna, sights, and smells of the African towns and countryside. Tidhar has lived in Africa and in Israel, and he gives these elements impressive verisimilitude. It’s also always refreshing to read speculative fiction stories set in countries and cultures that are not the United States. Yet as I mentioned, Tidhar only skims the surface of the fascinating society he has created in the frantic rush of his characters to avoid doom and destruction. There is also no mention of why or how these strange parallel universes exist – which I suppose is fine, as enigmas and mysteries have always existed and will probably continue to turn up as we further explore the universe.

One aspect of the book that didn’t work for me and in fact I found annoying is the way that Tidhar switches between first, second, and third person when he focuses on the three main characters. Rather than serving any particular purpose for plot, style, or characterization, it’s just there. I think the story would have been easier to follow without this contrivance. Instead of immersing me further, it jarred me out of the continuity so that sometimes I struggled to follow what was going on. I’m not saying it’s wrong generally to mix these points of view; I’ve used the device myself in short stories. I’m just saying that it doesn’t work here in this novel. I recall the great master of stylistic flourishes such as multiple tenses and points of view, Robert Silverberg. There was a time during the New Wave in science fiction in the late 60s and early 70s when it seemed that most of the stories he published were complex stylistically, and yet there was always a reason for the embellishments and they always made the stories easier to grasp, not more difficult.

All in all, Unholy Land is a flawed yet very entertaining book, still well worth reading in spite of its defects.

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Book Review: The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos by Christian Davenport

I came across this book by chance in the library, and it’s one of those fortuitous accidents that don’t come along often. It’s a terrific book: exciting, relevant, eye-opening, and mind-blowing. It’s about the takeover of the space race by private industry in the last couple of decades after a long apathetic period of inertia by NASA, whose crowning achievement was all the way back in 1969 when the first Apollo astronauts landed on the moon.

The main players in this epic drama are all billionaires with lifelong dreams of going to space. They include Elon Musk, who started up SpaceX; Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who quietly created a space-bound company known as Blue Origins; Richard Branson, whose space faring company is called Virgin Galactic; and Paul Allen, whose Stratolaunch airplane, the largest aircraft ever built, is designed to launch rockets and satellites into space. These dynamic men have used their substantial fortunes in part to realize the dream of space tourism and the colonization of the solar system. When they began they encountered derision, but in time they earned respect as they started to make good on their promises. SpaceX already contracts with NASA to deliver supplies to the International Space Station and soon will likely be carrying astronauts as well; it’s also planning a trip around the moon with tourists aboard. Blue Origins and Virgin Galactic are also very near the point at which they will take on tourists for thrilling suborbital space flights.

The ultimate goals of these young upstart companies are to commercialize the solar system: ferry supplies and establish colonies on the moon and Mars, mine the asteroids for raw materials, and set up legions of satellites in orbit with a vision of interconnecting every corner of the globe. Bezos, for instance, says that ultimately the Earth should be as lovely and refreshing as a park, and heavy industry will all move off-planet. Perhaps not in his lifetime, but if there’s anything that’s evident as you read this book, it’s that these men have a much larger vision than immediate returns.

Interspersed throughout this fascinating account are snippets of the history of the original space race, but really this story is about the billionaires themselves and how their backgrounds and circumstances made it possible for them to take these bold steps to the stars. Each of them has a back story of absorption in news accounts of the early space programs and an abiding interest in the classics of science fiction. Once they were in financial positions to be able to do so, their minds naturally and irrevocably turned to what they could do to reach out beyond our planet.

To make space flight common, viable, and affordable, the men who founded these companies realized that they’d have to radically cut costs. To this end, they designed rocket stages that, instead of being tossed into the ocean after use, could be landed safely and reused. Their bootstrap method of operation not only saved money, but also saved time, by bringing the innovation that had helped the companies that made their fortunes succeed into the pioneering of this new frontier.

Read this book. It’s envisioning, heartening, and offers a wonderful look into the baby stages of the adventure of exploring our solar system, galaxy, and the universe beyond.

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Check Out My Patreon Page!

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My Patreon page went live in early September 2018, so come on over and have a look. Here’s a link to it: John Walters Creates Fiction and Memoirs. You can also find it by clicking on the icon labeled “Become a Patron” at the top of the right column on this website. Here’s the text of the introduction:

I’m John Walters, and I need more time to reflect and write. I want to write my stories and memoirs full-time for the rest of my life, and I need your help.

I’m a full-time freelance writer, but because income from book royalties and short story sales is erratic, most of my time is taken up in researching and writing articles for which I get paid more promptly than for fiction. My fiction and memoir writing is then relegated to the late night hours when I’ve already put in about ten hours of writing other people’s blog posts. I often wonder how much more I could accomplish if I put my full energy during those peak hours into writing my own work.

Despite the strictures on my time and energy, I’ve managed to produce seven novels, the last of which is in the final prepublication stages. My published science fiction and fantasy novels include Love Children, After the Fireflood, and Caliban’s Children. Additionally, The One Thousand Omnibus is a collection of four science fiction novellas featuring aliens teaming up with hippies to save the world. I’ve also written two mainstream novels about the hippy era of the late sixties and early seventies, The Misadventures of Mama Kitchen and Sunflower, as well as a noir thriller called The Fantasy Book Murders.

Short stories are perhaps my first literary love. I love reading them and I love writing them. I’ve published over seventy short stories, and my seventh collection, Invasive Procedures, was recently released.

When I was in my early twenties back in the mid-1970s, I set out on the road to find my voice as a writer. I ended up staying overseas and didn’t return to the States for thirty-five years. These adventures gave rise to my memoirs. World Without Pain: The Story of a Search tells of my experiences on the road as a hippy traveler. I write about my many years traveling and raising a family in southern Europe in After the Rosy-Fingered Dawn: A Memoir of Greece. When I finally returned to the country of my birth in 2012, I experienced great culture shock, the subject of my memoir America Redux: Impressions of the United States After Thirty-Five Years Abroad. I’ve also written about my struggles as a writer in Writing as a Metaphysical Experience.

My initial goal of $1,000 per month will by no means cover all my expenses. Rents are expensive here in Seattle, and I’m also a single parent. What it will do, however, is free me from some of the hackwork article writing drudgery so that I can follow a schedule that allows me to devote some of my best hours to writing my prime work: the fiction and memoirs. If I meet this first goal, I may set another that will set me completely free from the hack writing. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to hit the road again, at least part time, and thrill you with reports of wonders in exotic and mysterious lands.

Month by month, as we take this journey together, I plan to post short stories, excerpts from my memoirs, project updates, and other literary treasures to edify, entertain, and delight you.

Once again, here’s the link: John Walters Creates Fiction and Memoirs. If you want to help support me in my fiction and memoir writing, it’s very easy to set up an account and become a patron of the arts.

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Book Review: The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham

This is a very topical book. As I write this in mid-2018, it is exceedingly relevant. However, it is also universal and timeless. Although it’s obviously a reaction to the present state of chaos in the United States – and the writer makes it clear that it is – it manages to make its point while hardly mentioning the current political players. Ultimately, it’s reassuring; at least that’s the effect it has on me. It let me know that this sort of thing has happened before and it has been overcome and defeated by the noble aspirations that have shaped this nation.

The “better angels” in the title is a reference to the first inaugural speech by Abraham Lincoln in 1861 in which he says, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

To reassure his readers that the nobler ideals of America will ultimately prevail, Meacham takes us through a history of the presidency, pointing out some of the unworthy and ineffective examples but focusing on key moments when honorable, courageous, albeit imperfect and deeply flawed men, stood up and used the burden and power of the presidential office to effect change for the better. He speaks of Lincoln, of course, who despite the trauma of the Civil War and much opposition stood firm for the emancipation of the slaves. He writes of Ulysses S. Grant and his struggles with the post-Civil War Ku Klux Klan, about the exuberant Teddy Roosevelt and the vision of the United States as a great melting pot of immigrants, of Woodrow Wilson and the struggle for women’s suffrage, of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the reforms of the New Deal during the Great Depression. Meacham doesn’t try to sugar-coat the issues, though, or present these men as shining saints. He brings out their defects as well. Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, was a tremendous egoist and believed in white superiority. F.D.R. has the deep stain of the internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II to his shameful record. Meacham emphasizes that despite their flaws and mistakes, these men rose to the occasion during crucial historical times and stood up for the American democratic ideal.

There is a long section on one of the sordid periods of American history: the time of Joseph McCarthy and the Communist paranoia that gripped the nation at his instigation. The parallels to the present illogical paranoia about immigrants are uncanny. McCarthy seldom bothered with facts in his analyses of social situations; instead, he used exaggerations, distortions, and outright lies. Eventually his hyperbole caught up with him and he died in alcoholic disgrace.

The final major presidential story in the book concerns Lyndon Johnson and his struggles to attain equal rights under the law for African Americans. He ascended to the office unexpectedly upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy. At the time, Kennedy had left a civil rights bill in Congress. Johnson decided that regardless of personal political ramifications he would see that bill become law. He further fought for and had passed a voting rights act. In seeing these measures through to completion, he worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who at the same time was crusading for civil rights. Meacham outlines the situation in the South at that time and King’s crusade in relation to the controversial decisions that Johnson, a southerner, made in the White House.

All in all, though this book deals with some of the most sordid episodes of American history, it is ultimately comforting. It brings out that the ideals for which the country was founded have always prevailed despite the machinations of petty men, and ultimately hints that they will continue to prevail.

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Book Reviews: The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection Edited by Gardner Dozois and Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 3 Edited by Neil Clarke

Although I read the Clarke anthology and wrote its review first, I’m going to start here with the Dozois book. Gardner Dozois died recently, so this is the last time he’ll compile the best science fiction of the year for our edification. I have read several of his collections and, like most anthologies, I have usually found them a mixed bag of stories I think are great, stories I like, stories that are so-so, and a few stories I don’t care for at all. This last effort, though, is excellent, possibly the finest best of the year he produced – or at least the finest of the ones I have read. A fitting epitaph to a great career in the science fiction field. Every story is good to excellent, and the selection is wide-ranged and touches on many of the numerous facets of the science fiction universe. The Clarke collection, by contrast, as I explain below, is good but imbalanced, leaning heavily towards one type of story to the exclusion of others.

Both books have one immense flaw, which is more pronounced in the Dozois collection – so that I almost returned it to the library without reading it. (Glad I didn’t.) Although the book is an enormous doorstopper, the print is miniscule and the fonts are printed lightly instead of well-defined. It’s very hard on the eyes. My glasses couldn’t cope. I had to take them off and hold the book an inch from my face to be able to make out the words. I would have been much happier if the books had had half the number of stories in a larger and darker font.

Both books had several stories in common, including most of the stories I mention below in my appraisal of the Clarke volume. This is to be expected. The main difference, as I said, is that the Dozois book is much more open and encompassing in range of theme and subject matter. Clarke is just starting out as a best of the year editor, so hopefully he’ll improve as he goes along. Dozois, of course, has been long acknowledged as one of the greatest editors the science fiction field ever produced.

And now on to the review of the Clarke anthology:

Each “best of” editor brings their own particular tastes to their selections. Overall I would say that the proportion of stories I loved, stories I kind of liked, stories I tolerated, and stories I didn’t care for was about the same as most “best of” anthologies I’ve read. Early on I felt there is an unwieldy preponderance of interstellar stories, especially about multigenerational starships, which focus too much on the science and info-dumps of explanation and not enough on story. Most of the book, in fact, deals with space drama, space warfare, space politics, and, as I mentioned, intergenerational spaceships. Not to say that’s a bad thing; one of the best stories in the book, “The Tale of the Alcubierre Horse” by Kathleen Ann Goonan, concerns a multigenerational starship that invokes the mythology of Polynesian wayfaring. Deep space stories are not my personal favorite science fictional fare, however, and I found myself longing for an atmospheric dystopia, time travel conundrum, or far out idea set on Earth for variety.

Eventually I journeyed far enough into the selections to find the type of stories that set my sense of wonder into overdrive. One is “The Martian Obelisk” by Linda Nagata, in which a scientist and master sculptor remotely building a monument on Mars must choose between her art and the lives of people in peril. Another favorite is “The Last Boat-Builder in Ballyvoloon” by Finbarr O’Reilly, a dark, truly original tale set in an Irish seaside village that posits a future in which the oceans have been taken over by a race of mechanical squid developed to consume the human refuse dumped into the seas. Other noteworthy stories include “Death on Mars” by Madeline Ashby, “An Evening With Severyn Grimes” by Rich Larson, and “The Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer.

Neil Clarke is an award-winning, insightful editor, and I welcome this new series of “best of the year” anthologies as a further opportunity to broaden my reading in the field.

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