Monday, September 26, 2022

Reading Into the Past: Week of September 24, 1992

When I get new books, I write for Monday mornings on the new book. When I don't, instead write about old books, picking a random year and seeing what I read "this" week that year. Today, we're hitting the WABAC Machine for 1992:

Marc Laidlaw, Kalifornia (typescript, 9/17)

I feel like I'm being horribly dismissive if I call Laidlaw "a minor cyberpunk," but that's what pops into my head: he was part of that circle, I think more from the literary end, and he didn't publish as much or yell as loudly as some. (Looking at Chairman Bruce in both cases here.) I remember liking his books and stories, but I'll have to dig to figure out what this one was.

(One quick refresher later.)

This is the one set in 2050, with people who livestream their lives (directly from a brain interface, I think?) out to the world, and get massive audiences for it. A baby has just been born, the first to be thus wired up from the beginning, and is immediately kidnapped - so her uncle, the ne'er-do-well of the wired-up family, goes after her, I think with millions of people watching his every move. I remember nothing of the plot, but the premise sounds pretty spot-on prescient almost thirty years later.

Stephen Jay Gould, Bully for Brontosaurus (9/18)

I was reading through Gould at the time; I'm not sure if I managed to get through everything, or if I kept reading him for the new books afterward. But I did hit at least half-a-dozen Gould books over the early '90s.

At the time, I think it was part of a whole cluster of interests or self-image pieces: CSICOP, the day-job in SF, relatively serious scientific nonfiction like this. I was a Serious Person interested in Serious Things, and wanted to focus on the true and the real. (I later on soured on SF in a lot of ways, and tend to prefer various flavors of fantasy these days, but it isn't now and never was a simple dichotomy.)

This was his brand-new book, published in 1992. And if you don't know who Gould was: he was a paleontologist and biology professor (mostly associated with Harvard) who also wrote a long series of essays for Natural History magazine on mostly evolutionary topics. He was a fluid, entertaining writer who was also deeply knowledgeable and thought-provoking; a rare combination. And those essays were collected into a series of best-selling books, one of the few signs in the '80s and '90s that the world was not horrible and entirely made up of stupid people. (Those signs are even fewer nowadays, of course.)

Gould is worth reading, I think. Some details of some essays are certainly outdated, since he died - way too young at 60 - twenty years ago. But the style and the concern for science and the principles will always be good. I think I lost all of his books in my flood; I might need to read him again.

Mark S. Geston, Mirror to the Sky (typescript, 9/25)

Another awfully-literary SF writer! I definitely had a type. (Other things I read for the SFBC within a month of this date: Silverberg's Kingdoms of the Wall, Turner's The Destiny Makers, Wolfe's Nightside the Long Sun, Womack's Elvissey, Brust's Agyar, Witches Abroad, and, um, The Gripping Hand by Niven & Pournelle. Some things you can't avoid.)

I seem to remember this was Geston's return to SF after a long quite time - maybe since a couple of novels in the '70s? I also think this was from Michael Kandel's line at HBJ (or was it just HB at that point? They had so many name permutations over the years), which I always loved but often had difficulty convincing others the books would sell for us in the SFBC. (And even when I did convince people, I was not necessarily correct.)

Let's see if I was right about any of that.

Return to SF? Yes.

Harcourt Brace? No - William Morrow. Not sure at this late date who his editor would have been.

As I remember, and the reviews on Amazon bear me out, this was a quite literary book which was not entirely positively received, and Geston has not published another novel since then. (But he only had four in the 1967-1976 main phase of his career, so he was never prolific.)

This is a First Contact book, subcategory godlike aliens, sub-sub-category where they show up on Earth and are strange and enigmatic. In this case, they give humans some of their art - maybe inadvertently? - and that causes massive disruptions. I don't remember it well at all.

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