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February 21st, 2017

Yarn-Ball Future Earth

Filed under: SF Reviews — Tags: , — William Cardini @ 8:01 am

I decided to continue my journey in the Dying Earth sub-genre by following up As the Curtain Falls by Robert Chilson with Earth in Twilight by Doris Piserchia. Compared to the other two Piserchia books I’ve read, Spaceling and Doomtime, Earth in Twilight is pretty straightforward.

The protagonist, Ferrer, travels from the planet Laredo to Earth. It’s far in the future. Earth has been overrun by an enormous jungle. The vast forest is punctured by tall space elevators that are connected by bridges and thick threads of spider web extruded by elephant-sized insects. All the human-built structures are in disrepair. I’ll let Piserchia’s own words from the first page describe her vision:

Earth looked like a big ball of yarn with a great many knitting needles sticking out of it. Loose yarn seemed to be strung from needle to needle, some of the strands so loose they nearly touched the land while others were so tight they were many thousands of miles up in the sky. Creatures great and greater made their nests on the bridges…

Everyone on Laredo thinks that humanity vacated the Earth and left it to nature centuries ago.

The setting is very similar to Hothouse by Brian Aldiss. Unfortunately I’ve only read the abridged version of that novel, published in the US as The Long Afternoon of Earth. The Earth has become tidally locked with the sun, only showing it one side which is covered in a giant banyan tree. I liked the abridged version but I want to read the full novel.

Earth in Twilight by Doris Piserchia, cover by Wayne Barlowe
Earth in Twilight by Doris Piserchia, cover by Wayne Barlowe.

In Earth in Twilight, Ferrer’s mission is to prepare the way for spaceships from Laredo that will spray the Earth with a chemical called Deep Green that will defoliate it (an ironic name in reference to the defoliant chemical Agent Orange from the Vietnam war) and make it ready for humans to repopulate. But Ferrer discovers people, strange human-plant hybrids who disgust and then charm him.

Because this book was written by Piserchia, the prose is slightly stream of consciousness and there’s lots of weird monsters, inexplicable events, and mind mergers. I won’t spoil it but the first chapter has a great twist that sets the theme for the whole book. Piserchia explores what it means to be human while showing us another one of her weird, vital visions of the future.

February 14th, 2017

Space is the Place by Sun Ra

Filed under: SF Reviews — Tags: — William Cardini @ 9:40 am

This month I’ve been ripping all my Sun Ra CDs onto my computer, correcting the metadata, splitting the LPs that were combined onto one CD, and adding missing album artwork. One of the first Sun Ra CDs I ever bought was the album Space is the Place (which is different from the soundtrack for the movie Space is the Place).


Screenprint cover by House of Traps for the three 7″ record set The Shadows Cast by Tomorrow by Sun Ra, put out on Jazzman Records.

The first track is one long 21 minute session of the Arkestra playing “Space is the Place.” There is a solid loop of horn playing and June Tyson’s signing that keeps the rhythm going while the other instruments go off on their own journeys. One of my favorite details is when Sun Ra produces the sound effect of someone being beamed up by a UFO on his space organ. Listening to this song is a spiritual experience for me. I was in tears after hearing it for the first time in many years.

Jazz in Silhouette by Sun Ra & His Arkestra
Cover for the CD Jazz in Silhouette by Sun Ra & His Arkestra, a reissue put out on the Impulse! label. Photo by Jim McCrary. Jazz in Silhouette is one of Sun Ra’s most critically acclaimed albums but I only listened to for the first time recently.

Sun Ra believed he had visited Saturn by way of astral projection. Space is a place, a state of the mind, that can be reached without technology. In this place of pure bliss, of enlightenment, there are no worries or limits. You can finally be free.

February 10th, 2017

Buy Comics from Birdcage Books and Support the ACLU

Filed under: Events — Tags: — William Cardini @ 8:51 am

For the month of February, the following cartoonists and publishers, including me, will donate half of our sales through the Birdcage Bottom Books site to the ACLU!

Birdcage Bottom Books ACLU donation flyer for February 2017

Of course donating directly to the ACLU is great, but if you were considering buying any of these comics anyway, head on over to the Birdcage Bottom Books site!

February 7th, 2017

As the Curtain Falls by Robert Chilson

Filed under: SF Reviews — Tags: , , — William Cardini @ 8:17 am

Every time my family visits our relatives in Riverside, CA, we stop at Renaissance Books. They have a great selection of old SF. This past trip I picked up a random DAW paperback with an intriguing cover and blurb, As the Curtain Falls by Robert Chilson.

As the Curtain Falls by Robert Chilson
As the Curtain Falls by Robert Chilson, cover art by Hans Ulrich and Ute Osterwalder.

In this short novel, Chilson explores a doomed civilization that haunts ruins of technological wonder in the far future, long after humanity has explored the stars, given up on that dream, and now struggles to survive on a dying, resource-depleted Earth.

As the Curtain Falls was published in 1974, a couple years after two of the greatest books in the dying earth sub-genre: An Alien Heat by Michael Moorcock (the first part of The Dancers at the End of Time trilogy which I reviewed on this blog) and The Pastel City by M John Harrison. I see the influence of both Moorcock and Harrison on Chilson’s book, Moorcock in the sardonic attitude of the anti-hero Trebor, and Harrison in the imagery and language. On the whole, As the Curtain Falls might not reach the heights of those two books, but Chilson does outdo them both in his evocative setting: the oceans have dried out and the continents are uninhabitable; the remnants of humanity live in the ocean bottoms, the amount of arable land shrinking each generation as the salted deserts encroach.

Traitor to the Living by Philip Jose Farmer
Traitor to the Living by Philip José Farmer, another cover by Hans Ulrich and Ute Osterwalder.

Chilson has done extensive world-building for this future that he only uses in this one 174-page book. The forests are phosphorescent trees and colorful coral. Starfish and lobsters are the predators. People move across the salt flats in giant sleds with sails. Insects and bacteria have evolved to eat plastic. Gems are polished chunks of a mysterious substance manufactured by the lost civilizations of the Dawn. We get glimpses of a long history of empires and conflicts without dwelling too much on specifics. This long history has thematic resonance – We feel the weight of this history, the hundreds of millions of years of humanity that has lead to this moment near the end, the vast impersonal hate of time. This theme is common to the best books of the dying Earth sub-genre.

Another aspect of this book that I really enjoyed is the focus on art. Many SF books are so focused on technology that they devalue or ignore the non-functional products of civilization. But the title of As the Curtain Falls is probably a reference to the curtain falling over the play of humanity on the Earth. And there’s a complete play within the novel that is cut from an inexplicable theatrical tradition with no explanation of its meaning by the narrator. Finally there’s the eccentric immortal that our protagonists meet while they’re running through the giant midden heaps of the Dawn age, an immortal who proclaims to them that “art is longer than any life.” The endurance of art is the only weak hope that Chilson offers us.

Painting by Hans Ulrich and Ute Osterwalder for the cover of Flow my Tears the Policeman Said by Philip K Dick
A painting by Hans Ulrich and Ute Osterwalder for the cover of Flow my Tears the Policeman Said by Philip K Dick.

I hadn’t heard of Chilson before I bought As the Curtain Falls on a whim. He hasn’t written much but I’m going to look for his other original novels.