In Memoriam Martin Böttcher

German film composer Martin Böttcher (1927 – 2019) died April 19th aged 91. Once again, there is no English language obituary, but here are some German ones from Tagesschau, RP Online and Deutschlandfunk Kultur. Deutschlandfunk Kultur also has a nice profile of Martin Böttcher with some musical analysis by Oliver Schwesig.

Together with Peter Thomas and Klaus Doldinger (both of whom are still alive), Martin Böttcher formed the trifecta of the great film composers in post-war (West) Germany. All three started out as jazz musicians and those musical origins also determined the course of (West) German film music for decades.

Martin Böttcher’s early life did not seem to predispose him to a musical career. Due to a childhood injury, he was deaf in one ear and initially showed little interest in music. Instead, young Martin dreamed of becoming a pilot. Those dreams were derailed, like so many, by World War II. Böttcher was drafted towards the end of the war, when the Nazis were drafting every male German aged 16 to 60. He survived and wound up in a prisoner of war camp, where he taught himself to play the guitar. After his return home, he joined the dance orchestra of the newly established North West German radio NWDR (nowadays known as NDR) as a guitarist.

By now, Böttcher had also started composing and eventually left the orchestra to become a film composer. The first movie for which he composed the music was the otherwise forgotten 1955 war movie Der Hauptmann und sein Held (The Captain and His Hero). It’s part of a series of West German WWII movies made in the second half of the 1950s, which are quite critical of the Nazis and militarism and inevitably contrast the Nazi true believers (often officers who senselessly send soldiers to their deaths) with common soldiers who are just victims of the system. I guess the brief popularity of such movies was one way of people coming to terms with World War II. I found a trailer for Der Hauptmann und sein Held on YouTube, where you can hear Böttcher’s music.

Martin Böttcher’s next work as a film composer was a minor classic, the 1956 juvenile delinquent drama Die Halbstarken (the English title is apparently Teenage Wolfpack), starring a young Horst Buchholz, who would go on to be one of The Magnificent Seven, and an even younger Karin Baal as a teen femme fatale. Die Halbstarken is a nice period piece and important to German movie history, but I have to admit that I was kind of disappointed when I first saw it. Karin Baal is great as the bad girl with the angelic face, but Buchholz’ character basically just wants the same bourgeois 1950s life as the parent generation, he only wants to use crime as a short cut to get there. That’s not how I imagine a teen rebel. The plot is very much the filmic version of a 1950s sleaze paperback. Böttcher’s music, however, played by his own jazz group Mr. Martin’s Band*, was great. Listen for yourself:

The success of Die Halbstarken, not least because of the music, made Böttcher a very much in demand film composer. He composed the theme for the 1960s Father Brown movies starring Heinz Rühmann, which are still the most palatable version of the character, probably because they are only very loose adaptations of the stories by G.K. Chesterton. Sorry, but I just cannot abide Chesterton. Still, here is Martin Böttcher’s Father Brown theme, which was reused for the German Father Brown TV series, which ran from 2003 to 2013 and starred Ottfired Fischer.

Böttcher often worked for producer Horst Wendlandt and provided the music for several of Wendlandt’s Edgar Wallace movies such as Der Fälscher von London (The Forger of London, 1961), Das Gasthaus an der Themse (The Inn on the River, 1962) or Der Mönch mit der Peitsche (1967), which had the disappointing English title The College Girl Murders, though a literal translation would be “The Monk with the Whip” (which the villainous monk uses to strangle college girls). I’m a huge fan of the Wallace films and for more about this unique movie series, Edgar_Wallace. The music was a large part of what made those movies so good, though nowadays Peter Thomas is more associated with the music for the Wallace movies than Martin Böttcher. However, here is Martin Böttcher’s delightfully gothic soundtrack for Der Mönch mit der Peitsche. Naturally, considering the main villain is a monk, the theme starts off with an organ, for why not?

But Böttcher’s most famous film score would be the one he composed for Horst Wendlandt’s other series, the Winnetou movies of the 1960s, based on Karl May’s adventure novels. Ironically, Martin Böttcher himself had never read a single Winnetou novel, which must make him one of the very few Germans of his generation who did not read Karl May. When someone asked him why he didn’t read the novels, Böttcher answered, “I’ve seen every single Winnetou movie dozens of times. I know how the story goes. I don’t need to read it.”

I’ve written about the Winnetou movies and what they meant for several generations of Germans before, so let’s just listen to Martin Böttcher’s iconic Old Shatterhand theme. I suppose every German born in the past sixty years will instantly have a vision of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, portrayed by Pierre Brice and Lex Barker respectively, riding across the prairie, portrayed by a national park in what is now Croatia:

Martin Böttcher also composed the themes and incidental music for several popular TV shows such as the police procedural Sonderdezernat K1 (Special Division K1) and Forsthaus Falkenau (Forester House Falkenau). We will forgive him the last one. Meanwhile, enjoy the seventiestastic title sequence of Sonderdezernat K1 and Martin Böttcher’s theme for the show.

And because I can, here are twenty-five years worth of title sequences for Forsthaus Falkenau (yes, the darned show ran for a quarter century) with Martin Böttcher’s theme in slight variations:

So thanks for the music, Martin Böttcher, and rest in peace.

*A couple of future music stars were members of Mr. Martin’s Band. The most famous is probably trombone player Ernst Mosch, who would eventually become famous as the king of traditional brass band music. Mosch’s mere name is enough to invoke shudders of horror among those who were children in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, because he and his brass band were seemingly always on TV, always plaing the same old music. Hard to imagine that he was once a gifted jazz musician, but then a lot of talented German jazz musicians eventually wound up making terrible folk pop and Schlager music.

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The Obligatory 2019 Birthday Post

April 18 was my birthday, so this year’s birthday post is two days late, because the weekly link round-ups for the Speculative Fiction Showcase and the Indie Crime Scene as well as the review of the Star Trek Discovery season finale got in the way.

I celebrated with my parents and we had sailor’s curry (or spaceman’s curry, as I’ve renamed the dish in Freedom’s Horizon, where you can also find the recipe) for lunch. No curry pics today, because I already posted some in the old post linked above as well as on Twitter.

Afterwards, we had to go to Oldenburg to pick up my Dad’s new car. As for why we had to drive almost fifty kilometre to pick up a car, when there are umpteen car dealers closer than that – the car is a plug-in hybrid (replacing an older plug-in hybrid with a weaker battery) and not all dealers are authorised to sell them. That took quite some time, partly because there was a minor problem getting the car to recognise our phones. Traffic was really bad as well, especially since the local authorities in their infinite wisdom have decided to repave a major road in the area just before the already busy Easter weekend, so you had to take long detours to even get onto Highway A28 to Oldenburg.

When I got home, a neighbour dropped by with a bottle of wine and we chatted for a while. I didn’t do anything birthday like in the evening, largely because I was tired.

Birthday presents, wrapped.

Birthday presents, wrapped.

Of course, there were presents as well. My dad took a few photos of me unwrapping them, but unfortunately, he isn’t the world’s greatest photographer. Still, these two came out all right.

Unwrapping presents

Me unwrapping presents. Okay, so you can only see my hair, but it is me, I promise.

Unwrapping presents.

Me unwrapping presents. And this time, you can even see my face.

Because I love books, people tend to get me books. And because of online wishlists, getting books that I actually want (and don’t yet own) is much easier than it used to be. I remember painstakingly writing up lists of books I wanted and handing them out to relatives, only for half of them to ignore the list completely and others to helpfully ask, if I really wanted that book, since it appeared to be science fiction and looked somewhat scary. The book in question was an Anne McCaffrey novel (I’ve forgotten which one) and I was sixteen and therefore well able to handle whatever scares Anne McCaffrey dished up. Never mind that I actually find some of the squickier bits in those books more problematic today than at sixteen.

Birthday presents

Birthday presents unwrapped. Lots of books, bookended (quite literally) by two bottles.

It’s a somewhat ecclectic mix of books this time: Science fiction, mostly new, but also a Liaden Universe novel that was missing from my collection (the typically lurid Baen cover raised some eyebrows), crime fiction (the Locked trilogy by G.B. Williams is highly recommended BTW) and a vintage historical romance by Madeleine Brent a.k.a. Peter O’Donnell as well as wine and champagne. Regarding the champagne, in Germany it’s customary that a car dealer gives you a bottle of champagne to go with a new car (of course, the champagne is only to be drunk, once you’ve taken the car home). And once the car salesperson realised that it was my birthday, he just handed me the bottle, so I sort of appropriated it.

And that was it for my birthday. And for something else.

I’d planned to do a 2019 Hugo finalist reactions round-up, but ninety percent of the discussion this year seems to be focussed on the Hugo nomination for Archive of Our Own in the Best Related Work category. I’ve already said how I feel about that and seeing how the Archive of Our Own nomination seems to hog all the attention doesn’t make me any more inclined to vote for it.

Meanwhile, Thomas Wagner of SFF180 (which would be a fine choice in the fancast category) has put up the first of two videos reviewing the short stories nominated for the 2018 Nebula and 2019 Hugo Awards. He also briefly goes into the 20Booksto50K not-a-slate controversy at this year’s Nebulas (see my posts here, here and here). Thomas Wagner reviews the two Nebula finalists that were on the 20Booksto50K not-a-slate and is considerably less than impressed.

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Star Trek Discovery Boldly Goes Where None Has Gone Before in the Season 2 Finale

This is the last weekly Star Trek Discovery review for the time being, since the season finale aired last night. For my takes on previous episodes, go here BTW.

Warning! Spoilers behind the cut! Continue reading

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Ian McEwan is Clueless about Science Fiction

I have to admit that I never liked Ian McEwan. He always struck me as the sort of white middle class dude novelist who believes that his white middle class dude stories are somehow of universal human relevance. I disliked Atonement intensely and didn’t feel much more charitable towards Saturday and On Chesil Beach, all of which came out when I was at university or – in the case of On Chesil Beach – shortly after I finished and the writings of important and award winning white dude novelists were something I was supposed to care about. Coincidentally, I just realised that McEwan has published four novels plus a fifth, which will be the subject of this post, since On Chesil Beach, all of which completely passed me by, which shows that once I finished university I stopped paying attention to writers whose work I don’t like. Or maybe McEwan’s cultural relevance is fading and his latter books got less attention than his earlier ones.

Besides, McEwan is the sort of writer who inevitably has to weigh in on every political issue and is usually on the wrong side. He made islamophobic remarks, was in favour of the Iraq War and criticised anti-war protesters (though he has since admitted that he was wrong and the protesters right – well, better late than never). Though amazingly, he is opposed to Brexit, so maybe he really has learned. And then there is the appalling treatment of his first wife, who apparently embarassed him in front of his cool friends, because she was into New Age stuff. His Wikipedia entry has the whole ugly story with links and sources.

So in short, I don’t like Ian McEwan and I don’t care for his work. And when I saw that he had a new book out called Machines Like Me, which was apparently about artificial intelligence, I groaned and thought, “Oh great, another white dude novelist who deigns to descend from literary heights and either believes he invented science fiction or that he doesn’t write it at all. And I bet the novel is totally unoriginal and tells a story that has been done to death.” Then I went about my day, cause I stopped caring about what Ian McEwan wrote when I finished university.

However, other folks still pay attention to what Ian McEwan says or does and so Tim Adams’ recent interview with Ian McEwan in The Guardian caught some attention among genre folks for the complete and utter cluelessness both interviewer and interviewee display about science fiction.

Here is a quote:

McEwan has an abiding faith that novels are the best place to examine such ethical dilemmas, though he has little time for conventional science fiction. “There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future, not in terms of travelling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but in actually looking at the human dilemmas of being close up to something that you know to be artificial but which thinks like you. If a machine seems like a human or you can’t tell the difference, then you’d jolly well better start thinking about whether it has responsibilities and rights and all the rest.”

I guess even at The Guardian (which actually does a pretty good job of covering genre fiction otherwise) you could hear the groans from science fiction folks, as they wonder how McEwan has managed to miss that science fiction has done all that and asked precisely those questions and has done it for decades. And indeed, D. Franklin asks exactly that question in this excellent Twitter thread, which is also full of suggestions for books and movies (There are responses like, “But surely he has seen 2001 or Blade Runner or Humans or Avengers: Age of Ultron or Ex Machina or Star Trek: The Next Generation?”) to fill Ian McEwan’s and Tim Adams’ knowledge gap. And finally, someone also asks, “But surely he has read at least Frankenstein?”

Well, apparently McEwan has read Frankenstein, he just didn’t get it, at any rate if this quote from the interview is any indication:

In this sense, you might say, he is coming at the AI question from the opposite angle to Mary Shelley in Frankenstein. “There the monster is a metaphor for science out of control, but it is ourselves out of control that I am interested in.”

ETA: It turns out that they really did hear the groans at The Guardian, for on April 18, they published a piece of Sarah Ditum about how the snobbery of Ian McEwan and other literary authors such as Vladimir Nabokov and yes, Margaret Atwood, is somewhat behind the times, especially since Margaret Atwood has embraced the science fiction label by now and Nabokov is too dead to comment. Sarah Ditum also tries to explain where the snobbery against science fiction came from and that it is usually based on outdated ideas about the genre. Finally, she also interviews authors who proudly write science fiction and who straddle the line between literary and science fiction. It’s a much better and more interesting article than the Ian McEwan interview that inspired it.

ETA 2: At Factor Daily, Gautham Shenoy also responds to Ian McEwan and declares that McEwan displays a remarkable amount of ignorance for a Booker Prize winner.

Of course, it’s possible that McEwan was misquoted or his words taken out of context, as some folks in the comments at File 770 wonder. After all, we’ve seen again and again when writers normally known for literary fiction suddenly decide to write science fiction that even if the writer in question isn’t clueless about science fiction, a lot of mainstream critics are and reviews and interviews tend to reflect that. One example is Frank Schätzing‘s 2009 novel Limit, a science fiction novel (though marketed as a thriller) wherein a space elevator plays a role. Now Schätzing himself definitely isn’t clueless about science fiction, but every single mainstream review of the novel focussed so totally on the space elevator and what an awesome innovative idea it was that they completely forgot to mention what the novel actually was about (aside from a space elevator, obviously) or whether it was any good. Interviews were just as bad, because Schätzing found himself having to explain what a space elevator is and how it works over and over again and wasn’t even asked a single question about the rest of the novel.

So in short, it’s quite possible that interviewer Tim Adams quoted McEwan out of context, especially since The Guardian article is not a direct interview transcript, but rather a profile with quotes. However in the comments at File 770, John S. linked to two more articles about McEwan’s newest novel, which seem to confirm that he really is as clueless as he comes across.

The first of this is an article by Matt Reynolds in Wired, a source no one would accuse of being clueless about science fiction, which literally starts out with the sentence “Ian McEwan has no interest in science fiction.”

The second article, an interview conducted by Barry Didcock and published in the Scottish newspaper The Herald, is even more damning. Here is a quote:

“One of the reasons I’ve never been a fan of science fiction is that by setting a novel in the future it always has a vaguely predictive quality. The chances of it being right are minimal,” he says. “The other is the technological stuff. Although I’m fascinated by science in general, my toes curl when people are crossing the universe at a trillion times the speed of light because the empiricist in me is saying ‘Well if they’re exceeding the speed of light, then we have to have a whole new physics’.”

Oh dear, so McEwan is a mundane science fiction adherent, too, not that he has ever heard of the term. Not to mention that even if FTL breaks his suspension of disbelief, there are still plenty of science fiction novels for him to read without a whiff of FTL.

Let’s have another quote from The Herald interview:

He isn’t over-fond of other labels for it either, such as speculative fiction or alternative history. “I think it lies along the path of many of my earlier novels. I think of it as a literary novel.” But he does admit that besides allowing him to have Turing as a character, the alternate 1982 setting makes him “immune from any of the demands of the realistic novel, which I’ve been in flight from for these last few novels. I spent years writing novels which I patiently researched to get everything right and getting everything right is incredibly hard. You always get letters correcting you on this and that. Here, I’m beyond correction because everything is fake. It’s all smoke and mirrors.”

And here we have the classic, “I’m not writing science fiction or speculative fiction or alternate history [except that he totally is], I’m writing literary fiction.” Plus, he apparently opted to set his novel in an alternate 1982 with robots and a living Alan Turing, because he was too lazy to do his research, which is certainly something. Though I guess we should be grateful that McEwan didn’t opt to write about an alternate reality where the Nazis won WWII, cause that has totally never been done before.

Now I really wish the endless literary vs. genre fiction debate would die already and I’m not a fan of the blanket dismissals of literary fiction you find in some corners of SFF either. I’ve repeatedly defended Margaret Atwood, who still gets dinged for something dismissive about science fiction (it’s about giant squids) she said in an interview more than ten years ago. Never mind that we still don’t know the full context of the “giant squid” remark and likely never will, unless the BBC releases the full radio interview during which said remark was made. And never mind that Margaret Atwood has repeatedly clarified what she meant and has actually outed herself as a fan of sorts (she read superhero comics and Weird Tales as a kid) since. Large parts of the SFF community still hate her for the “giant squid” remark and wouldn’t even nominate The Handmaid’s Tale TV series for a Hugo two years in a row (while nominating two episodes each of the execrable Good Place in 2018 and 2019), because the TV show which won every award imaginable in 2017/2018 isn’t good enough for the Hugos, cause some people hate the author of the novel the series is based upon.

Not to mention that there is a lot of very good SFF published outside the genre, e.g. Zone One and Underground Railroad (which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Clarke Award) by Colson Whitehead, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (as well as Gentlemen of the Road and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which are at least genre-adjacent) by Michael Chabon, The Power by Naomi Alderman, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, Vox by Christina Dalcher, Red Clocks by Leni Zumas and yes, The Handmaid’s Tale as well as The Heart Goes Last and the MaddAdam trilogy by Margaret Atwood.

But whenever it seems that we can finally lay the old genre vs. literary fiction debate to rest for good, some white dude literary writer, usually of the critically acclaimed sort, comes along and writes the world’s most cliched science fiction novel, only that he of course would never lower himself to write SF, oh no. And based on the interviews and articles linked above, Machines Like Me does sound like the world’s most cliched science fiction novel. I mean, the robot models are named Adam and Eve. There is a love triangle involving a sexbot (actually, if those robots have any other purpose than sex, it’s not discernible from the articles). There is the question whether robots can distinguish between justice and mercy, a debate that Elijah Bailey and Daneel R. Olivaw already has in The Caves of Steel sixty-five years ago. And based on this excerpt from the Times Literary Supplement, the novel is just as bad as it sounds. The infodump in the second excerpt is particularly groan-worthy. Though at least we learn that the robots aren’t good only for sex, but also give cooking advice and vet potential dates for you.

ETA: According to this largely positive review by Marcel Theroux from The Guardian (though he does criticise the infodumps), McEwan also explains the technical details of how his robot Adam is able to able to achieve erections, for those who really care about the tech specs of sexbots. This book really seems to be veering off into Alfred and Bertha territory.

ETA 2: Here is another review of Machines Like Me. This one is by Julian Lucas in The New Yorker. Once more, the review is largely positive, though Julian Lucas is less clueless about science fiction than Ian McEwan.

Honestly, when I read about Machines Like Me, I kept thinking: This has to be an elaborate parody. Not even Ian McEwan could be so clueless. After all, he’s friends with Martin Amis, as every article unfailingly notes (well, they’re both the same kind of unpleasant white dude novelists). McEwan must have known Kingsley Amis or at least met him. And Kingsley Amis could have told him how very cliched his “not really SF” novel was.

But alas, it seems that McEwan is one hundred percent serious and truly has no idea how silly and cliched the plot of Machines Like Me sounds. So I’d like to close with this great 2011 article, also from The Guardian, by the late Iain M. Banks, which Gareth L. Powell mentioned on Twitter. Banks couldn’t possibly have known about Ian McEwan’s totally original, never done before “not science fiction” novel, though the hypothetical example of a clueless literary writer pitching the world’s most cliched mystery novel certainly sounds like he was taking aim at McEwan (though there are so many other examples).

So let’s have a quote from Iain M. Banks:

The point is that science fiction is a dialogue, a process. All writing is, in a sense; a writer will read something – perhaps something quite famous, even a classic – and think “But what if it had been done this way instead…?” And, standing on the shoulders of that particular giant, write something initially similar but developmentally different, so that the field evolves and further twists and turns are added to how stories are told as well as to the expectations and the knowledge of pre-existing literary patterns readers bring to those stories. Science fiction has its own history, its own legacy of what’s been done, what’s been superseded, what’s so much part of the furniture it’s practically part of the fabric now, what’s become no more than a joke… and so on. It’s just plain foolish, as well as comically arrogant, to ignore all this, to fail to do the most basic research. In a literature so concerned with social as well as technical innovation, with the effects of change – incremental as well as abrupt – on individual humans and humanity as whole, this is a grievous, fundamentally hubristic mistake to commit.

And here is the moneyshot:

In the end, writing about what you know – that hoary and potentially limiting, even stultifying piece of advice – might be best seen as applying to the type of story you’re thinking of writing rather than to the details of what happens within it and perhaps, with that in mind, a better precept might be to write about what you love, rather than what you have a degree of contempt for but will deign to lower yourself to, just to show the rest of us how it’s done.

This last bit of advice applies not just to literary writers dabbling in SFF, by the way, but indeed to all writers, including indie writers who write romance, because they think it’s easy money, though they have no real knowledge of and respect for the genre and would rather write something else.

So write what you love. And have some knowledge of the genre you’re planning to write.

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Star Trek Discovery jerks the old tear ducts again in the aptly named “Such Sweet Sorrow”

Welcome back to our regularly scheduled Star Trek Discovery episode by episode review. Yesterday’s episode “Such Sweet Sorrow” was the penultimate episode of the second season and I for one am pretty glad that season 2 will soon be over, probably because I was ill for at least half the season and doing these reviews became unexpectedly exhausting. For my take on previous episodes, go here.

Warning: Spoilers under the cut! Continue reading

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Star Trek Discovery passes “Through the Valley of Shadows”

I’m still not fully recovered from the flu from hell, but here is your regularly scheduled Star Trek Discovery review. For my take on previous episodes, go here.

Warning! Spoilers under the cut! Continue reading

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Some Thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists, Part II: The 2019 Hugo Awards

And here is part II of my overview of the 2019 Hugo Award and 1944 Retro Hugo Award finalists, this time with the 2019 Hugo Award finalists. Part I with my take on the 1944 Retro Hugo finalists is here.

If you want to check out the 2019 Hugo Award finalists and don’t want to wait for the voter packet (or are not a WorldCon 77 member), JJ has compiled a list where to find them for free online at File 770.

Now I was largely happy with the 1944 Retro Hugo finalists. A lot of great works recognised, only one lackluster category and one finalist I flat out hate. My feelings on the 2019 Hugo Award finalists are a lot more mixed. There is a lot here I like and also a lot I don’t particularly care for.

So let’s take a look at the individual categories: Continue reading

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Some Thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists, Part I: The 1944 Retro Hugo Awards

So the finalists for the 2019 Hugo Awards and the 1944 Retro Hugo Awards were announced today. This time, the announcement manages not to coincide with any major holidays of any world religion, though personally I really prefer it, when they announce on a weekend rather than a weekday. It’s also kind of annoying that the announcement for both sets of awards is made in the same post, which means that you have to scroll down past the current year Hugos to get to the Retro Hugos.

So let’s take a look at the nominees. Retro Hugos first, than the current year Hugos in part II, which may be found here:

The most remarkable thing about the 1944 Retro Hugos is that there is no Heinlein. Not a single Heinlein story was nominated for the Retro Hugos this year, not because fandom has suddenly lost its taste for Heinlein, but because Heinlein was too busy in 1943 testing military equipment at the Navy Yard* to write science fiction. Also notable by his absence (except for one fairly obscure story) is Isaac Asimov, who was also too busy testing military equipment at the Navy Yard to write, though unlike Heinlein, Asimov didn’t have a choice, because he was at danger of being drafted and expected (not without justification) that he’d be killed if he were ever taken prisoner, as Alec Nevala-Lee describes in his (excellent) chronicle of the Golden Age and what followed Astounding.

World War II also took other Golden Age stalwarts such as Lester Del Rey (also busily doing something at the Navy Yard) and L. Ron Hubbard (busily shooting at phantom subs off the Mexican coast) out of the game, leaving the field open for other voices and the 1944 Retro Hugo finalists certainly reflect that. This is a good thing, because it means that writers who are not normally recognised by the Retro Hugo Awards (though some of them have been recognised by the regular Hugos) finally get their dues.

So let’s take a look at the individual categories: Continue reading

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First Monday Free Fiction: Egg Hunt

April 1 is a Monday this year, therefore it’s time for the second edition of First Monday Free Fiction. To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on every first Monday of the month. It will remain free to read on this blog for exactly one month, then I’ll take it down and post another story.

Egg Hunt by Cora BuhlertAnd since Easter is later this month, what story could be more fitting than Egg Hunt, an Easter mystery from my Helen Shepherd Mysteries series? This one is technically a novelette, since it’s just over the 7500 word mark.

So follow Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd and her team as they tackle the mysterious case of a priceless Fabergé egg that has gone missing from the London home of a Russian oligarch.

Continue reading

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for March 2019

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month
It’s that time of the month again, time for “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some February books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have new releases covering the whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction. This month, we have epic fantasy, urban fantasy, historical fantasy, sword and sorcery, paranormal romance, paranormal mystery, space opera, military science fiction, hard science fiction, dark science fiction, dystopian fiction, steampunk, cyberpunk, witches, ghosts, werewolves, dragons, galactic empires, space smugglers, asteroid miners, slaves, dying worlds, dead girls, last minute rescues and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog run by Jessica Rydill and myself, which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Holly Cottage by Shelley AdinaHolly Cottage by Shelley Adina:

Buying a cottage is not as easy as you’d think. Especially if you’re a man with a past … in love with a woman with a future.

Maggie Polgarth astonishes everyone at Carrick House when, in a bid for independence, she buys a plot of land and a cottage near Vauxhall Gardens. From one decision, change ripples outward in the flock. Maggie transfers her scientific studies from Munich to London, leaving Lizzie behind. Two of the street sparrows leave the Malverns’ protection to go with her to her new home. And most significant of all, she meets a man who is not only well educated but also kind and handsome.

But the south bank gangs have not forgotten the Lady of Devices. If they cannot touch her, it’s only a matter of time before they take their revenge on someone closer to hand. Jake Fletcher McTavish will risk his own life before he allows anyone to harm a hair on Maggie’s head. He’s not afraid of the gangs and he’s a dab hand in a fight. But how can he show Maggie that his feelings run deeper than those of a brother? And how can he protect her when she seems to prefer the company of her new suitor—a man who is everything Jake is not?

If you like old-fashioned adventure, brave women, clever children, and strong-willed chickens, you’ll love this short story set in the Magnificent Devices steampunk world. Fangs for the Fantasy says, “The backbone of this great series is and has always been the characters. Their issues, their layers, their complexity, their solid relationships and their loyalties all elevate a good book to a really great one.”

The Forest of the Hanged by Richard Blakemore and Cora BuhlertThe Forest of the Hanged by Richard Blakemore and Cora Buhlert

According to the laws of the Rhadur, whenever one of their own is killed in one of the cities they have conquered, twelve citizens chosen at random must die in turn. Now the Rhadur governor of Greyvault has been murdered and in retaliation, his successor plans to hang twelve innocent maidens.

One of the women to be hanged is Lysha, the childhood sweetheart of Meldom, thief, cutpurse and occasional assassin. When Meldom learns of Lysha’s fate, he immediately sets out to rescue her, accompanied by his friends Thurvok, the sellsword, and the sorceress Sharenna…

This is a short story of 6500 words or 24 print pages in the Thurvok sword and sorcery series, but may be read as a standalone. Includes an introduction and afterword.

Monshine & Murder by Kathleen BrooksMoonshine & Murder by Kathleen Brooks:

Zoey Mathers had everything going for her until one night she lost her biggest client, her job, and her reputation. Leaving her life up to fate, Zoey closed her eyes and pointed. She would serve out her career exile in the small mountain town of Moonshine Hollow where moonshine flowed as freely as a mountain stream.

Giving up the law to become a baker in Moonshine Hollow turned out to be the best thing Zoey had ever done. She was happy and enjoying life in her new small town. But Zoey should have learned the first time . . . one night can change your whole life.

After unknowingly crashing a battle between witches, Zoey accidentally becomes a witch herself. That’s all before Zoey stumbles over a murder victim and the town’s sheriff becomes involved. Now she’s trying to find a murderer, stop two old witches from playing matchmaker, and learning she’s way more than a mere accidental witch.

And that’s all before fate turns up one more sexy hunk of a twist…

Seraphina's Lament by Sarah ChornSeraphina’s Lament by Sarah Chorn:

The world is dying.

The Sunset Lands are broken, torn apart by a war of ideology paid for with the lives of the peasants. Drought holds the east as famine ravages the farmlands. In the west, borders slam shut in the face of waves of refugees, dooming all of those trying to flee to slow starvation, or a future in forced labor camps. There is no salvation.

In the city of Lord’s Reach, Seraphina, a slave with unique talents, sets in motion a series of events that will change everything. In a fight for the soul of the nation, everyone is a player. But something ominous is calling people to Lord’s Reach and the very nature of magic itself is changing. Paths will converge, the battle for the Sunset Lands has shifted, and now humanity itself is at stake.

First, you must break before you can become.

Vultures by Mike CovilleVultures by Mike Coville:

When games of politics put the lives of deep space miner crews in danger, a coalition of captains organizes a resistance.

The crew of the DSM Boone are still reeling from being the target of a saboteur and the loss of a friend, but Captain Greg Daniels pushes them back out for lasso another asteroid. Will this break their spirit and cause a mutiny?

Computer specialist Zayna Watson doesn’t know who she can trust. Her world is being thrown into a roller-coaster ride of adventure, betrayal, and self-discovery. Will she stand with the one man that has given her all her opportunities, or is the evidence against him shown to her by an underground resistance movement convince her to bring down her mentor?

As a conspiracy is uncovered and alliances are being formed, who will be at the top when the dust settles?

Hello Protocol for Dead Girls by Zen DiPietroHello Protocol for Dead Girls by Zen DiPietro:

Jennika died under suspicious circumstances and her memories were uploaded for investigation. Somehow, they didn’t upload her memories alone. They uploaded her consciousness, too.

As she struggles within a perplexing computer network environment to find out how she died, she must also come to grips with the nature of her existence. Her body died, but she sure hasn’t. What does it mean to be alive, then?

She wants to talk to her friends and family, but they might not accept her. Before she can even try to reconnect with them, she has to get the people on the outside to recognize that she’s a real person, trapped inside technology.

She needs to establish a hello protocol–a way of establishing communication.

This story is like nothing you’ve read before. It’s Altered Carbon meets Gone Girl inside a digital environment. It will challenge you, then thrill you, then leave you wanting more. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as you explore this fascinating new technological existence with Jennika.

Wicked Delights by lily Harper HartWicked Delight by Lily Harper Hart:

Ivy Morgan and Jack Harker don’t have many complaints.

Things are good, life is quiet, and the only big thing on their to-do lists is picking a date for their wedding, which is exactly what they’re doing when a local celebutante approaches with an offer for Jack to be on a dating show.

He turns her down flat and goes on his way, but the next morning, she’s found dead and the list of suspects is endless thanks to the production landing smackdab in the middle of Shadow Lake.

Ivy doesn’t like having Hollywood on her doorstep. Jack is even worse, especially when he realizes the producers want Ivy to step in and take the dead heiress’s spot in the limelight. The idea of cameras following Ivy when magical things keep happening around her is enough to paralyze the couple … and then force them to run to avoid the harsh glare of the viewing public.

Jack and Ivy have a lot on their plates. They have to solve a murder, figure out what the witch in the woods is trying to tell them when it comes to the nature of the human soul, and pick a wedding date.

It’s all in a day’s work for Shadow Lake’s favorite couple. If they live to survive the dark force descending on their town, that is. They’ll have to work together to overcome imminent evil … but they’re used to that, of course.

The Ghost Who Says I Do by Bobbi HolmesThe Ghost Who Says I Do by Bobbi Holmes:

A Valentine’s Day Wedding at Marlow House?

Love is in the air—along with secrets—some are deadlier than others.

Will secrets from Clint Marlow’s past come back to haunt Walt and Danielle?

 

 

The Well of Time by Robert I. KatzThe Well of Time by Robert I. Katz:

Michael Glover, a military genius of the First Empire awakened from cold sleep after two thousand years, has spearheaded the Second Empire’s efforts against the Imperium.

But once the Imperium is defeated, it becomes apparent that the war is not over.

Second Empire ships are still being hijacked and Second Empire citizens sold into slavery. Spies and saboteurs continue to bore from within.

The Empire has enemies and those enemies are more powerful than the Second Empire can imagine.

Michael Glover and his crew are determined to discover the source of the conspiracy but before they can do so, a fleet of advanced ships, as large and as dangerous as the ships of the Second Empire, pose a new challenge to the Imperial worlds.

As the Empire teeters on the brink, Michael Glover must search for the final clue at the hidden Well of Time.

Lunar Escape by C.P. MacDonaldLunar Escape by C.P. MacDonald:

A mysterious secret society. A corrupt Governor. Can a simple smuggler stop the destruction of the moon?

Captain Calin Aku smuggles contraband and people from the cesspool of Earth to the Moon cities aboard his ship the Sea Rover. He leads and protects his small crew, pulling off heists and diving into adventures.

With a new client, the crew of the Sea Rover find themselves in a battle against a corrupt Governor and allied with a secret society hidden from humanity for a thousand years. Calin has no choice but to take action and to be more than a rogue outlaw. Can he defeat an all-powerful government to save his crew and the citizens of the Moon?

SYNTH #1, edited by C.M. MullerSYNTH #1: An Anthology of Dark SF, edited by C.M. Muller:

SYNTH is a new anthology series of dark SF published quarterly, with each issue containing eight thought-provoking visions of the future . . . tales of utopia and dystopia, of inner and outer space; tales that are bleak, tales that are bold . . .

ISSUE #1 features the dark visions of Dan Stintzi, Steve Toase, Virginie Sélavy, Charles Wilkinson, Farah Rose Smith, Jeffrey Thomas, Christopher K. Miller, and Joanna Koch. It is edited by CM Muller, creator of the award-winning Nightscript anthology series.

If you are a fan of Black Mirror, Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, Alphaville, and the like, then SYNTH may well be your next literary fix.

Cloaked by Vanessa NelsonCloaked by Vanessa Nelson:

The world itself in peril.

Arrow’s sleep is being disturbed by nightmares that she cannot remember when awake. Her days are spent trying to build her new, simple, life in the human world and helping the shape-changers track down the last conspirators that tried to destroy the Erith.

But the Erith want her help one last time. The Erith heartland needs a new monarch, and the Erith require Arrow’s presence for the selection.

Nothing is that simple, though, and Arrow finds herself dealing with betrayal that could tear the heartland apart. She will need all her skills, and the help of the few people she trusts, to prevent the destruction of the heartland, and the world.

Draft of Dragons by T.S. PaulDraft of Dragons by T.S. Paul:

Suspended for political reasons Agatha and her team have returned to her home to rest and recuperate. But still another war looms on the horizon. The Draconic Empire is making it’s move towards earth. They’ve worked behind the scenes to disrupt any and all that stand before them. But Agatha is still alive and she and the Blackmore Coven are prepared. Whatever comes through the Garden Gate will trigger a war. Is America and Earth ready for it?

 

 

Malarat by Jessica RydillMalarat by Jessica Rydill:

The Duc de Malarat wants to conquer the Kingdom of Lefranu. In his army ride the ruthless and fanatical Domini Canes, warrior monks of the Inquisition who have forged a secret weapon to cripple the power of the shamans.

But when Malarat’s eldest son challenges a stranger to a duel, he sets in motion a terrifying train of events. For the stranger is Malchik Vasilyevich, now a man; and his sister Annat stands with her allies and the Railway People as a fully-trained shaman, prepared to defend the city of Yonar from Malarat’s army.

But Malchik and Annat will face foes much worse than the Duc de Malarat, even as the struggle that began in Lefranu spreads to the spirit world and beyond.

Wolf at the Door by Hollis ShilohWolf at the Door by Hollis Shiloh:

Devin has a lot to prove.

Rickey is just here for the free food.

Devin’s here to get a wolf shifter as a partner. The short, loud redhead intends to be the best cop in his class and doesn’t care if he gets on everyone’s nerves in the process. He loves fancy sports cars and has a competitive nature.

Rickey likes the van life and living by his own terms. But times have been tight for the wolf shifter lately, and signing up for this course seems like an easy way to keep the wolf from the door. All the free food he can eat, if he sits through some classes. What could go wrong?

The two guys have chemistry, despite being so different. They could be friends at least, maybe partners. But there’s an underlying sexual chemistry that’s getting harder and harder to ignore…

Trapped on Vkani by Aurora SpringerTrapped on Vkani by Aurora Springer:

Marooned on a desolate planet, joining forces with the enemy is their only hope.

Maya Pandita spent years preparing for an expedition to the Deadlands. But her dreams of unearthing ancient artifacts are shattered when her shuttle is buried by a violent sandstorm, and her team is abducted by the scaled inhabitants of the planet. Maya and her companions must try to outwit their blue captor and call for help before they die in the toxic atmosphere.

Sa Vittaran has a problem in his claws. Along with treasures from the ruins, he has retrieved three smooth-skinned foreigners. He cannot leave them to die in the desert. Yet the puny creatures have little value as workers, except perhaps for the impudent woman who claims to be their leader. Her knowledge of the ancient script will be an asset if she can survive the long trek to his house.

An attack by marauders forces Maya and the Blue leader into a wary alliance. They must work together to thwart the bandits and reunite their company. Can Maya convince Sa Vittaran to help her team? If she fails, they are doomed to a short unpleasant life on the desolate, war-torn planet.

Shield of Terra by Glynn StewartShield of Terra by Glynn Stewart:

The mother, ruler of an entire world
Sent to the heart of an old enemy to build a new peace
The daughter, officer of a deadly warship
Sent to the darkness to find the new enemy hunting them all

A dozen inhabited worlds of the Kanzi Theocracy and the A!Tol Imperium are ash. Millions of sentients of a dozen species are dead, including humans from the brand-new colonies built under the Imperium’s watch. Despite the losses, the strange Taljzi fanatics have been defeated—but everything suggests that more will be coming.

The Empress of the A!Tol has resolved that the cold war between A!Tol and Kanzi must end. She sends Duchess Annette Bond to the heart of the Kanzi Theocracy to negotiate a new alliance.

Elsewhere, Bond’s stepdaughter Morgan Casimir and the battleship Bellerophon are sent into the darkness beyond known space to see what they can learn about the Taljzi.

As they uncover old secrets of new enemies and new secrets of old enemies the fate of humanity and five dozen other races hangs on the actions of mother and daughter alike!

Smuggler by J.A. SutherlandSmuggler by J.A. Sutherland:

There are ‘nice’ jobs that come my way, and there are profitable jobs that come my way. Now, these things do, on occasion, come along inside each other’s orbits – but it’s more of a cometary sort of thing, if you take my meaning.

Avrel Dansby is troubled.

He knew, going in, that the life of a smuggler would be filled with disreputable sorts – still, he’d like to imagine there are some jobs out there he can stomach without the desire nuke his client from orbit.

Rules of Redemption by T.A. WhiteRules of Redemption by T.A. White:

The war everyone thought was over is just beginning.

Kira Forrest is a survivor. She’s risen above the pain of her beginnings to become a war hero only to leave it all behind in the pursuit of a simple life. Now a salvager, she makes a living sifting through the wreckage of dead alien ships from a war that nearly brought humanity to its knees.

After her ship takes damage, she’s forced to re-route to a space station where her past and present collide with dangerous consequences.

Kira’s existence holds the key to a faltering peace treaty with the Tuann—a technologically advanced alien race who dislikes and distrusts all humans. Winning her freedom should be easy, but a powerful and relentless Tuann warrior stands in her way. Deceiving him seems impossible, especially when he strays dangerously close to secrets she struggles to hide.

Can Kira reconcile the pain of her past with the possibilities of her future? The fate of two races depends on her success.

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