The Meek by Scott MacKay

Meek Cover

New York, NY: Roc, 2001; $5.99 paperback; 328 pp.

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the November 2001 issue (#159) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

Scott MacKay’s first sf novel, Outpost, was a haunting piece of science fiction that blurred the lines of genre literature. Though the novel was definitely sf, a pervasive Kafkaesque quality made it feel more like a work of dark fantasy. Despite a few highly implausible plot turns, especially towards the end, it was an aggressive piece of writing that hinted at great potential for MacKay as a sf novelist. Yet, despite mostly favorable reviews, Outpost didn’t garner much attention from the field. MacKay’s second sf novel, The Meek, takes a much more conventional approach. Whereas Outpost blurred genre lines and had an intricate, slowly unfolding plot that traveled across time, The Meek is a straightforward novel that carefully stays within the sf tropes and makes its revelations in a more linear fashion. Do not misconstrue that, however, as saying that MacKay has decided to blaze an easier trail with this book. The Meek shows much of the daring and dense storytelling exhibited in Outpost.

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Termination Node by Lois H. Gresh & Robert Weinberg

Termination Node Cover

New York, NY: Del Rey, 1999; $6.99 paperback;
302 pp.

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the September 2000 issue (#145) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

Like many thrillers, The Termination Node wastes no time in getting the action moving. Just about a decade in the future, the novel’s protagonist, superhacker and computer specialist Judy Carmody, is working an overnighter at Laguna Savings Bank. In the middle of what should be a routine operation, a hacker breaks into the bank’s network and starts rewriting account balances all over the system. Nothing Judy does seems to have any impact on the hacker; his commands are moving faster than she can react to stop or divert them. Yet, when the whole scenario completely plays out, all the account balances are returned to the original states.

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Newton’s Cannon by J. Gregory Keyes

Newton's Cannon Cover

New York, NY: Del Rey, 1998; $14.00 trade paperback; 368 pp.

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the December 1998 issue (#124) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

Most alternate history stories have as their “what if’ scenario something seemingly plausible. What if the Roman Empire never fell? What if the United States had lost the Revolutionary War? What if Napoleon didn’t invade Russia? What if the South won at Gettysburg? What if the Nazis had won World War II? What if a professional baseball team thought a young Fidel Castro had enough pitching talent to sign him to a contract? Well, the last question might be a bit of a stretch—talent scouts universally thought little of Castro’s arm—but such “stretches,” while a minority, are not that uncommon to alternate history: Harry Turtledove, easily the current leader in this subgenre, recently finished a four-book series where aliens invaded Earth during the middle of World War II; the hero of Ward Moore’s classic Bring the Jubilee alters the course of history by arriving in Gettysburg during the Civil War (widely accepted sf trope or not, we all know time travel is impossible); and in L. Sprague de Camp’s classic Lest Darkness Fall, the hero attempts to prevent the fall of the Roman Empire after falling through a crack in the space-time continuum.

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City on Fire by Walter Jon Williams

City on Fire Cover

New York, NY: HarperPrism, 1997; $6.99 paperback; 560 pp.

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the July 1998 issue (#119) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

That the major publishers, with their obsessive desire to pigeonhole everything into its proper marketable niche, or away from an undesired niche, have difficulty in categorizing gives me some joy. HarperPrism provided an excellent example of this when they marketed Walter Jon Williams’s Metropolitan as science fiction and its recent follow-up, City on Fire, as fantasy.

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Foundation’s Fear by Gregory Benford

Foundation's Fear Cover

New York, NY: HarperPrism, 1997; $23.00 hardcover;
425 pp.

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the April 1998 issue (#116) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

The fact that Gregory Benford wrote a novel based in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation universe comes as no surprise. In the years before his death, Asimov created a shared universe for a short-lived series of anthologies; presented a series of books spotlighting new writers; allowed Robert Silverberg to expand “Nightfall,” “The Ugly Little Boy,” and “The Bicentennial Man” into full-length novels; and authorized Isaac Asimov’s Robot City, a 12-book series–written by other authors based on his Three Laws of Robotics and set during the time of his robot novels. Benford himself is no stranger to this type of sharecropping; in the mid-eighties he wrote Beyond the Fall of Night a companion piece to Arthur C. Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night.

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Jack Faust by Michael Swanwick

Faust Cover

ISBN-10: 0380974444
Publisher: Avon Books
Pub. Date: Sept. 1997
$23.00, 352 pages, hardcover

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the February 1998 issue (#114) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

Since Christopher Marlowe penned Doctor Faustus in 1604, the story of Faust has been retold in many major guises from Goethe’s Faust to Gounod’s opera to Randy Newman’s concept album Faust. Those who believe that that any further retellings just waste our time should take a look at Michael Swanwick’s latest novel, Jack Faust, which is more of a modern, adaptation of the famous tale; rather than a modern retelling.

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Editorial: “Preparations for the Relaunch Are Underway”

After a lot of personal deliberation, I am relaunching Some Fantastic in a blog format. Before its official relaunch, I need to transfer all the material from the old domain to this new address and arrange this site to my liking. However, I will not rule out the posting of new material before the new site is completely online.

More to come soon.

Matthew Appleton, Editor