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Topic Archive: Reading / Watching / Consuming
Matthew Hughes’ Luff Imbry stories in ePub format, from Angry Robot Books

Filed under Found on the Web, Reading / Watching / Consuming

the other, by matthew hughes
If you haven’t read Matthew Hughes’ The Other then, on the bright side, you have something to look forward to.

Of course if you have read The Other, there may still be a bright side: because although they haven’t (yet?) been collected in print you can now download ePub formatted digital versions of seven short stories about the more or less hero of The Other, Luff Imbry from their publisher, Angry Robot Books.

They’re each less than a dollar (if my inner currrency exchange is working) and they will fit just fine on your Nook, Sony Reader, iPad, or anything else that can read an ePub book, including your computer.

Luff Imbry is a bit of a rascal. He’s an antiquities trader who specializes in recently redistributed wealth and, sometimes, in wealth that hasn’t quite yet been redistributed, but could be. He’s a gifted forger, too, and in that (at least) he reminds me of Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy mysteries… though since he’s quite gifted in the girth department, Luff Imbry may be more of a heavyweight.

Angry Robot’s FAQ also suggests the stories may be available in the Amazon Kindle Store, but as you can probably see from that click I couldn’t find them there. Maybe they’ll show up in the near future.

Hughes’ Archonate novels are often compared to the science fiction and fantasies of Jack Vance, and with good reason; in fact we discover along the way that the Archonate’s Earth may even be the Old Earth of Vance’s Dying Earth stories… just a little while before the balance of the Universe shifts back to magic (or "sympathetic association") from its more rational state of science.

They’re fine stories, and wonderfully well told, and you just ought to go and read them if you haven’t. A good place to start might be Majestrum.

[tags]matthew hughes, archonate, the other, luff imbry, science fiction, epub, digital book, ebook, sont reader, nook, ipad[/tags]

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Holiday Reading: the Automatic Detective

Filed under Reading / Watching / Consuming

Robot Detectives, Flying Cars, and Mad ScienceOh, no: we’re not talking about laying out on the beach here, noses buried in the latest action-packed political thriller to bombard the airport bookshelves. Nope, here in the Secret Laboratory “holiday reading” means packing up the snow shovel and burrowing (physically) into a pile of warm anythings while burrowing (mentally) into a few hundred pages of Something Else. Holiday reading is serious business.

Though that doesn’t preclude comedy.

The Empire City (also known as Technotopia) of The Automatic Detective is a place in which the cheerful exuberance of the retro future all came true, sort of, in ways that were a bit unexpected. So, yes, we’ve all got a shot at a flying car, but in practice the gadabouts of Empire City are not exactly standardized and the many models are each plagued by niggling problems like, for example, the Buzzbugs: you’d call them ornithopters, except that their plastic wings and their beelike bodies are based on insects rather than birds. They’re a swell idea, but they have this habit of stalling, which is not your optimal behavior in a flying car. Opting out of the Buzzbug, you might try a Hoverskid, unless you were quick enough to ask yourself what the “Skid” part of their name was all about. In fact there’s only one model in all of Empire City that rolls on wheels, or more accurately, on wheel: that would be the Unipod.

Every one of these vehicles is fatally flawed in a unique and inventive way. And that tells you a lot about Empire City. The City’s a victim of almost random invention. Yesterday’s advances get recycled and today’s ill-advised replacements show up to crash, burn, mince, and mangle all over again. The question of why, exactly, that is, is rarely asked. Until we meet Mack Megaton.

Mack is not an automatic detective. Mack is a cab driver, although originally he was an unusual (and unusually dangerous) robot built by a mad scientist intent on (you guessed it!) dominating the world. For one reason or another, though, Mack decided that he’d rather not go in for world domination – which led to his creator’s imprisonment in a place I really, really wish I’d made up myself. It’s the Moriarty Asylum for the Criminally Inventive.

Mack is better now. He’s in therapy. But folks are still just a little bit worried about what would happen if his original programming were to kick back in.

And that’s where we begin. The Automatic Detective invites us on a hard boiled adventure through this dysfunctional World of Tomorrow where we meet all sorts of characters we didn’t quite meet in Raymond Chandler’s stories – like Jung, the intelligent gorilla, who’s Mack’s best friend, and like small, green and sinister scientists, and like Lucia: a swell dame, maybe. And, you know, maybe not.

The real journey here is Mack’s passage toward something like humanity. The story’s propelled by his decision at the beginning to break into a domestic disturbance at his neighbor’s apartment and that, as mundane as it sounds, is the first step in both the mystery of what the heck made Empire City what it is, and Mack’s growth as a sentient, if mechanical, being.

An Automatic Detective, in fact. Just picture Philip Marlowe. But paint him red, add few hundred pounds of near-indestructible shell, and don’t forget a buried inner drive to Destroy All Humans.

In June, We Shall Rejoice

Filed under Found on the Web, Reading / Watching / Consuming

Holiday Reading: Henry Kuttner’s “Robots Have No Tails”

Filed under Reading / Watching / Consuming

Robots Have No Tails (Henry Kuttner)

I used to wonder if my sleeping self were a completely different creature than the waking me who’s typing this now. My sleeping self, I thought, had his own personality, his own urge to survive, and simple wants: to be left alone so he could survive – which meant, of course, not waking up.

My sleeping self could carry on a short conversation. He might promise to do anything, if it seemed like once he’d made the promise, he’d get to survive (sleep). He even might answer the phone and do those things remotely. Once he picked up the phone and just said “Why are you doing this to me?” before he hung up.

He had a fairly short window in which to make the world go away because after a couple of minutes the waking me would take his place. So he was wily. Often enough I found myself dealing with what he’d done as my day went on.

But the sleeping me was nothing compared to the alternate self of Galloway Gallegher, as we see in this collection of short stories by Henry Kuttner.

Gallegher, says Gallegher, does science by ear. He doesn’t know how. Somehow – in spite of not having a lot of formal training – his subconscious has picked up a lot of knowledge along the way and if his conscious mind just gets out of its way it can do such amazing things that it makes him the most gifted – if unusual – inventor in the world.

Fortunately for his subconscious, this happens when Gallegher is supremely drunk. It’s fortunate because that happens pretty often.

And that’s the setup for each of these stories – because although Gallegher (drunk) can solve just about any problem that’s presented to him he does it "by ear", using whatever materials are at hand – and sometimes, whatever he can have delivered. He doesn’t make notes, and he’s suspicious of any attempt to record what he’s up to. He’ll meet with clients, cobble together some bizarre machine to solve their problems – often more than one at a time – and then pass out, leaving Gallegher (sober) to try to figure out what’s happened. Why, for example, he now has a machine that’s eaten all the dirt in his back yard and does nothing else except to sing "Saint James Infirmary". And, just as often, why everyone seems to be out to get him.

I remember Henry Kuttner mainly for his fantasy stories from the 1940s and 1950s. They were among the many pulp stories reprinted when I was young. Discovering these, though, was a great pleasure – they’re science fiction screwball comedies, and I just wish there were more of them.

Robots Have No Tails (Henry Kuttner)

Four of the five Gallegher stories were written in 1942 (under the name Lewis Padgett), before Kuttner went off to war. The last was published in 1948. The near-future world of these stories is one in which rapid changes in technology have confused matters a bit – especially in the legal system – and that makes us feel right at home there, doesn’t it?

These stories were first gathered together as a book in 1952. This Planet Stories edition has a new cover by Tomasz Jedruszek and some fine interior illustrations by Brian Snoddy, a new introduction by F. Paul Wilson, and the original 1952 introduction by C.L. Moore – Kuttner’s wife, herself the author of Shambleau and the Jirel of Joiry stories.

Highly recommended!

[tags]science fiction, henry kuttner, robots have no tails, planet stories, paizo publishing, astounding magazine, lewis padgett[/tags]

1930’s retro-futuristic “Just Imagine” is finally on DVD

Filed under Reading / Watching / Consuming

Mad Science Lab from "Just Imagine"
"Just Imagine" on DVD
Just Imagine – now available at Amazon

This is momentous news, dear reader, and I have no idea when exactly it finally happened – but the world’s first all singing, all dancing science fiction musical is finally available on DVD.

“Just Imagine” was a landmark film, in which the 1920s and 1930s vision of the future was captured for all time – with amazing miniature sets and rockets, the most famous of which rose out of the prop room to become Flash Gordon’s rocket, in the movie serials – and it is simply not to be missed by anyone who loves the retro future.

It is also a profoundly silly film. Don’t let that stop you.

For years, it’s been impossible to find a commercial tape or disc of this movie, though bootlegs showed up often at eBay.

"Just Imagine" on DVD
Just Imagine – now available at Amazon
Just Imagine was an early sound picture – it was released in 1930 – and it features both Maureen O’Sullivan and the vaudeville comic El Brendel. The film takes us (and Brendel) to the astonishing world of 1980 – where we all have flying cars and New York is a multilayered city of public and private transportation, with traffic cops on floating platforms blowing their whistles at us. The sets are fantastic; the rockets are wonderful; and it’s just sort of mind-blowingly naive and silly.

There is (of course!) a trip to Mars, but possibly the best times are to be had here on Earth with its arranged marriages, its food pills, its whiskey pills, and its numerous jokes about Prohibition.

If Metropolis is our serious and socially conscious great-uncle of the retro future, Just Imagine is its jazz age slaphappy cousin.  The one we actually want to hang out with.

This is a great day. A tremendous day. It’s good to be here in the future. Now if they’d just release “Madam Satan”. But that’s another story.

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