All posts by Fred

Fred Kiesche on Paying it Forward

This is going to be something of a different post than our usual SF Signal news item. I would appreciate it if you give it a read, consider it, and (if you can), please help out.

We get a lot out of the people who work in the genre field. They entertain us with books, they write for the television shows we watch, they write the stories that appear in the movies we watch on the big screen.

Unfortunately, it is not all champagne and roses for these folks. Some do work for a company and get benefits that way. Some do attain enough fame and business to make enough to buy their own benefits.  Most, however, either pay significantly out of their own pockets or depend on the benefits of a spouse or partner (if they live somewhere where benefits are extended) or take a full-time job (on top of the writing) in order to receive benefits.

Personal backstory time: I lost both my father and my father-in-law to debilitating diseases. The cost on my two respective families was significant, not in terms of money (luckily, both had some benefits as part of a retirement package as well as supplemental help), but in terms of personal (mental, spiritual) cost to our families. But, again, we were lucky in that those benefits were there.

As you may have heard from this episode of the SF Signal Podcast, genre author Jay Lake is fighting cancer. It is taking a toll on his physical health, his mental health, his writing ability, and his finances.

The stress does not end there. They must also navigate the dangerous shoals of all the rules and by-laws for these plans. And put up with silly stuff like this.  Click the link.  I’ll wait for you to get back. Done reading that? Does your mind boggle as much as mine? I hope so.

Folks, Jay Lake is facing enough as it is. He really doesn’t need to deal with silly horseshit stuff like this. Let’s all get together and at least give him some peace of mind when it comes to the money end of things. I kicked in $100.00. Could you please hit the “donate” button on his site to help him fight the stupidity of the insurance industry as well as help to pay for what little benefits he gets?

Please get the word out and please consider donating directly –  please see his site here, and hit the “tip jar” link in the upper left hand corner. Jay has given us endless hours of entertainment and education, both through his books and through his panels at conventions, participation in interviews, and courses and seminars.

Let’s pay it forward!

Thank you,

UPDATE: There is now a fundraising effort by a number of genre folks to help Jay out. You can win rewards! Tobias S. Buckell will unlock his earliest tale or drink Scotch! Mary Robinette Kowal will put an…interesting…spin on one of her stories! And many more levels all the way up to: Neil Gaiman will perform a cover version of a song from the Magnetic Fields album “69 Love Songs”!

REVIEW: The World Turned Upside Down edited by David Drake, Eric Flint and Jim Baen

REVIEW SUMMARY: A collection of classic genre tales that influenced three genre authors and editors.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Twenty-nine stories (plus notes and a preface), only one of which was not a winner.


PROS: A collection of some of the best-recognized names in the industry.

CONS: Strongly biased towards the 1960’s and earlier, few fantasy entries.

BOTTOM LINE: This book belongs on the shelves of every fan.

This dense book is a collection of short works that influenced the three editors (the late Jim Baen who edited at Galaxy, Ace, Tor Books and then Baen Books; David Drake, who has written, collaborated and edited a small library; and Eric Flint, one of Baen Books more popular authors and editors). My first glance at the contents showed a lot of familiar favorites and as I read I would occasionally have a “I remember this one!” moment. This is a very solid collection that ought to sit any fan’s bookshelf (or, if you read eBooks, be a permanent resident on your PDA or eBook reader).

For a complete list, see below. I’ll just highlight a few of the stories. I will note that given the authors involved (Murray Leinster, as one good example), the editors often picked a solid, lesser-known story (“The Aliens”) instead of a more widely known tale (“First Contact”).

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REVIEW: Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny

REVIEW SUMMARY: One of Zelazny’s more standalone works that shows off his polished prose, humor and frantic pacing.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Fred Cassidy is doing his best to remain a student. However, after being robbed, staked out in the sun, “protected” by alien police and probed by an alien telepath, even graduating from college seems like a lesser evil.


PROS: An excellent display of Roger Zelazny’s wordsmithing at its best. A mixture of polished prose, some literary experimentation, and a plot full of red herrings and MacGuffins worthy of an Alfred Hitchcock film.

CONS: Until Zelazny is recognized as a “literary” figure and gets enshrined on our shelves along with others (such as Philip K. Dick), you’re probably going to have to scramble to find this and other gems.

BOTTOM LINE: In a single volume you get what was always the best about Roger Zelazny. The magic of the plot where you’re never sure of what exactly is going on. The carefully chosen prose, honed down to the bare essentials. The occasional bit of literary experimentation. 181 pages, a single volume, no sequels, no padding, no fluff. Pure magic.

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REVIEW: Project Moonbase and Others by Robert A. Heinlein

REVIEW SUMMARY: A glimpse into a television series that never was.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of previously unseen scripts and story treatments for a science fiction television series that never came to be.


PROS: A look at one of the many careers of Robert A. Heinlein, in this case, scriptwriter for a science fiction show well before serious SF was seen on television.

CONS: Alas, conditions dictated that this be a limited edition and sold at a high price. This means that many of those who would enjoy this book the most will never see it or be able to afford it.

BOTTOM LINE: If you enjoy Heinlein or if you enjoy reading about the nuts-and-bolts of television or film production, this will be a must-have purchase for you.

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REVIEW: Northwest of Earth: The Complete Northwest Smith by C. L. Moore

REVIEW SUMMARY: A delightful blend of classic science fiction, wonderful settings and some of the most memorable monsters you’ve never encountered.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The complete tales of a classic science fiction “anti-hero” are collected under covers for the first time.


PROS: All of the Northwest Smith tales are together for the first time.

CONS: Everybody has an off day. I could have lived without a couple of the stories.

BOTTOM LINE: Worth it as a peek into the early days of science fiction, a sampling of works by a fine author, or the archetype of some of today’s biggest screen stars.

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REVIEW: Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

REVIEW SUMMARY: The best young adult novel that Robert A. Heinlein never wrote.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Joey Harker goes on a field trip one day and finds himself in the middle of a war between the forces of science and magic across all the possible Earths.


PROS: A well written short novel that really catches the feel of the young adult novels of Robert A. Heinlein, as well as some of his other well-known works.

CONS: A bit too “science fantasy” at times, which almost turns the tale to mush in a few spots.

BOTTOM LINE: Neil Gaiman is best when he works short. Few have captured the voice of Robert A. Heinlein better than this collaborative work with Michael Reaves.

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REVIEW: The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman by Leigh Brackett

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Guest reviewer Fred Kiesche is the one of the bloggers extraordinaire at Texas Best Grok]

REVIEW SUMMARY: Space opera from the Golden Age of science fiction at its best!


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Two shorter installments (both expanded from even shorter original appearances) in the saga of Eric John Stark, rogue, mercenary, thief, and man of honor. Stark gets caught up in two wars fought among the tribes Mars; trying to prevent a war from spreading in the first and trying to restore a friend’s honor in the second.


PROS: Leigh Brackett, who not only turned out endless reams of foolscap that were turned into endless pages of pulp did turn out the occasional jewel. The tales of Eric John Stark are among them. Dead sea-bottoms, exotic women, decaying cities, strange artifacts…all that and more!

CONS: The cover art is somewhat crude, especially when compared to the beautiful cover on the recent publication of Loreli of the Red Mists by Brackett. This might turn off part of the audience that would read such a classic.

BOTTOM LINE: When you get through this one and find yourself enchanted with these tales of Old Mars, you’ll probably want to seek out more of Brackett’s tales. Lucky for you, we seem to be in a bit of a Brackett revival so take a look at Haffner Press and their high-quality small-press hardcovers covering Brackett’s early works (if you don’t mind the price) or Baen Booksbargain bundle of electronic books (which contains these two tales and others).

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REVIEW: James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a guest review by Fred Kiesche, blogger extraordinaire of The Eternal Golden Braid.]

REVIEW SUMMARY: Hopefully will revitalize the number of Tiptree books in print.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The ups and downs of world traveler, egg farmer, intelligence officer and occasional author Alice B. Sheldon in her multiple identities.


PROS: Should prove to skeptics out there that there is more to SF than Star Wars.

CONS: Ignores much of the field and its history, and does not give a sense of where Sheldon fit in.

BOTTOM LINE: Does not live up to the hype.

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