SF Crossing the Gulf Archives

In this much-too-long-delayed episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, we revisit stories from Cordwainer Smith’s The Rediscovery of Man, with especial focus on “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard”. More importantly, we discuss these stories with senior SF critic Gary K. Wolfe, who brings quite a bit more biographical information about Smith to our attention, to our mutual enlightenment.

Many apologies to those (Fred!) who have been waiting for this episode–I (Karen Burnham) can only plead extreme mental discombobulation. And we hope it is worth the wait!

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SF Crossing the Gulf (Episode 18): Season 2 Re-Cap

In this episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, we revisit Season 2. There’s general consensus that our podcasts on Jagannath and Distances are among our favorites ever, and that there’s still a lot of value found in some of the older science fiction such as Olaf Stapledon and Cordwainer Smith.

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SF Crossing the Gulf (Episode 17): Ken Liu and Vandana Singh

In this episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, we tackle two short pieces from contemporary authors on our mathematical theme. We start out talking about Ken Liu’s “Single-Bit Error” and then we wind up raving about Vandana Singh’s novella Distances.

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In this episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, we tackle two more short stories from The Rediscovery of Man, the complete collection of the short fiction of Cordwainer Smith from NESFA Press.

We wound up finding so much to say about Smith’s stories that we decided to break this episode into two parts. In this installment we discuss “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” (1961) and “On the Gem Planet” (1963).

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In this episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, we tackle two short stories from The Rediscovery of Man, the complete collection of the short fiction of Cordwainer Smith from NESFA Press.

We wound up finding so much to say about Smith’s stories that we decided to break this episode into two parts. In this installment we discuss “Scanners Live in Vain” (1950) and “The Lady Who Sailed the Soul” (1960). In the next installment we’ll finish the conversation with “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” (1961) and “On the Gem Planet” (1965).

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In this episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, we tackle Flatland (1884) by Edwin A. Abbott and “The Shadow Postulates” from Yoon Ha Lee’s debut collection, Conservation of Shadows.

In one fell swoop we cover some of the most recent fiction yet (2008) and some of the oldest (1884). We hope you will agree that they are worth talking about together. Math fiction of many dimensions.

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SF Crossing the Gulf (Episode 14): NAPIER’S BONES by Derryl Murphy

In this episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, we tackle Napier’s Bones by Derryl Murphy.

Murphy introduces some fascinating ideas, but undercuts them with info-dumping and a muddled ending. Dom has the ability to see and control numbers. After running from a desert confrontation between two other numerates, he ends up in a small Utah town with an adjunct spirit called Billy riding along in his head. Along with a raw numerate named Jenna, Dom and Billy head north while avoiding their foes. The magic system itself is fascinating, if dubious at times, but the lengthy explanations often slow the story down. The final 50 pages then turn into a race to cram too much action into a sloppy and chaotic ending. Murphy’s nifty ideas might be enough to sustain the plot for some readers, but few will come away wholly satisfied. –Publisher’s Weekly

Math-Fi and Magic and History and Myth, all wrapped up in a fun (possibly urban fantasy-style) adventure!
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In this episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, we tackle Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe, the first volume of the Book of the New Sun quartet, published in 1980.

This is the first-person narrative of Severian, a lowly apprentice torturer blessed and cursed with a photographic memory, whose travels lead him through the marvels of far-future Urth, and who–as revealed near the beginning–eventually becomes his land’s sole ruler or Autarch. On the surface it’s a colorful story with all the classic ingredients: growing up, adventure, sex, betrayal, murder, exile, battle, monsters, and mysteries to be solved. … For lovers of literary allusions, they are plenty here: a Dickensian cemetery scene, a torture-engine from Kafka, a wonderful library out of Borges, and familiar fables changed by eons of retelling… The Book of the New Sun is almost heartbreakingly good, full of riches and subtleties that improve with each rereading. It is Gene Wolfe’s masterpiece. –David Langford

Despite reading this book in isolation from its series — which means that we are looking at all the set-up and none of the payoff — we find a lot to discuss and a lot to love in this classic novel.
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After our previous episode discussing Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, the last novel written by C. S. Lewis, we decided that we needed a little more expertise than we were able to bring to bear. To that end, we’ve invited Beth Potterveld, a graduate of Wheaton College who has volunteered with the Wade Center and studied Inklings scholarship (a group which includes Lewis as part of its focus). In this supplemental podcast we discuss some of Lewis’ history with the Psyche myth, different ways of reading the somewhat less clear Part II of the novel, and other influences in Lewis’ work.
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SF Crossing the Gulf (Episode 12): “Till We Have Faces” by C.S. Lewis

In this episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, we tackle Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, the last novel written by C. S. Lewis, published in 1956.

At once more human and more mythic than his Perelandra trilogy, Lewis’s short novel of love, faith, and transformation (both good and ill) offers the reader much food for thought in a compact, impressively rich story. Less heavy-handedly Christian-allegorical than Narnia, Till We Have Faces gives us characters who remind us of people we know facing choices and difficulties we recognize. This deceptively simple book takes on new depth with each rereading.

We strongly recommend that you read this one for yourselves; we had rather divergent readings of it just between the two of us, and we’re already tempted to revisit this discussion later, possibly with a scholar in tow. There is no doubt that this is a complex and complicated story that will reward your attention.
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In this episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, we tackle Star Maker, the 1939 classic by Olaf Stapledon.

One moment a man sits on a suburban hill, gazing curiously at the stars. The next, he is whirling through the firmament, and perhaps the most remarkable of all science fiction journeys has begun. Even Stapledon’s other great work, LAST AND FIRST MEN, pales in ambition next to STAR MAKER, which presents nothing less than an entire imagined history of life in the universe, encompassing billions of years.

This relatively short novel is jam-packed with all the sense of wonder you could ask for. We talk about the seeds of any number of sf stories found within its pages, its perspective on aliens, the Omega Point, and much more. If you read Star Maker and enjoy it, we strongly recommend that you also read Last and First Men, Stapledon’s earlier work of science fiction.
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In this episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, we enthuse about Jagannath, the award-winning collection from Karin Tidbeck.
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SF Crossing the Gulf (Episode 09): Children of God

Welcome back for Season 2, Part 1 of SF Crossing the Gulf!

Here’s our notional reading list for the coming season:
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SF Crossing the Gulf (Episode 08): Season 1 Wrap Up

In this episode, we (fondly, sadly) wrap up the first season of SF Crossing the Gulf. We reflect on what we’ve read so far, with discussions of POV, hard sf, immigrant tales, and international vs. slipstream fiction. While we’ve enjoyed this immensely, we both have deadlines to meet and other projects that need some TLC.

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In this episode we discuss Ghosts, a family drama set in the near future by Jamaican author Curdella Forbes. We talk about unreliable narrators, culture, symbolism, and snails.
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This week the two Karens squee mightily about 1998’s The Sparrow–and then get down to the nitty gritty of characterization, structure, theology, colonialism and intricate detail. The Sparrow is a novel rich in detail, as evidenced by this being our longest podcast yet. But like the novel, it is packed with speculation and revelation.
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This is THE Greg Egan podcast. In this episode we cover Egan’s stories “The Planck Dive,” “Glory,” “Singleton,” “Oracle,” and “Oceanic.” We talk about Egan’s approach to science and art, quantum mechanics, history, biography, religion, sexuality, and much else, putting these works into the context of all his other fiction and what little is known about his life experiences. In the process, Karen Burnham realizes that she will need to considerably re-write the introduction to the book on Egan’s work that she is currently finalizing.

Next episode we’ll be talking about the 1998 Clarke Award-winning novel The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

In this episode we discuss The Rainmaker’s Mistake by Jamaican author and sociologist Erna Brodber.

Karen Lord recommends that you also listen to this short (15 minute) reading and interview with the author.

The Rainmaker’s Mistake isn’t classically science fictional, and definitely not magical realism. It is slipstream in the mode that should be perfectly comfortable with any and all who love fiction by folks like Kelly Link, Jeffrey Ford and Theodora Goss.
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In this episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, Karen Burnham and Karen Lord discuss the Ted Chiang story “Hell is the Absence of God” as well as the Greg Egan stories “Crystal Nights,” “Yeyuka,” and “Closer.” They talk about topics such as third person omniscient narrators, villains, suffering, and the trope of Westerners sacrificing fingers for Africa. Karen Burnham would like to add that the story “Microcosmic God,” whose author she forgot, was written by Theodore Sturgeon.

Next week we’ll be discussing Erna Brodber’s The Rainmaker’s Mistake, and after that we’ll return to Greg Egan’s short fiction.
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In this episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, Karen Burnham and Karen Lord discuss Edgar Mittelholzer’s My Bones and My Flute, a ghost story/thriller from 1955. This leads to a discussion of prose style, craft, imagery, jungles, race, racism, misogyny, and much else. We understand that most people won’t be able to get a hold of this book, so we start off the discussion with plenty of summary to get everyone on the same page. [Spoiler Alert!]

Next week we’ll continue with a discussion of stories from Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life and Others, particularly “Hell is the Absence of God” and start talking about Greg Egan. We’ve decided on the following list of Egan short stories:

After that we’ll be talking about Erna Brodber’s The Rainmaker’s Mistake, Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, and Cordelia Forbe’s Ghosts.
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