Welcome to Shelf Care, where I review three books related by a theme. These aren’t necessarily the latest releases, but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.
This column’s theme: Authors featured in Love, Death and Robots, season two
Love, Death and Robots is an anthology series, now streaming season two on Netflix, that features sometimes R-rated animated adaptations of short stories by contemporary science fiction authors.
I’d covered authors from season one about two years back, and this season, even though it is only eight episodes long, has featured some great writers that I hadn’t heard of before So, again, I hunted down three more short story collections that featured the source material for some of the episodes, and here’s what I found:
So if you liked:
The episode “Snow In The Desert”
Short stories that read like action movies.
Writing that lands somewhere between Larry Niven’s Known Space and Ian M. Banks’ Culture novels
You might like
The Gabble, and Other Stories, by Neal Asher
A succession of short stories flesh out Asher’s Polity Universe, where you’ve got rouge AI’s, ancient aliens that may not be extinct, and quite a few bad people willing to do bad things…like the world hopping hunters a safari guide is stuck with in “Softly Spoke The Gabbleduck”.
The hot chemical smell from the rifle filled the unbreathable air. I guessed they used primitive projectile weapons of this kind to make their hunts more sporting. I didn’t know how to react. Tholan stepped forward and pushed down the barrel of her weapon before she could kill another of the creatures.
“That was stupid,” he said.
“Do they frighten you?” she asked coquettishly.
I reached up and checked that my throat plug was still in place, for I felt breathless, but it was still bleeding oxygen into my bronchus. To say that I now had a bad feeling about all this would have been an understatement.
“You know that as well as putting us all in danger, she just committed a crime,” I said conversationally, as Tholan stepped away from his sister.
“Crime?” he asked.
“She just killed a C-grade sentient. If the Warden AI finds out and can prove she knew before she pulled the trigger, then she’s dead. But that’s not the main problem now.” I eyed the sheq seven, now six. They seemed to be confused about the cause of their loss. “Hopefully they won’t attack, but it’ll be an idea to keep watch.”
“Snow in the Desert” was pretty representative of the collection, and to quote the author on his afterword, “As anyone knows who reads my stuff, I like my super tough heroes and lethal androids”. The short story had a bit more going on in it, but the adaptation to screen was very true to the material. If you’re a fan of any of the aforementioned, you’ll enjoy this collection.
“Garp and Geronamid”, wherein a hard boiled cop comes back from the grave, with a little cybernetic assistance, to solve one last case.
Or if you liked:
The episode “Automated Customer Service”
Really quick reads
Humorous short science fiction
You might like
Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi, by John Scalzi
Each story is under 2000 words, and comes with the delightfully smart-ass sensibilities and juxtaposition of the ordinary with the extraordinary that Scalzi is known for, such as
“Your Smart Appliances Talk About You Behind Your Back”, wherein intelligent household appliances bemoan the behavior of their owners.
McGivney 25 cu. Ft side-by-side Stainless Steel refrigerator with OrderIn™ Sensing Technology, of Anthony Moore, Malone, New York:
I didn’t know anyone could live on condiments. Logically, that shouldn’t happen. And yet, the only thing he ever puts in me—besides shitty beer and the occasional pizza box, I mean—is condiments. Want to know what I have in me now? Three types of mustard. Three kinds of relish. Olive spread. Miracle Whip and mayonnaise. Thirteen types of dressing, including four variations of ranch. Seriously: Classic Ranch. Zesty Ranch. Ranch with jalapeño. Coffee Ranch. Really, what the hell is “Coffee Ranch”? Do you know? I can’t find it in my OrderIn queue. I think he has it made special.
So here’s the thing: my tech allows me to suggest food. Like: “I see you have mustard! Perhaps cheese would go well with that! I can order that for you!” When he first got me, I did that a couple of times, but then he got irritated and turned that function off. Ever since then, all I can do is watch as he fills my insides with salad dressing. And, look, here’s another thing. I don’t have an external camera, but my internal camera? Sometimes, it sees things. Like him taking out the Ranch dressing, opening it up, and before the door closes, I see him dipping a straw in it. I think he was drooling as he did it.
I mean, that’s not right, is it? Most humans don’t do that, do they? I think you actually need solid food from time to time. I kind of feel like I’m enabling him. There’s more to life than Ranch.
At this point, Scalzi is the literary equivalent of whatever a house band is for this series, having done three stories for the first season, and another one here. The animation serves to take the material to the next level, inserting visual gags while following the flow of the original, so if you liked any of that, this collection is definitely worth picking up.
As for “Automated Customer Service”, it isn’t in this collection, but can be found on Scalzi’s website, at the link here.
Again: “Your Smart Appliances Talk About You Behind Your Back”. Yeah, the refrigerator isn’t the only appliance judging you.
Or if you liked:
The episode “Life Hutch”
Stories from a darker version of Ray Bradbury
That 60’s science fiction, baby!
Tales of individuals fighting society
You might like
Alone Against Tomorrow – Stories of Alienation In Speculative Fiction, by Harlan Ellison
This collection of Ellison’s earlier works features stories very much of their time, and ones that are also timeless, with recurring themes of the individual against society, as illustrated in the classic “’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”
He had become a personality, something they had filtered out of the system many decades before. But there it was, and there he was, a very definitely imposing personality. In certain circles-middle-class circles-it was thought disgusting. Vulgar ostentation. Anarchistic. Shameful. In others, there was only snickering, those strata where thought is subjugated to form and ritual, niceties, proprieties. But down below, ah, down below, where the people always needed their saints and sinners, their bread and circuses, their heroes and villains, he was considered a Bolivar; a Napoleon; a Robin Hood; a Dick Bong (Ace of Aces); a Jesus; a Jomo Kenyatta.
And at the top-where, like socially attuned Shipwreck Kellys, every tremor and vibration threatening to dislodge the wealthy, powerful and titled from their flagpoles-he was considered a menace; a heretic; a rebel; a disgrace; a peril. He was known down the line, to the very heartmeat core, but the important reactions were high above and far below. At the very top, at the very bottom.
This collection is pretty representative of the New Wave science fiction of the late 60’s, where the material took a sharp turn from hyper-competent men with ray guns rescuing damsels, and started to explore the human side of what these strange new worlds might mean. Ellison was at the front of that movement, and was not at all afraid to be a polarizing figure, and a number of these stories, (which might be best described as a darker fun house mirror to what you’d expect from Ray Bradbury), deal with character growth more than clean solutions to problems, so in that sense, Life Hutch is not necessarily the best representation of this collection. (And, I might add, his works seem to be difficult to get in digital form, so reading him is going to take some work.) That said, if you’re looking for something that doesn’t feel like everything else being written today, check:
“All The Sounds of Fear”, wherein an actor is too good at assuming a role. I’m not sure how this one avoided being in any of the Twilight Zone reboots.
So, what other books should be on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for my next column.