Tuesday, July 06, 2010


Title: The Phoenix and The Mirror
Author: Avram Davidson

Turns out Vergil wasn't a poet; he was a powerful and respected sorcerer. He gets blackmailed into making a "virgin speculum" when a conniving power-hungry woman seduces him and literally steals his mojo. I'm not effing kidding. His "essence of manhood" is somehow snatched away from him, and he has to make a magic mirror to get it back.

Which brings us to the ridiculously funny alchemy theories. Each time you look in a mirror, you sully it a bit with your glance, and they will eventually cloud from overuse. If you look in a virgin mirror, it will show you the location of your heart's truest desire, but it has to be really virgin. This is when they still made mirrors of bronze, so they have to track down virgin copper ore, virgin tin ore, (do you know how hard it is to find a virgin ore? I'm not even sure they, though they might claim otherwise) and the purest water possible for quenching (Vergil's buddy gets this by starving a white goat in a box for days, then feeding it moss from a specific hillside and collecting its urine). Reading about their processes is very entertaining, especially because most of the metallurgy and actual manufacturing processes involved are real, and accurately portrayed. Then they haggle over which astrological signs to emboss in the border for greatest accuracy, and I started giggling again.

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posted by reyn at 5:19 PM


Pulp mills of Mars

Title: Born Under Mars
Author: John Brunner

It's been well over a month since I've read this, and kind of a lot has happened since then, so I'm going to glaze over most of it.

Imagine a noir-ish pulp detective novel on Mars, centered around a conspiracy to create and control a baby that could alter the course of human evolution.

It's surprisingly well done (considering the outlandish premise), if you're able to think of it more as noir detective than sci-fi, and you're willing to ignore Brunner getting relativity backwards. Ray is a flight engineer, born on Mars (and due to a mere four or five generations of human life on Mars, has "evolved" to be very tall, lightweight, and physically weak, especially on higher-gravity worlds), and starts the book being tortured by operatives of one of the two primary factions of humankind. He is later revived by members of the opposite faction, and spends the rest of the book trying to figure out what everyone thinks he knows, and why his Yoda-like mentor erased twelve hours of his memory. Weird stuff, but perfect for a flight or a brain-dead evening.

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posted by reyn at 5:08 PM