My ISDC Participation

Back in 2018, I sent a story entitled Acid Test to the Jim Baen Memorial Award contest. It was awarded second place (it was later published under a different title, and you can read it here), and with that, I was invited to the awards ceremony held during the International Space Development Conference in June 2019 in Washington DC. This is also how I ended up with my latest few copies of Ad Astra.

I had no idea what to expect as a conference VIP, so I kind of drifted around with the three other science fiction writers at the event, chatting, talking to other people, and even sitting in on some of the sessions (there were usually several conference rooms occupied at once, and they were all packed). The session I sat in on was one where they were talking about the differences between the philosophies of government space programs and the private sector, effectively (if not sexily) illustrated by an example using a valve purchase process. (Essentially, the private sector can do things cheaper because they allow themselves to iterate faster and give their suppliers less restrictive contracts, as well as being more open to innovation).

One of the most surreal moments of my participation came during the prize-giving lunch session. The keynote speaker (whose name I won’t mention), essentially said that one could achieve immortality by creating something she called a mind clone, basically letting your electronics gather all they can about your preferences, actions, habits and activities and making that data available for upload. That way, she argued, you would live on in an AI indistinguishable from your own self.

Now, I have given this a certain amount of thought, and I utterly disagree with this particular position. My own take is that immortality MUST imply a continuation of consciousness, so this doesn’t count. But more important than my own opinion is the realization that being a futurist must be full of this kind of skepticism. To have any shot of being a true visionary, it’s not enough to extrapolate current trends. Anyone can do that. You need to imagine the things that are going to come out of left field and catch everyone by surprise.

Her prediction most certainly does… even if it’s wrong.

Gustavo Bondoni is a science fiction writer. His novel Outside looks at the lines between artificial and natural consciousness, and at what happens when they blur too much for comfort. You can check it out here.

The Year of Rush

It’s not often that anything I write about outside the 1001 movies list has wide appeal, much less is something related to a blockbuster movie. But now that I’ve gotten to the 1976 Road & Tracks, I can finally link it to a big film.

You see, 1976 was the year of Rush.

So, it’s fitting that the May 1976 edition has a cover photo showing a Ferrari Formula One car, if not the one that Lauda drove in ’76, at least one that he’d driven earlier. Of course, the race coverage in this one and the June 1976 edition had no idea of the drama that was about to unfold during the season, and Rob Walker limited himself to noting how well the Ferrari steamroller, world champions in ’75 were performing in the new season.

Aligned with the Rush theme of hedonism, the joy of living and the acceptance as risk as a part of life, the June issue was full of convertibles, which is R&T’s way of thumbing its nose at the social engineers of the day, as convertibles were disappearing because many considered them unsafe. Fortunately, the misguided jackasses trying to save us from ourselves didn’t win that battle – you can still buy a convertible in a showroom today.

And the more I spend time in the 70s with these mags, the more I realize that people in that decade were much more concerned with having fun than we are. Now before you tell me that the economy today and yadda yadda yadda, remember that the 1970s were a time of rampant inflation and economic woe (and stupid legislation like the 55 mph speed limit). And yet people were out to enjoy life.

You can see it in the race reports, in the way cars were styled and in the irreverent tone of some of the articles, but mostly, you can see it in the ads. This was a time before people were supposed to hide their preferences, before the mass oppression of society got into everyone’s life. So yeah, cigarette ads on every other page showing people outdoors or living risky lifestyles (race drivers, hang gliding). Bikini-clad models selling carpets, ads for catamarans, weird Dodge Van customizing kits for sale from Dodge itself. Everyone wore bushy mustaches.

Even if the mustaches aren’t your thing, you end up with an image of the seventies being a hedonistic age, and like all hedonistic ages, a good one. It’s hard for me to say this, as I’ve always thought it was a decade that should have been erased from history (and disco, hedonistic or not, definitely should be deleted from the record forever), but I’ve come to understand that the people from back then could teach our dour, moralistic society a thing or two about relaxing and just having a good time.

That sociological trip through the decade might be the best part of reading these old magazines… even though I also love the car stuff.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel is entitled Test Site Horror. It follows a Russian Special Forces soldier trying to keep an alluring journalist alive after she bites off a story much too big to chew. Fast-paced and exciting, you can check it out here.

The Prefect and Reynolds’ Depth of Character

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Alastair Reynolds is one of my favorite writers working in science fiction today. A little of this has to do with the fact that he writes deep-space tech/idea/adventure-based books that have zero message about utterly trite current politics (see here for more on that). I can read a thick Reynolds book–despite the fact that these are dense, idea and tech-heavy works–in a few days, while most other SF books (and seemingly everything on the last few Hugo ballots) leave me scratching my head and asking myself what kind of reader would enjoy this.

To me, the genre in recent years seems more about showing off political credentials and virtue signaling than any attempt to engage the reader or entertain (which seems weird for a genre like science fiction). Of course, I assume that there are people out there with very different taste from mine, and I further assume that they have to be selling this stuff to someone, or they’ll soon go out of business.

Fortunately Reynolds hasn’t fallen victim to the trend, which is probably why he sells so many books.

The Prefect is a typical Reynolds offering, which is a good thing. This one follows the adventures of two members of the Glitter Band’s police and compliance arm, called Prefects. One is an experienced member of the corps, while the other is a rookie attempting to live down her father’s disgrace.

By focusing so closely on two specific characters in such a large book, Reynolds moves away from the more sprawling style of Revelation Space. Those who criticized his early work as not sufficiently character-based will like this direction while those who enjoyed the mighty Revelation Space books won’t be too annoyed, as it still works.

As always with Reynolds there is a dark edge underlying the marvels he describes, and while most of society is living the dream, we never really get to see it because his characters run head first into that darkness. In that sense it has seriously developed noir sensibilities. Only a tiny fraction of LA in the 1940s was committing murders and blackmail… but that’s the only side you see in noir. Likewise, Reynolds’ universe is one of endless wonders… but you only get to look at the seedy underbelly and the gritty working-class tech people that make it function.

It definitely works. Reynolds’ fiction is worth reading every single time… even if you need to read something light (Wodehouse is ideal) afterwards.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer who often works with space opera. The well-received Siege is an example on a massive scale, with a galactic war between the tribes of humanity as the backdrop. He follows a doomed group of baseline humans as they prepare for their last stand. You can check it out here.

Scale Auto Again

A year ago, I looked at the scale model hobby in general, via (as usual) a look at a publication in the field. Seeing how many car magazines I read, you should probably not be surprised that the main magazine for my own modeling is Scale Auto Modeler (even though I do sometimes build planes, just because I like planes).

The June 2019 issue of the magazine is a special one because it’s an anniversary edition in which the editors look at models with a 1979 (year of the first issue) theme. This, of course, is fun, and it’s something one can do with the basic kits (as seen on the jeep on the cover) that depict cars that existed in that year, or go a little more advanced and modify a kit of a different car year to make it appear like a car from 1979 (as the Corvette conversion in there).

My favorite part of scale modeler is actually a column that appears every month entitled “bench Racer” in which a specific race car is built from components meant to either build a different version of a similar car, or a slot car body or something completely different. In this particular issue, we get part 1 of a conversion of a ford into an SS1100 jaguar racer… which is interesting indeed.

The other part I love is the contest section where photos of kits presented at different contests are showcased. Again, this is specific to me, as I don’t necessarily build kits to obsess over details and expand my knowledge of swear words in every language (although building them allows one to do both) but to look at them once done. The contest page allows me to look at pretty kits that other people have gone nuts over.

So reading one of these is a lovely break from more weighty literature… even if it does cause one to suddenly need to find one’s kit in progress and try to advance, thereby learning new Anglo Saxon words when balked…

Still enjoyed it, though.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose collection Pale Reflection might be the ideal introduction to his writing. It’s both idea- and character-driven and explores the similarities between people that can only be seen when they get into weird situations. You can check it out here.

Madame de… is one of the Weirder Films on the list

The 1001 movies list contains films of all kinds. Romances and westerns, comedies and horror. It’s even got some core science fiction on it.

Madame de… (translated into English as The Earrings of Madame de...) defies easy classification. If you go by the plot, it’s obviously a melodrama, especially considering the ending.

But that would be an oversimplification. The story is told in a way that would work much better for a romance even bordering on a romantic comedy, with an absurd coincidence involving a pair of earrings driving the twists and turns of the plot.

We see a love triangle in which a man of action is forced, by the indiscretions of his wife to first enter denial and then acceptance of the realities of their marriage. He responds in truly the only way open to him… with melodramatic results.

So the light frivolity of a period romance and the serious underlying reality occur in parallel with the result that the film never achieves the weighty, ponderous tension of true melodrama. The audience is carried lightly from scene to scene, more interested in the weird perambulations of the earrings than in the disintegrating relationship underlying everything.

Until it explodes in an obvious but still unexpected denoument.

Bringing an audience to the end the director did without making it obvious (despite there being very few other possibilities) is an act of genius, and Max Ophüls is to be commended.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose literary fiction is collected in Love and Death, a novel told in short story form which follows the intertwined lives of a dozen people who experience both love and death and show once again that these are the only two things worth writing about. You can check it out here.

Little and Large R&Ts

The January and April 1976 issues of Road & Track are a study in contrasts, with March being a slimline one of just 111 pages and April being a big block of a magazine of 152. It may not seem like much of a difference, but you can definitely feel the heft of one and the insubstantiality of the other.

The differences don’t end in size, though. There’s also the question of what that extra bulk is used for in the April edition… notably a massive tire test in the tradition of the October 1974 shock absorber test we ignored when we reviewed that issue. That made up quite a few of the extra pages, with some more coming from the April Fool’s test, a Road & Track tradition in which they test some utterly inappropriate vehicle in a tongue-in-cheek way. They’ve done the Queen Mary, the Concorde, etc., but this time it was more prosaic. They simply did a slightly satirical Road Test of a Lincoln limo. Of course, it could only have been written by R&Ts resident wit, Henry N. Manney III.

Other notable features of these two are the fact that the Salon article (the Salon is a traditional feature of this magazine which showcases a classic car) was the first I’ve seen which had the format I fell in love with in the 1980s and 1990s – a full-color article highlighted by a double-page photo. Running into that made me very happy.

The other major thing going on was the runup to the first Long Beach Formula One Grand Prix. First, they ran an F5000 race (article by that man Manney, again) which, being a rousing success, paved the way for the full grand prix cars to come later. It’s a major item as they became one of the few countries to hold two Grands Prix in the same year.

Of course, there are more similarities than differences – both are 1970s R&Ts after all, but it was interesting to note the differences. I’ll keep everyone posted as to how things go in the rest of the 1970s. I know you’re all sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for this…

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and shorts story writer whose latest book is a creature feature entitled Test Site Horror which, as the title gently hints, is about bad things happening where people played with the wrong kind of experiments. Some of the bad things happen to bad people, some to good people, and most involve large monsters. It that sounds like something you’d enjoy, you can check it out here.

Caliban’s War – Another Excellent Corey

A little over a year ago, I reviewed Leviathan Wakes, the first book in James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series. Basically, I found it awesome and wasn’t surprised that it has been chosen to turn into a series. It’s fast-paced, space based and therefore visual, and full of cool ideas. It’s science fiction at its best.

So I was looking forward to reading the second book, and I’m happy to report that it picks up where the first left off. It’s not quite as awesome as the first book, but very, very close. It keeps things moving on a solar-system-wide scale, with humanity’s very existence in the balance.

I think what I love most is how refreshingly unapologetic it is. It’s mid-future space SF which doesn’t stop to plead forgiveness for its focus on taking humanity to the planets and, instead of trying to expound some boring sociological theory simply gives us good stories. Hell, I can’t even guess whether the authors were Trump or Biden voters (which I think is my new benchmark: if I can tell your politics from your text, your book sucks).

So, yeah. Spaceship battles. Seriously badass aliens. Evil corporations. Incompetent governments. And mavericks everywhere trying to make it turn out all right. Science fiction perfection of the kind which, sadly, has been ignored in the awards lately. If you like fun, entertaining SF, you won’t be happy with the Hugo winners, so I’d like to point you in this direction.

Brilliant stuff, and a series I plan to keep reading.

Gustavo Bondoni’s own take on core science fiction is entitled Siege. It’s set much farther in the future than The Expanse, but its bad guys are just as creepy… even if its aliens didn’t survive the war that created the bad guys. You can check it out here.

The Inferior Re-released

Those of you who read my review of Peadar Ó Guilín’s recent book, The Call, will understand my delight when I learned that his original seies, the Bone World Trilogy has been re-released.

I actually reviewed the first book in the series, The Inferior way back when, and I think it deserves a second airing (trust me, you want to read these).

Here’s that review:

The Inferior is marketed as a young-adult Science Fiction / Fantasy, which is probably good for sales, but I found both the content and the writing decidedly adult in feel. Stopmouth is a hunter in what initially seems like a second-world fantasy setting. The only food available to humans is the flesh of “beasts”, equally intelligent species that look different to humans in every way. There is no agriculture, there is no fishing (water beasts are just as formidable as those on land), and humanity is also food for a number of beast species. The book’s initial chapters paint a grim picture of life in this world, of hunting and being hunted, of trading the weak members of the tribe for the flesh of other, allied species.

Eventually, despite the fact that the world is a hostile place for a small group, Stopmouth and two companions must take a journey across the land, eating everything they encounter… or suffering the alternative. I won’t say more, because spoilers are not good things.

As you can imagine, the book is a dark, often gruesome tale that sucks you in and takes you for a ride without pulling a single punch. This is probably its most endearing trait: it is written for readers intelligent enough to understand that this is a hard world in which soft and fuzzy have no place. The initial sensation that it is dark fantasy fades as more of the world is revealed, and it becomes obvious that we are dealing with core science fiction, and far-future SF that. The world becomes a more and more complex place as it is gradually revealed and the reader understands what is actually happening (and what has happened to bring them there) – while the main character, of course, is mostly in the dark.

My only criticism was that the open ending made it feel like this was the first book in a series, although that wasn’t specified anywhere on the dust jacket. I know this is a trend in the publishing world, but I find it a disturbing one. I love series, but I like to know when a book is part of one!

Having said that, The Inferior is a fascinating journey, and a book that I can recommend with no qualms whatsoever. You WILL enjoy it. That was my take as a reader. As a writer, I looked at it a bit more clinically, and have concluded that Peadar, apart from being a great writer from a technical point of view (I hate you, Peadar) is also extremely savvy about what needs to be done to sell a novel. This one checks all the boxes: it starts in the middle of an action scene, is marketed in a hot subgenre (the same subgenre as, for example, Harry Potter…), and, as the novel goes on, the soup in which the characters are plunged gets thicker and thicker… A clinic on how to write a novel that agents and publishers will snap up, and yet another reason to read the book.

The fact that Ó Guilín ticks the boxes and still manages a great novel is simply a bonus.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer whose own far-future science fiction novel, Siege, was well-received in its day. Unlike The Inferior, this one deals with all out interstellar war to the death. You can check it out here.

Astaire Returns, Not Quite as Fresh, in The Band Wagon

Although we watched them before this blog existed (which means I can’t link to the reviews), trust me when I say that the 1930’s dance films starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers felt new, edgy and just plain fun in their context. They really were that good.

However, by 1953, there was a new king of the dance: Gene Kelly. His films are a bit different, more manic and catering to a post-war sensibility.

To its credit, The Band Wagon attempts to mimic the new aesthetic, and it does so quite well. It could very easily be a Gene Kelly feature, and it’s no wonder it did well. Even better, the plot centers around the return of an aging actor from retirement, a wink to the fact that Astaire was not the flavor of the month.

Of course, the film, though good, can never feel revolutionary or groundbreaking. What it does well has already been done, and I assume that it’s only the fact that Astaire was in it that lands it on the 1001 movies list. It’s a good film, but perhaps only marginally great. Still worth watching, though.

One of the funniest things about the movie came as I was researching the cast to write this post. It seems that half of the people who would go on to act in the 1960’s Batman series are in here. We have Batman’s Aunt, Mr Freeze’s squeeze and, best of all the great Julie Newmar, who is still with us and who will always be the greatest Catwoman ever.

Holy batwagon, Bandman… I mean…

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose fiction spans every genre from literary to creature feature. His eclectic nature comes out very strongly in his most recent collection, Off the Beaten Path, in which science fiction and fantasy moves away from the well-trodden paths in the developed world. You can check it out here.

This is where I came in

December 1975. A good month, if only because I was born in it (well, a good month for me, anyhow). Of course, the December 1975 issue of R&T was probably not published in December, landing on newsstands sometime in November, and it certainly didn’t report stuff happening in December. But it’s still, to a certain degree, “my” issue.

Starts off with a good cover for me. No econoboxes on my month, but no overly ostentatious exotica, either. Just a weird, one-of-a-kind concept car that was too strange to build more of. Sounds about right to represent me, so I’ll leave off the analysis and dive into the mag.

As an old-car enthusiast, I found the article on the 25th Anniversary of the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance to be a wonderful piece, especially since it speaks to the origins of the concours which is still going on 45 years later. Delightful.

The rest of the issue also worked for me, as Road & Track went the interesting cars route for this issue, eschewing the more mundane stuff your neighbor was driving in ’75. So Alfas and Maseratis and Porsches (lots of Porsches) instead of Fords and Cadillacs.

A side note when talking about the competition pieces is that this is the issue where R&T reported the death of Mark Donohue. If this hadn’t been the December issue, this post would have dealt entirely with Donohue, who was truly a one-of-a-kind driver. He raced, retired and was miserable out of the cockpit, so he returned and was killed in an F1 practice. Knowing just how bad his life was without racing, maybe it was for the best… but the sport lost a beloved ambassador and a man equally at home developing race cars as driving them. The hole he left is still felt today.

Other than that, the racing coverage was amazing, which ended up making me think that the good folks at R&T built it especially for me.

They didn’t, of course, but who’s going to take away a newborn baby’s fantasy?

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a fast-paced action adventure romp with genetically modified monsters. Fun from page one. You can check it out here.