The Ageless Chinese: A History by Dun J. Li is a good
one-volume history of China, covering a period from prehistory to 1970
(in the second edition, which I read; a third edition has been
published since). It divides into three parts: an Introduction (30
pp), on the geography of China, with comments on how its properties
have affected Chinese history as well as speculation about how it will
affect China's ability to industrialize; a long section (340 pp) about
traditional China, from prehistory through the fall of the last
imperial dynasty, Ch'ing (Manchu); and a third section of middling
length (180 pp), which treats in more detail about contact with the
West during the latter dynasties, and the periods of Chinese history
most affected by Western influence, the Republic and the People's
Republic. There's also an extensive bibliography of sources in
English for Chinese history, and a chronological chart of interesting
events in each period, besides a 21-page index, and 33 maps. As far
as I can tell, it's fairly well balanced and thorough for a history of
The style is very readable; though it's longer than Japan: From Prehistory to Modern
Times, I was able to read it in about the same time under
similar conditions. It's mostly just competent, but there are flashes
of wit from time to time: for instance, in talking about the
bureaucracy of the Sung dynasty: "In all history there had never been
so many paid so much for doing so little."
"Dry Bones" by William Sanders is a fine novelette about
a boy who, much against his parents' wishes, gets involved with the
archaeologists called in to dig out an ancient human skeleton that was
discovered in a cave by his junior high school science teacher. He
finds out more than he expected, and about different subjects.
"The Madwoman of Shuttlefield" by Allen Steele is
another story in his "Coyote" series about the colonization
of an Earthlike planet by political refugees. (The first several
stories of the series which were published in one volume, as a novel,
by Ace last year.) I
enjoyed it, but won't say anything of the plot so as not to spoil the
surprises in the last couple of stories. It would probably stand
tolerably well on its own, but the reader who knows what some of the
characters have been through together will enjoy it better.
[Update: This story and others in the second Coyote series
were reprinted in Coyote Rising by Ace in December 2004.]
"Graylord Man's Last Words" by Gene Wolfe is a story told by an old robot, about his
childhood, and the mysterious aged Biological who lived in the house
where he got his first job as a servant. It contains a surprising
number of twists and hidden treasures for a story of only four pages;
or maybe not so surprising, considering it's by Gene Wolfe.
I'm not quite sure I understood "The Apocalypse According to
Olaf" by Barth Anderson, though I mostly enjoyed it. The
narrator is pretty confused, too. He suffers from gaps of memory,
following which he generally finds himself in a different city. There
are some guys who want to use his magical talents - which he
apparently uses during those periods he can't remember - for their own
purposes, and he's trying to figure out which, if any, have his best
interests at heart. The ending is fairly satisfying.
"Margaux" by Walter Jon Williams is an
affecting novella about Gredel, a gangster's girlfriend, who meets
Caro, Lady Sula, a slumming noblewoman who looks almost exactly like
her. They become friends, but Caro is on a self-destructive course,
and Gredel knows her boyfriend is not in a career conducive to long
life either. The development of the characters and their relations is
well done, and the conclusion is powerfully unsettling.
[Update: A pretty good sequel, "Solidarity", appeared in
the April/May 2005 Asimov's.]
"Count to One" by Chris Willrich is a romance between a
weather-modeling AI and a human woman. Various groups have their own
politically-motivated opinions about what is happening with Earth's
weather and what should be done about it, and are trying to pressure
the AI, Kwatee, into supporting them, or destroy him if he shows signs
of independent judgment. He has his own ideas about what in Earth's
biosphere is worth preserving; which his romance with Carina might, or
might not, modify. Somehow this situtation isn't quite convincing,
though there are parts of it (the dilemma presented between two
possible fixes to Earth's weather problems, each with a possibly
horrible outcome, for instance) that are at least thought-provoking.
In "Basement Magic" by Ellen Klages, we
meet a little girl, Mary Louise Whittaker, whose father has little
time for her and who doesn't get along at all well with her vain
stepmother. Ruby, the latest in a series of colored servant women,
knows some useful skills besides laundry and cooking, and, when she
sees how Mary Louise is being treated by her stepmother, she teaches
the girl some defensive magic. Defense isn't enough, though... The
characters are convincing and the progression of events builds and
relieves suspense well. The brief mentions of her father's business -
he works for one of the aerospace contractors supporting the launch
for Alan Shepard's first flight - somehow gives the story more
thematic depth, though it doesn't connect directly with the plot in
any obvious way.
[Update: This excellent story was reprinted in Year's
Best Fantasy 4 edited by David Hartwell and Kathryn
"The Refuge Elsewhere" by Robert Sheckley tells us of a
man in hiding under the Witness Protection Program from the hired
assassins sent by his former boss, whom his testimony put in prison.
Somehow the assassins keep finding him in spite of new homes and
identities, and he barely escapes with his life, seeing his house
explode behind him. It would spoil things
to say any more in detail of the plot; but as the title suggests, he
finds another place where he is out of reach of the crime
organization. But his own arrival there changes the place...
"The Incredible Steam Man" by Ron Goulart is another fun
Victorian scientific detective story about Harry Challenge. Here,
he's searching for a stolen steam-powered automaton in London.
"Luz" by Arthur
Porges gives us the last journal entry of the late Sue Fone, M.D.,
in which she describes her quest through the human body for the bone
Luz, which she pursued during her career as a medical examiner, and
how she discovered that bone and something about its curious properties.
"Incursions" by Kit Reed is a haunting story about a man
who, suddenly disgusted with his life and his mission to look for a
new job in New York, gets out of the train at a random station
somewhere in (he supposes) Connecticut, and starts walking...
Ms. Reed uses material from Zork effectively for both
characterization and setting.
"The Curse of the Von Krumpelsteins and Other Horrors:
Contents of Volume I" by John Morressy is an old-style
analytic table of contents for the first volume of a fantasy trilogy.
It's amusing throughout, and incredibly funny in spots, as Morressy
plays with various clichés of modern high fantasy, fixed
phrases from glamour magazines and advertisements. I'm not
sure what the combination means, but it's funny.
In "The Retriever" by Harvey Jacobs, Aurora Platz seeks
the help of Joe Luna, a detective of sorts, in finding a piece of lost
jewelry, not very expensive but important in her plans for her high
school reunion. He finds it for her; and keeps finding other lost
things from her past, and giving them to her, for motives that may not
"555" by Robert Reed is the story of a minor AI
character actor in a popular drama, and her fateful meeting with one
of the show's writers. Joan is more convincing than most AI
characters (for instance, Kwatee in "Count to One").
"Protect Yourself at All Times" by Bruce Jay Friedman is
a curious story told through the memories of an old man watching an
intense boxing match on television between two little-known boxers.
His life and its connection with various boxing matches runs through
his mind as he watches the bout. Very affecting.
Also book and film reviews, and a good essay by Gregory Benford on
"Last Things"; scientific speculations about how the
universe may end or anyway stabilize, and how various sf writers have
treated eschatological themes.
I may post again next weekend, or it may be the weekend after that.