Locus Magazine’s Faren Miller reviews ASSAULT ON SUNRISE

by on Aug.06, 2013

Faren MIller reviews ASSAULT ON SUNRISE in Locus Magazine

Faren MIller reviews ASSAULT ON SUNRISE in Locus Magazine

Locus Looks at Books: Faren Miller

Assault on Sunrise, Michael Shea (Tor 978- 0 -7653-2436-8, $25.99, 288pp, hc) August 2013

Though I haven’t been able to keep up with everything Michael Shea has written in various subgenres of SF and fantasy since I started reviewing his work more than 30 years ago, he never disappoints. Even when I arrive in midtrilogy (Assault on Sunrise is book two), it’s not hard to catch up with the quirky cast of players and techs associated with the future Hollywood introduced in The Extra.

As cities like Los Angeles become more like enormous slums and a few industry moguls run amok without fear of governmental restraint, some people escape to their own odd little communities: towns like Sunrise, up in the Trinity Mountains where the air is still clear and the corporate fist hasn’t quashed all freedom. But that’s about to change.

Mainly in order to strike back at the little group of upstarts who disrupted filmmaking in The Extra, Panoply Studios’ vengeful CEO trumps up a murder charge that condemns Sunrise and all of its inhabitants to the latest, most sweeping and ruthless form of judicial sentence: a ‘‘live-action’’ filming of an attack (also known as Assault on Sunrise), that follows an exhaustively planned script where invading monsters aren’t just special effects. Instead of digital manipulations, Panoply’s Hollywood conjurers deal in something more like mad science, an unholy combination of genetics and robotics.

The refugees have enough experience, and links to insiders still in the business, to get some notion of what they’ll face, yet they can only scramble to set up makeshift countermeasures as the attack escalates and grows ever more complex. Soon they’re busy stealing ‘‘rafts’’ (the flying ships suitable for either camera shots or bombings), lab testing a sample of the bizarre gel that develops into seemingly immortal, selfregenerating giant bugs, or pursuing an urgent quest for design flaws in the finished products.

Shea doesn’t simply give us harried action figures in a sketchy landscape. By Chapter XII, ‘‘The Monster’s Flesh’’, we know these people well enough to feel the host of individual presences and high emotions that jostle against each other in a passage like this one:

At the back corner of Ike’s Engine Repair’s
big-vaulted garage was a small, crowded
machine shop. Devlin bade everyone in.
Mazy, Lance, and Radner were already
there. Shutting the door, she sealed them
all in the cold oily smell of machinery. It
was somehow the right scent, a smell of
mustered weapons, of danger and urgent

One character – whose wife is four months pregnant in the book’s opening scene – takes a more direct hold of later chapters, speaking in the first person. Like a film’s occasional uses of close-up and specific focus among larger vistas, Curtis takes us with him into the heart of his own adventures, though he never looms as an epic hero would – not even after managing, with a ‘‘lucky shot,’’ to blow the head off an insectile invader.

Amid such mayhem, not everybody can survive, and each loss cuts deep. But enough do make it through, or get born into chaos, to leave me eager for the battles of book three, Fortress Hollywood.

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Whistle and I’ll Come For You My Lad – by M.R. James

by on Jun.18, 2013

The great Montague Rhodes James has bequeathed a real treat in this piece. How often are we shown a ghost on a windy beach under the wide open sky? Where would the thrill of the unheimlich be, that qualm of the uncanny, with the bright heavens all unfurled above our spector? All I can say is M.R. JAMES had MY spine nailed. Between the wide, wild sea and windy sky it came seeking, darting left and right as it advanced like a hound tracking spoor, and the great James had done the deed: I’d seen a ghost, a blind appetitive thing with a vile, unearthly energy had just crawled through my mind! Thank you MRJ. You rock.

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Marc Laidlaw’s LENG/ Lovecraft Unbound

by on Jun.14, 2013

Marc Laidlaw is ace enough to know what near neighbors horror and humor are.
The grotesque is the soul of both. In Leng we see the two strains impeccably entwined. Our narrator, newly alighted in Leng: “Never have I visited a culture where mushrooms were of such great ethnic and economic importance.” (!) “… For myself, a mere mushroom enthusiast ” (as opposed to a real mycologist!) “it was an intoxicating stroll.”
To quote Leng at length is hard to resist, but would mar the delight awaiting the unwarned reader. The narrator is penetrating the high fastnesses of Leng in search of Schurr and Perry, two renowned mycologists who have gone before him.
Our seekers at length encounter Heinrich Perry at a temple situated just below the great plateau of Leng. Evasively he indicates that his wife Danielle Schurr is not immediately on hand because, “she has been recognized as a superior practitioner of the mushroom cult.”
These initial disclosures discohere into a yet more alien landsape, a narrative tour de force of transmutation of our characters and their setting alike. In this narrative as in all good horror, the floor caves in beneath us, again, and again, and at last.

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Voice From The Ooze

by on Jun.14, 2013

Me and the computer. Think the beginning of 2001. The chimp with the femur. In that movie, the femur, with one toss twirled like a baton to become a space station. For me, I’m still figuring out one end of that bone from the other. But I am now realizing how rewarding a dialogue can be had through this “new” (to me) medium. So, I’m going to start posting reviews of literature, contemporary and/or permanently relevant. The first one will be of Marc Laidlaw’s LENG, originally appearing in Ellen Datlow’s anthology LOVECRAFT UNBOUND. I also have a piece in the this collection, THE RECRUITER.

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Tribute to Jack Vance

by on Jun.04, 2013

Jack Vance died in his 96th year on the 26th of May, 2013, in the city of Oakland, California. He was a native San Franciscan, born in 1916. The reason the world cares about Vance can be tersely stated: The Dying Earth, 1950; Eyes of the Overworld, 1966; Cugel’s Saga, 1983; Rhialto the Marvellous, 1984; Big Planet, 1952; Showboat World, 1975–and these are but a fraction of his titles, and the genres he had mastered.
I first encountered him in a flop house in Juneau, Alaska, whence I had hitched from L.A. in the summer of 1967. Trashy paperbacks abounded in the lobby, but I was lucky enough to grab a golden nugget from that heap, THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD.
I was essentially a poet til I read this book. A strictly metric poet who scorned “free verse” which I couldn’t see as verse at all.
The graceful opulence of Vance’s language was a revelation. Here was untethered imagination. More. Here was prose as rich in rhythm and inflection as verse. I was agog. I was delighted. Two years later, back in L.A.–upon finishing my hommage to Vance–a sequel to Overworld called A Quest for Simbilis–I was able to get his address from Don Wollheim at DAW. I wrote Vance a letter asking if it was OK to publish my hommage and promised him a percentage of the take. His reply was sober and straight-faced, “I’m a trifle flummoxed by your proposal, but I don’t see why not.” He tactfully added that no skim off from my profits was necessary. I made sure the book began with an acknowledgement of my debt to him.
Since Vance, there has appeared no equal in his mastery of the comic, fantastic picaresque. Who has excelled him in devising such a variety of rogues, rascals and sly rapscallions? Who has matched his inventiveness of situation or his exquisite ironies? The intricate elegance of his prose stands to this day unequalled in “the genres”.
Thank you Jack!

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