Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Science Fiction for Kids: The Adventures of Thelonious

"In ancient times human beings ruled the Earth -- at least that's what the old legends claim. But is it true?" - Thelonious Chipmunk, from The Travels of Thelonious

It’s a familiar theme for science-fiction fans: all civilization and the entire human race is destroyed by conflict or disaster. Then intelligent animals arise to dominate the world. But soon those new masters of the Earth begin making the same mistakes as their human predecessors. Of course, The Planet of the Apes is probably the most famous example of such stories, the novel and both the original 1968 film starring Charlton Heston (co-authored by Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling) and the crazy-fast-action Tim Burton remake of a few years back. Comic book fans may also recall Jack Kirby’s long-running DC series Kamandi – The Last Boy On Earth, where "Beasts Act Like Men! Men Act Like Beasts!"

Strangely enough, the post-human era is presented once again, this time in a wonderful trilogy of children’s books by Jon Buller and Susan Schade: The Fog Mound adventures. It’s first-class science fiction for children, though I should mention that there are some scenes of cruelty and violence between the animal characters, and, in the third volume, Thelonius and his friends have a frightening encounter with Upsilon the Wolfman, and must listen to the “crunching of small bones” as the scary beast and his companions dine. However, throughout the stories the animal characters display real compassion and loving care towards each other, and they often reminded me of the rabbits in Watership Down, another favorite "furry" book.

But be warned: As I found out, these books are so good that if you read them to children at bedtime, as I did for my son, Ronnie, they will not want to go to sleep. They will beg you to keep reading and reading these fascinating adventures.

In the first volume we meet the story's hero, Thelonious Chipmunk.

Thelonious Chipmunk is a Talker -- an animal who has inherited the gift of language from his ancestors -- and he, for one, believes in humans. Who else could have made the old paper postcard he treasures? Who else could have built the tall building shown on the postcard? His desire to know more about the humans is fulfilled in a surprising and dangerous way when Thelonious is swept down the river into a strange new world -- a world of architectural ruins and puzzling artifacts, where gangs and warlords prowl amongst the crumbling remains of civilization. With three new companions -- a bear, a porcupine, and a small brown lizard -- Thelonious embarks on a search for the far-off Fog Mound. It is a journey that becomes nothing less than a quest to uncover the secrets of Earth's past.

After living on the Fog Mound for quite some time, Thelonious Chipmunk and his friends are ready to continue their travels. There are some old questions to be answered and new places to be explored. So, with the addition of new friends Bill the Human and Cluid Chipmunk, the animals sail off down the river in a specially designed boat. As in The Travels of Thelonious, the intrepid chipmunk pursues his personal quest to uncover the differences between legend and history. And to answer the most troubling question of all — what happened to the humans?

Thelonious Chipmunk and his friends face a whole new series of adventures after they reach the mysterious Mattakeunk Institute and discover . . . a time machine! Will the time machine lead them to the answers they seek? Perhaps some of the answers will come when the animals' traveling companion, Bill the Human, regains his ability to speak. However there is one pressing need above all others -- the need to save their beloved Fog Mound from the Dragon Lady herself, and her evil ratmink assistants.

-quoted from Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

D’os Vadanya,


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Sunday, November 09, 2008

WindyCon, Building a Military SF Library, and Freehold

Next weekend I will be attending the WindyCon 35 science-fiction convention in Chicago. The event’s theme is military science fiction, and Baen Books’ John Ringo is the guest of honor, along with author Eric Flint, Star Trek’s and Babylon 5’s Walter Koenig, and artist David Mattingly.

I’m a Cold War veteran, and I spent most of my hitch in the Strategic Air Command’s 22nd Heavy Bomber Wing. And like most veterans, I learned pretty quickly that the old adage that advises “Don’t volunteer for anything!” is essential unless you want to subject yourself to dreadful humiliation or great risk. So, when I logged on the WindyCon site to make some suggestions for panel discussion topics, I had no idea that I was, in fact, volunteering to be a panel member. But that’s what happened, and I’ll be participating in the panel about Building a Military SF Library - What are the great books of military SF? What does any aspiring military SF writer need to have in a reference collection? Panelists tell you.

The session is scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m., Nov. 15, in Ballroom C (C6, to be exact). While it’s a totally unexpected privilege for me, and my first time to be on a convention panel, I’m very honored and happy that Roland J. Green, the author of some of my all-time favorite military science-fiction series (Starcruiser Shenandoah, The Peacekeepers) will also be a panel participant.

On Friday evening I don’t want to miss the panel discussion titled Liberal Military SF: Does It Exist? - Can a writer be a liberal and a military SF writer? Is there something in military SF that requires a conservative outlook? Not counting the revolutionaries, are there any good portrayals of liberals in the genre?

Somehow I’m not surprised that Michael “Mad Mike” Z. Williamson will be a panelist on that one. Mad Mike almost got me in trouble in 2005 while I was living in Armenia. I was enjoying myself in an Internet café in the capitol city of Yerevan and, thanks to the Baen Free Library, I came across Williamson’s first novel, Freehold. To be generous I will just say that I didn’t like it much. The libertarian paradise it portrayed was as unbelievable to me as any Soviet propaganda about a future world of “pure communism”. But that’s not what almost got me into an unpleasant situation. The adult content in Freehold did. In fact, I think Williamson went way, way beyond erotica and crossed the line into pornography with his detailed descriptions of lesbian and group sex acts by the novel’s characters.

And, in Armenia, possessing, reading, and downloading pornography can get you into big, big trouble. Trouble like the interior of an old Soviet prison cell. And, quite frankly, I didn’t expect content like that when I started reading the story. Baen’s other online stories contain nothing like what I saw in Williamson’s book.

Lucky for me, the Internet café proprietors and their up-stream service providers didn’t detect the lewd text and, yes, they do monitor and sometimes block adult content in Armenia and in many of the other post-Soviet Republics. No militsia thugs wearing big CCCP service caps appeared to beat me up, extort money, or haul me to KGB headquarters. But it did put me off of reading any more of Williamson’s books. I’ve seen his comments that say “It was my first novel. I’ve learned a lot since then,” but, on his own website, his response to the subject of the controversial sexual content in Freehold is pretty flip.

I got a bad feeling, too, about such sexually explicit content being available on Baen’s online library with no warning, no disclaimer, no parental advisory, and, as a parent, that gives me the creeps.

Earlier this year, at Dayton’s Marcon sf convention, I told Baen publisher Toni Weisskopf about my experience in Armenia and my concerns. She urged me to give Mad Mike another try, to read some of his later work, but first impressions are lasting ones. And I have too many good books from other authors on my to-read list, thank you all the same.

Until next time, D’os Vadanya,


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