- Paperback: 278 pages
- Publisher: Brain Lag; 1 edition (April 28 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781928011071
- ISBN-13: 978-1928011071
- ASIN: 1928011071
- Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 372 g
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #900,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Why I Hunt Flying Saucers And Other Fantasticals: A Science Fiction Short Story Retrospective Paperback – Apr 28 2016
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About the Author
Hugh A.D. Spencer completed graduate studies at the University of Toronto and McMaster University where he conducted anthropological studies into the origins of religious movements in science fiction fandom. Twice nominated for Canada's Aurora Award, Hugh’s science fiction has been published in On Spec, Tesseracts 8, 11 and 6, Interzone, Descant and New Writings in the Fantastic. Many of his short stories have been dramatized by Shoestring Radio Theatre for the Satellite Network of National Public Radio. His most recent short stories are "Five Stories About Alan" which was published in Dandelions of Mars: A Tribute to Ray Bradbury and “John, Paul, Xavier, Ironside & George (but not Vincent)" which was published in the Ominous Realities anthology. Hugh is also President and Senior Consultant of the cultural consulting company Museum Planning Partners. He worked on the Ontario Prehistory and Canadian Ethnology galleries at the Royal Ontario Museum and has traveled to Asia, Europe, Australia and throughout North America on assignment for many different museum, art gallery, science centre and world's fair projects. Even with all this travel, he always happy to return to his home in the aging suburbs of Toronto which he shares with his family, friends and two dogs.
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Keeping a sure hand on the tiller, Spencer delivers a series of delightful yarns infused with a clear style and an often-warped sense of humour. Careening from alien abductions to childhood memoirs to the apocalypse, the stories reveal Spencer to be an optimist at heart, albeit a fairly pessimistic one.
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The thirteen stories are, in order:
Why I Hunt Flying Saucers
Icarus Down/Bear Rising
The Triage Conference
The Robot Reality Check
Strategic Dog Patterning
The Z-Burger Simulations
Mormonism and the Saskatoon Space Programme
The Hospital for Sick Robots
A 21st Century Scientific Romance
When Bloomsbury Fails
(Coping with) Norm DeviationFigure 3 - Why I Hunt Flying Saucers cover CENTER
Hugh starts the anthology off nicely, with a little tale (“Why I Hunt Flying Saucers”) about a poor schmuck who is constantly being “encountered” by aliens—“close encounters,” that is, of the first, second and third kinds. They camp in his bathtub, they abduct him for that uncomfortable probe (you know where), they steal socks from his dryer. But there is hope at the Reference Library. Hugh also manages to sneak in another Mormon reference; I hope you laugh at this one as much as I did!
Icarus Down/Bear Rising is that unusual thing, a purely Canadian SF story. Well, it’s not all SF; there’s a mystical component to it. For those of you in the Lower 48, who want to know what a Canadian SF story is, there are as many definitions as there are definitions of SF (or even of “sci-fi”!). It’s somewhat related to the Native Indians in the story (whom we up here call “First Nations”—they were here first, and had their own well-defined “nations”); it also sometimes has to do with the so-called “Two Solitudes” (but not in this case; this story has nothing to do with Anglophones vs. Francophones); it’s more an attitude. The Canadian character is very different on the whole from the American character; and would take far more space than I have here—and maybe some deeper thought than I can muster in one column—to define. The story involves worldviews; whose is correct? In its own way, it’s a powerful tale.
“The Triage Conference,” I suspect, may involve some wish fulfillment for Hugh, as an anthropologist. (He has completed graduate studies at the University of Toronto and McMaster University in anthropology; apparently his studies involved “anthropological studies into the origins of religious movements in science fiction fandom”—one imagines him comparing Wiccans and followers of Cthulhu in academic papers.) It’s all about a conference of the sorts of people who are always deciding who the world would be better off without—and it’s never them! A fun, but slightly nasty (or more like it, pointed) romp.
“The Robot Reality Check” owes a lot to Isaac Asimov, and Hugh acknowledges that in his foreword to the story (by the way, all these stories have interesting forewords. Be sure to read those as well!) You know Asimov’s “Three Laws”? Well, in this story they undergo some slight revision: “The Real Laws of Robotics - Number One: A robot will always break down just after its warranty period has expired.” Yep, reality and SF collide—and reality will always win.
“Strategic Dog Patterning” is a chilling look at evolutionary (and sociological) adaptation. Supposing evolution happened in real time, rather than near-geological time? Would that work to our (human) advantage? Maybe not....
“The Z-Burger Simulations” involves the combination of religion and fast-food sector jobs. At one point, Hugh worked at an A&W for a short period, and that might have influenced this story somewhat. Combine that experience with “The Church of Business,” and away you go! Would you like fries with that?
“Mormonism and the Saskatoon Space Programme” is also very Canadian, but partly because it name-drops a lot of Canadian locations. It has to do with actual space travel and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (which I believe is the actual name of the Mormon Church). Another thing Hugh likes to do, which shows up somewhat in this story, is to “Phil Dick” with us. If you’re familiar with the writings of the late Philip K. Dick (as opposed to the movies made from those writings), you’ll know that Dick was very fond of playing with the reader’s head—sometimes you just weren’t sure exactly what was reality and what wasn’t. I think there’s a touch of Phil Dick here... but I’m not sure. Kinda fun nonetheless.
I don’t want to describe the whole book to you here—what would be the fun in that? I’m not fond of spoilers, and I think telling you, even in as little detail as I have here, might deprive you of a bit of the fun of discovery. All I will tell you is that you will enjoy the rest of them; keep an eye out for “The Hospital for Sick Robots”; that’s a deep one. But I didn’t find a clunker in the bunch in this book!
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The concepts are creative, the humour is sharp but the presentation is academic. Spencer doesn’t write stories; he writes about stories. Then he analyzes them and puts in introductions and footnotes. The introduction to each story even has its own title. This writer has all sorts of creative ideas, but he doesn’t show them. He explains them. Here are some examples:
“When Bloomsbury Fails”
The introduction (“Let’s Blame the Starlost”) to this story is two pages of explanation of how the author learned a science fiction metaphor for a sociological concept. I suggest this will not induce most potential Sci-Fi customers to read on.
“A 21st Century Romance: a Radio Play”
This story has an alternate-universe twist worthy of Star Trek. But it is the script for a radio play, and thus one step away from the intended experience of listening to it.
“(Coping with) Norm Deviation,” the flagship of the collection.
This is the tale of the author and his friends making a movie in their final year of High School. It includes most of the film script, along with the backstory of what was happening at the time: the technical problems and how they solved them, the relationships between the friends as they worked, the personal life of the author as it all unfolded.
The difficulty is the autobiographical nature of the format. We are one level away from the teenager, filtered through his adult viewpoint. This creates an undertone of self-deprecatory humour, but flattens out the true emotional ups-and-downs of the teenage experience.
My Final Comment to Mr. Spencer:
Fiction is fiction, and analysis is analysis; if you try to write both at the same time you lose the intimacy of the author-reader relationship. Some forms of fiction may lend themselves to this approach, but Science Fiction readers do not expect it. Oh, yes, and overdone technical jargon is funny, but too much of it palls quickly.
Recommended for those who prefer the intellectual understanding of concepts rather than the human emotion those concepts create.