Archive for May 2009
A couple of weeks ago Larry had a post about his important childhood books. His memory is better than mine so I’ve divided my childhood into two year chunks and guessed when I’ve had to. Still it gives you a pretty good idea of the books that shaped me as a reader.
Space Ranger by Isaac Asimov
The complete works of Roald Dahl
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein
The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe by CS Lewis
My Friend Mr Leakey by JBS Haldane
The Lord Of The Rings by JRR Tolkein
Redwall by Brian Jacques
The Dark Portal by Robin Jarvis
The Animals Of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann
Down With Skool by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
The Colour Of Magic by Terry Pratchett
The Wizard Of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin
Dead Cert by Dick Francis
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
Crash by JG Ballard
Dispatches by Michael Herr
Use Of Weapons by Iain M Banks
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Regeneration by Pat Barker
White Noise by Don DeLillo
Candide by Voltaire
London Fields by Martin Amis
The Child In Time by Ian McEwan
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
The Problems Of Philosophy by Bertram Russell
Oscar And Lucinda by Peter Carey
First contact where both species misunderstand the other with hilarious consequences. This could have been published any time in the last 80 years.
As I mentioned in the introduction Sarrantonio has committed the unforgiveable sin of including one of his own stories in a collection that is supposed to be the best best original SF anthology for a quarter of a century. Now, if you are Ted Chiang this is perhaps – perhaps – acceptable but it hardly needs saying that Sarrantonio is no Ted Chiang.
The story itself? It is actually quite a neat, off the wall idea: Billy the Kid pops out of the womb early to kill his mother’s new lover. The fact remains though, that this is a disposable four page story that is based on a pun. Shoehorning in crap like this from your friends is one thing, shoehorning in your own crap is a whole other kettle of fish. Shitty fish.
Joe R Lansdown provides the introduction and describes the story as “brave”. Even if fiction can be brave, this isn’t.
MMS is one of the few authors in the collection that I am a fan of so I was looking forward to this. Unfortunately it was a big disappointment.
Our protagonist is an unpleasant man who enjoys videotaping his sexual encounters. And he does tape them; this is an analogue world on the cusp of the digital age and seems very old even from only eight years away. MMS draws you into this world of exploitation but the reader expects some sort of pay off for wading from the clinging misogyny. this pay off turns to be a facile twist-in-the-tail that shows that the world his more digital than we thought and exposes the story as a one note shocker.
An alien walks into a bar… Apparently this is part of Niven’s Draco Tavern series and it is possible that being familiar with other stories in the series enriches the reading experience. Coming to it cold it is just another club story.
It is only in an anthology like Redshift that a story this average could stand out. ”Bassador’ is the sort of SF story that is the bread and butter of the magazines: an unfamilar world, presented by degrees, with a small revelation at the end. Here, however, such standard competency is rare.
As I’ve worked my way through Redshift I’ve come to the conclusion that what this collection is crying out for is a story by Bruce Sterling. Rucker is probably the next best thing but it’s still not the same. He brings the gnarl but it could definitely be gnarlier. Pocket universes are cool but a little familar and execution is nothing special. Indeed I suspect I have scored it relatively highly because Rucker and Shirley’s story stands out in a sea of dross.
I also feel I should draw attention to the opening of Sarrantonio’s introduction which is just appallingly sloppy:
Rudy Rucker and John Shirley are powerful enough as seperate entities – what would happen if you put the two of them together? A frightening thought – and that’s what happened.
I am starting to sound like a stuck a record but again this is a science fiction story with very little interest in science fiction. A mentally-ill serial killer thinks he is an alien and eats the people he murders. This allows Haldeman to indulge in gratuitous torture porn for no reason. His other main character is a bloke called Spencer who is burdened with a preposterous life story that means no one could mistake him for anything other than a character in a story. The paths of these two obviously cross and they do so in a way that suggests staggering authorial laziness.
The shock twist at the end is that the serial killer actually is an alien. Which isn’t really shocking or twisty or any justification for writing this story. Lame.
Marilyn Monroe is having an affair with James Dean; there is no speculation here, only an attempt to trade on the mystique of two Twentieth Century icons. This sort of piggybacking is all too common in science fiction – this was one of the complaints about this year’s shortlist – but it is still a shame to see such a story in a supposedly forwarded looking anthology. Dann actually writes quite well and does a good job of evoking the couple but in the end it is just an exercise in necrophilia.