Archive for the ‘sf’ Category
Like many people of my generation, any return to the parental home is accompanied not only by love and over-feeding but by entreaties to go into the loft and get rid of some of the crap up there. I am typing this having just returned from one such excursion where I was charmed to find a box my mother had labelled “Martin’s graphic booklets”. Thankfully, rather than self-published pornography, this contained a grab-bag of comics; random issues of Spiderman, Superman, Mask, Zoids and The Eagle that were testament to my erratic history as a child reader of the form.
The only comic I read consistently was “AD 2000″ (as another labelled box puts it) and I gave that up in the mid-Nineties. So reading the latest Judge Dredd collection, Day Of Chaos: The Fourth Faction, was an exercise both in nostalgia and time-slip. There he is on the cover: helmet and eagle, scowl and lawgiver. It is like turning on Eastenders to find that the Mitchell brothers still rule the roost. Unlike his rival for title of most significant figure in British science fiction, Mega City One’s judge, jury and executioner has never needed to regenerate. However, whilst I can think of few things worse than Dredd’s granite jaw being replaced by a floppy fringe, he could stand to move with the times a bit.
The Fourth Faction is written by his co-creator John Wagner and is a sort of sequel to The Apocalypse War, a cold war era story by Wagner and Alan Grant in which the dirty Sovs invade Mega City One only for Dredd to turn the tables on them by committing thermonuclear genocide against the motherland. Thirty years later, what is more striking than its lack of moral scruples is its obsolesce; the idea of Russian invasion seems quaint and even nuclear war is a dead nightmare.
The gist of the new story is that the fourth faction are Sov fifth columnists who have infiltrated the city bent on revenge. However, this is obscured by a load of old flannel about serial killers, some unintelligible internal politics and a tone that is every bit as redundant as the story line. This means heavy-handed satire on those opposed to gun control voiced by a character called Jerker McKnee; the use of obesity as joke with projectile vomiting as the punchline; corny puns and references like a tower block named after Ed Gein or a film poster featuring ‘Urb Karlan’.
This is a reference to the star of the 2012 film Dredd which both eradicated memories of the 1995 turkey starring Sylvester Stallone and showed that the iconic character was still relevant. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of this collection, something made starkly clear by its treatment of women. Early on, when a female judge goes on her own to investigate a suspicion, she is striped naked and tied up. The film cleverly subverted the possibility of sexual assault; here it is framed as titillation and it is sadly no surprise that later the main female character answers the phone in just her pants for no reason. With both this collection and Savage: The Guv’nor, reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont, highly respected 2000AD writers look backwards on several levels; the results are ugly and they won’t entice this reader back.
- Savage: The Guv’nor by Pat Mills and Patrick Godard (Titan Books, 2012) – Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
- Stone Spring, Bronze Summer and Iron Winter by Stephen Baxter (Gollancz, 2010, 2011 and 2012) – Reviewed by Niall Harrison
- Adam Robots by Adam Roberts (Gollancz, 2013) – Reviewed by Dan Hartland
- Jack Glass by Adam Roberts (Gollancz, 2012) – Reviewed by Dave M. Roberts
- The Soddit by Adam Roberts (Gollancz, 2003) – Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
- Among Others by Jo Walton (Corsair, 2013) – Reviewed by Shaun Green
- Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins (Gollancz, 2012) – Reviewed by Duncan Lawie
- Communion Town by Sam Thompson (HarperCollins, 2012) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
- The Peacock Cloak by Chris Beckett (NewCon Press, 2013) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
- Solaris Rising 2, edited by Ian Whates (Solaris, 2013) – Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
- Existence by David Brin (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
- 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit, 2012) – Review by Gary Dalkin
- Redshirts by John Scalzi (Gollancz, 2012) – Reviewed by Liz Bourke
- Nexus by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot Books, 2012) – Reviewed by Paul Graham Raven
- The Curve Of The Earth by Simon Morden (Orbit, 2013) – Reviewed by Stuart Carter
- The Water Sign by CS Samulski (Booktrope, 2013) – Reviewed by Karen Burnham
- Dangerous Waters and Darkening Skies by Juliet E McKenna (Solaris, 2011, 2012) – Reviewed by Patrick Mahon
- The Legend of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by AP Canavan
- The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Graham Andrews
- Hell Train by Christopher Fowler (Solaris, 2012) – Reviewed by Lalith Vipulananthan
- Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch (Orion, 2012) – Reviewed by Anne F Wilson
- A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (Headline, 2011) – Reviewed by Cherith Baldry
- Railsea by China Miéville (Pan Macmillan, 2013) – Reviewed by Liz Bourke
- Dark Peak by JG Parker (Stonewood Press, 2012) – Reviewed by Sue Thomason
- Sea Change by SM Wheeler (Tor, 2013) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
- Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon (Strange Chemistry, May 2013) – Reviewed by Alan Fraser
- The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Angry Robot, 2013) – Reviewed by Anne F Wilson
- Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Tor UK, 2012) – Reviewed by Alan Fraser
- Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steele (Pyr, 2012) – Reviewed by Ian Sales
1) Set-up a Google Alert for your name. It is important to know if someone is talking about you or your work on the internet.
2) Make sure you read all your reviews to see if anyone disagrees with your interpretation of the text.
3) If you see a blog review you disagree with, make sure you correct the reviewer’s misunderstanding immediately.
4) Do not under any circumstances:
- Heed the widely held belief that it is generally a bad idea for authors to respond to reviews of their work.
- Familiarise yourself with the culture of the blog to ensure you understand the context in which the review takes place.
- Read the review closely and sympathetic to ensure you understand the argument they are making.
- Re-read your comment to ensure it doesn’t sound patronising before posting.
5) If the reviewer unaccountable does not find your intervention helpful, apologise but make sure your sincerity is called into question by flouncing off.
6)Reflect on the views that have been expressed and use this experience to inform your future interactions.
1) If a third party uses this as an example of why there is a widely held belief that it is a bad idea for authors to respond to reviews of their work as part of a wider discussion of the inter-relation between fandom and industry, make sure you respond with insincerity, bluster, sarcasm and strawmen.
2) Do not under any circumstances:
- Treat this as an opportunity to read the views of others and learn from them.
- Read the article closely and sympathetically and consider that perhaps it isn’t all about you.
- Acknowledge that there is a difference between author interactions regarding their own work and author interactions regarding other issues.
3) Demonstrate that there is no danger you have taken the article too personally or have lost perspective and are carefully following the discussion by mistakenly posting four comments in a row.
4) Flounce off. The conversation is beneath you.
5) Remember: although the conversation is beneath you, you are the most important person in the conversation and so deserve the last word. Make sure you come back and insult someone for no reason.
6)Reflect on the views that have been expressed and use this experience to inform your future interactions.
1) If the original blogger mentions in passing the testerical accusations of bullying she has received from some of your fans, make sure to ask a disengenuous and derailing question that has already been amply answered by your actions.
2) Do not under any circumstances:
- Learn any lessons from your previous interaction on the blog.
- Address the substance of the point or acknowledge that your behaviour may have enabled it.
- Take into account the views or feelings of the blogger.
3) Patiently explain to the blogger and other commentators why they are wrong
4) Belatedly address the substance of the point but ensure you do so in the form of a defensive strawman that implies you are the victim. Repeat the strawman: this not only increases the validity of your point, it further derails the conversation and makes it about you.
5) Continue to tell people that their beliefs are wrong and the issue the blogger raised is nothing to do with you. Do not pause to think that if the issue is nothing to do with you, perhaps there is no need for you to comment.
6) Declare your passion for literature. Do not attempt to make this relevant to the ongoing discussion.
7) Prove there is nothing intimidating about your contributions by posting six comments in a row and attempting to drown out all other discussion.
8) Further demonstrate your good faith by posting the same irrelevant comment three times in a row.
9) The conversation is all about you so make sure you reframe it on your own terms. Do not stop to consider why you would want to do this or what you hope to gain from it.
10) Even though the blogger has made her views about your participation abundantly clear, make a magmanimous offer: “If either of them tells me directly that they don’t want to discuss any further and that they want me to leave then I shall do so – without a parting shot.” Ignore the fact that this offer is also unaccountably addressed to a third party.
11) Reveal that you don’t actually understand that the blogger and the third party are different people writing in different venues. This will reinforce the view that you are repeatedly parachuting into conversations without understanding the context. Don’t worry, the fact you have passionately held opinions makes up for this.
12) Similarly, even though your livelihood is based on the written word, there is no need to write intelligibly. Passion trumps articulacy.
13) Finally, after eighteen comments, flounce off.
14)Reflect on the views that have been expressed and use this experience to inform your future interactions.
1) Return to the argument whilst simultaneously claiming “I’m not going to get back into the argument”. Choose a title that will inform readers you are continuing to engage sympathetically and act in good faith.
2) Do not under any circumstances:
- Consider whether rape threats are more hurtful than being told that people don’t want to discuss books with you.
- Consider whether gender can consciously or unconsciously play a role in online interaction.
- Consider whether your own words set the tone of the debate and informed the responses that both you and others received.
3) Flounce off from the whole of fandom. It is all beneath you. Make clear that you are “not fishing for compliments or gestures of support, nor am I looking for reprisals”, even though both are likely to occur.
1) Immediately go on Twitter and continue your unwanted interactions with fans.
TO MAKE TOTAL ARSES OF THEMSELVES
My review of Dark Waters Of Hagwood by Robin Jarvis is up now at Strange Horizons.
Dark Waters is the sequel of Thorn Ogres Of Hagwood and is a book I never thought I’d read. But, after twelve years of waiting, Dark Water has been published, only for me to find it a huge disappointment. As I said in my review: “What I’ve always loved about Jarvis is how much respect he has for his audience, but it seems absent here.”
I reviewed Thorn Ogres as well so you can compare one of my first review with my most recent. As we’ve discussed before, there is quite a difference. Much of this journey has taken place at Strange Horizons, the best place for speculative fiction criticism on the web. It is also free so, if you’ve enjoyed the work of me and the other reviewers – not to mention authors, poets, columnists and many other contributors – then you might want to consider supporting their annual fund drive. There are prizes!
My review of Sea Of Ghosts by Alan Campbell is up now at Strange Horizons.
The book was selected for review by Brian O’Leary as a donor reward for contributing to last year’s Strange Horizon fund drive. I volunteered as I had been a fan of Campbell’s previous work. I’m very happy with the outcome – the pull quote for the review is “Alan Campbell might well be the best writer of adventure fiction in the UK at the moment” – and I hope Brian is too.
You might notice that the review is a little shorter than normal. This is because between reading and reviewing the novel, my son was born. This is awesome but it does mean my free time is a little squeezed. My reading rate has gone down to a book a month and my writing rate has dropped even further. I am planning to finish The Space Opera Renaissance this year though, honest.
This story is actually from the earlier ‘Draftees (1960s)’ section of the anthology (despite being published in 1972). I skipped over it at the time because I didn’t really have anything to say about it. It still don’t but it seems appropriate to return to it immediately after Michael Moorcock’s contribution. It is a three page compressed novel that is satirical where Moorcock is sincere. The editors quote Brian Aldiss to the effect that this story finished off the up until now endless saga, written finis to those mighty tomes, killed the entire literature dead.” Well, nice try. Still, as a nail in space opera’s coffin, it is considerably more impressive and effective than Michael Kandel’s attempt.
Published in 2002, this story has nothing in common with contemporary space opera and, as the title suggests, instead harks back to the science fantasy of Leigh Brackett and Clive Jackson. So the first sentence is: “They came upon the Earthling naked, somewhere in the Shifting Desert when Mars’ harsh sunlight beat through thinning atmosphere and the sand was raw glass cutting into bare feet.” The protagonist is referred to by his full name through out, imbuing it with an air of Chuck Norris-esque comic bombast: “To call Captain John MacShard a loner was something of a tautology. Captain John MacShard was loneliness personified.” Silly, romantic, obsolete, it is not a pastiche but a slice of time-slipped pulp straight from the source.
What better way to return to The Space Opera Renaissance than with a story entitled ‘Space Opera’? Except, of course, it isn’t space opera. Instead, it is an obvious joke: what if, like space opera was opera about space? So Kandel gives us a lengthy synopsis of an imaginary opera with occasional critical asides, as if one were reading a tedious entry in a poorly written overview of the field.
Hartwell and Cramer describe Kandel as “the sort of SF writer who perceives the odors of contempt and literary class prejudice that still hang in the social air when the term space opera is used in literary circles, and leaves the room.” An arse, in other words. They go on to say that the story “poke[s] fun at the absurdities of opera and of space opera” but I didn’t notice this. The only thing I found enjoyable about this story was Kandel’s ill-advised name for his aliens which gives rise to lines like this: “A chorus of bints sings of the forthcoming invasion of the Dalminian Empire.”
A couple of months ago, I praised Gollancz for reprinting Climbers by M John Harrison. Now they deserve more praise for similar acts of literary preservation. First of all, they are publishing a revised version of The Red Man by Matthew de Abaitua as an ebook. Since we live in the future, it is accompanied by a short film based on the first chapter:
I reviewed The Red Men for Strange Horizons. It was a pretty mixed review – do I write any other sort? – but I’m glad it is being reprinted, both because it is an interesting work in its own right but also because it represents a second bite at the cherry for de Abaitau:
This isn’t a novel you can get an easy grip on; like the famous elephant surrounded by blind men, its shape and texture suggest differing beasts depending on where you grab it. Literary thriller and domestic drama, thought experiment and drug trip, cyberpunk and technopagan, satire and prophecy. It is almost as if de Abaitua is worried that he will only get one chance and has consequently crammed all his ideas into one novel.
I’ve probably said that in other reviews too since it is a persistent issue with debut novels. But these days, there is some truth in that worry for authors. The modern genre often appears to be curving back to its pulp origins; without a midlist, the only way for authors to keep their heads above the water is to bang out a couple of books a year across a range of subgenres. If you are a stranger sort of writer, if you you have feet in different camps, then you are likely to sink without a trace. De Abaitua’s follow-up was not a novel but a book about camping. Will Ashon, a similar sort of writer, was unceremoniously dumped by his publisher at around the same time. Gollancz will also be publishing de Abaitau’s new novel, If Then, perhaps they could pick up Ashon for a new deal too?
That is idle dreaming but Gollancz are going to bring back into print another writer from my wish list: Simon Ings. My first experience of Ings’s fiction was his two recent novels from Atlantic, The Weight of Numbers and Dead Water. Neither are science fiction (and I squinted very hard at Dead Water when I was a judge for the Arthur C Clarke Award) but both are excellent. But once upon a time, Ings was known as an SF novelist; a bright young star of British scene in the early Nineties. I picked up a secondhand copy of his debut novel, Hot Head and it more than stands up so I am very excited to read the remainder of his backlist. Gollancz will also be publishing his new novel, Wolves, with this rather lovely cover:
At the opposite end of the literary spectrum is Rod Rees whose debut novel, The Demi-Monde: Winter, was the worst book I read in 2012. Foolishly his publisher, Jo Fletcher Books, recently gave him free rein on their blog and what he produced was stupid and offensive. I have sometimes wonder if publishers do this in the belief that all publicity is good publicity: how else to explain Night Shade Books giving Thomas Morrissey a platform? Rees’s publishers seem a bit stung though because Jo Fletcher has written this godawful response to the criticism they have received. It is probably a good rule of thumb that publishers shouldn’t respond to criticism of their authors for exactly the same reason that authors shouldn’t respond to criticism of their work. If you are going to respond, try not to be passive-aggressive, shameless and patronising in your first sentence, spend the remainder of your words chasing a tedious free speech red herring and then sign-off with condescending abuse. (Further commentary on the whole sorry mess from Liz Bourke here, here, here and here.)
A couple of years ago I reviewed The Flood by Maggie Gee. It isn’t a very good book and one of the main ways in which it isn’t very good is in its incredibly clumsy handling of issues like race and politics. Still, Gee is well regarded (she was one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists in 1983) so when I saw a copy of The Ice People in a secondhand bookshop I thought I’d give her a second chance.
The book gets off to a unfortunate start with the way the publisher has truncated its cover quote from Jeremy Paxman: “A remarkable novel… very funny.. up there with Orwell and Huxley.” Well known jokers, both. Inside, Gee’s own words are equally unintentionally eyebrow-raising. The issues are back and they are back in abundance. Here we have narrator Saul reflecting on his childhood in the future (AKA pretty much now):
I started to hate these foreigners. There wasn’t enough to share with them. We lived in a three-bed brick twentieth-century cottage with plasterboard doors that never quite shut, and my parents worked harder than anyone.
One day when my mother had come home exhausted from an all night run to Edinburgh, I told her I hated black people. She came into the garden in her dingy pink nightgown, and begged me to stop slamming my football against the shed. I did three more kicks, then went and lay down on the prickly yellow lawn, ignoring her.
‘What’s the matter?’ she asked. ‘For heaven’s sake.’
‘I don’t like black people,’ I said. ‘The screen said even more of them are trying to get in.’ To me they seemed like liars and scroungers who would keep my family poor for ever. ‘I hate black people. Why must they come here?’
She looked at me with a little frown, a puckered white thread in her sun-reddened forehead. ‘Saul – they’re not all the same, you know. You can’t go hating black people.’
‘It’s true, Mum. I saw the pictures.’
‘You don’t understand.’ She sounded peculiar. ‘Saul, listen … look … there’s something …’ She stared at the ground, her mouth working. Then something burst out like a stone at a windscreen. ‘Haven’t you noticed your father’s black?’ (p.7)
Actually, I take it back – this isn’t eyebrow-raising, it is agonising. Our narrator continues: “In the bathroom mirror I looked for the truth. My skin was golden, as it was before, but I watched it change and become light brown. Spots, I saw, and curly black hair, and features broadening with adolescence. My nostrils, flaring. Yes, and my lips. I saw Dad’s face behind my own.” (p.8) We then skip forward ten years to the 2020s and from race, we move to gender:
…the fashion was for shaving, of heads and bodies. Why was that? Hard to recall now, but it lasted for decades, that egglike baldness. Perhaps it was a kind of streamlining, an attempt to keep cool at any cost. And the style appealed to both men and women. The fashion of the time was for androgyny, so hair was suspect, for it signalled gender.
And yet, though our clothes and hair denied it, a great gap had grown up between the sexes. Segging we called it. From segregation. Almost everything we did was segged. Girls with girls, boys with boys, great droves of animals bypassing each other, eyes darting across, wild in the neon, jostling, signalling, twisting through the night, two big streams that couldn’t make a river. (p.12)
George Melly says the book can be read as “an analysis of the widening gulf between men and women.” I must have missed that. Saul’s role in the novel is to represent men in this laughable gender wars set-up. In particular, he embodies pig-headed conservative masculinity which means that he has to fall in love with Sarah, the first woman with hair that he sees:
‘Oh god,’ the woman said. I looked at her. She had long hair. Most females under fifty had short hair, unless they were under ten, that is. She was small, slim, in a loose white dress, not fashionable, a ‘pretty’ dress. What my mother would have called a pretty dress… That weird waterfall of hair. Such childish hair. Reddish-brown, shiny, glinting like conkers against their white shell, and her skin had tiny freckles like dots of honey. She looked miserable, but her eyes were very blue. She came closer. The music gathered and poured. My heart swelled absurdly. (p. 14)
Sarah is a new type of teacher for this brave new world where humanity has spontaneously given up on heterosexuality:
‘It’s a new post,’ she said, shy. ‘I’m something called a Role Support Officer.’
‘What does that mean, then?’ I asked her.
‘The government’s decided that boys and girls have to be taught to get on together. It’s partly political, I’m afraid. They’re making appointments all over the country. Because the fertility figures are down again, and they have to seem to be doing something. Elections next year, of course.’
‘How do you mean, get on together?’
‘Well – I mean – you know – ‘ She was intensely embarrassed. ‘Live together, I suppose. Try to get them living together again.’ (p.15)
I was pretty intensely embarrassed by this point too. Is Gee joking? The tone isn’t comic and there is nothing to indicate satire but this can’t be meant seriously, can it? (As with The Flood, you can tell when Gee is doing satire and it is bloody awful: the Conservative Party have become the Conserver Party, theatres have become lloydwebbers, etc, etc.) If it is a joke, it is in pretty poor taste:
‘I like the look of you. You’re – different. You’re not just English, are you? What are you? French? Spanish?’ She looked straight at me. Her curiosity was like a kiss. Then she lit up. ‘You’re beek, aren’t you. You must be, of course! Tell me I’m right.’
And she had seen the thing that I wanted her to see. Beek was short for bicolor, the French insult that black people themselves had taken over to mean ‘mixed race’, and she used it so easily.
‘Yes, I’m beek. Most people don’t notice. My father’s half-African, my mother was white.’ Had I ever said it straight out before? She made me feel I could be myself.
‘That explains why – well, you look good to me.’ She finished the sentence in an awkward rush. ‘I’m very interested in all that. It was part of my Ethnicities diploma course.’
I’d always disliked the word ‘ethnicity’ – it sounds like someone cleaning their teeth – but on her lips, it seemed tolerable. (p.16)
This would be bad enough in its own right but Gee seems not to have considered that it might be problematic to make your misogynistic avatar of everything that is primitive and base about masculinity a black man. This is how Saul acts when they are first together: “She made the food; I ate it, gratefully. She washed the clothes; I put them on. I never really noticed that she was doing more (but she could have spoken; she could have complained) until one day we had our first quarrel.” (p.24) And here he is after ten years have past: “I was slow to resume our sex life after Luke was born. I wanted to be sensitive. I spit with derision to think of it now, but I didn’t want to hurt her where she had been hurt. If you love a woman you don’t want to hurt her. And then you want to smash her, rape her, kill her. (p.42)” Gee’s ability to inhabit the male psyche is uncanny! Everything is is so baffoonishly broad that you suspect it was written in crayon. Here, for example, is Saul’s entirely realistic reaction to discovering he has a low sperm count:
I was angry, and hurt. Sarah claimed I exploded. ‘Oh, you don’t know it all, then?’ I sneered at him. I tore his form in two, then in four. ‘Do you think that’s a surprise to anyone? Science knows fuck all about making babies –’
‘He’s upset,’ said Sarah, pre-emptively. ‘I’m sorry, Dr Um – I can never remember your name. Sorry.’
‘Wang. Dr Wang –’ (I laughed, rudely) ‘we quite understand these are stressful experiences.’
Dr Wang ‘understood’ – but no one understood. I had just been told my sperm was semi-fertile. My balls were no good, that was what I heard. They were big and firm, I had trusted them, I’d secretly believed the problem was Sarah’s – (p.33)
Dr Wang? “Big and firm”? This is unreadable and, impossibly, the depiction of fertility treatment that follows is even more offensive than the rest of the novel. I very rarely put down a novel but after 50 pages I could take no more. I started by mentioning Paxman’s quote on the front cover but there is an even more troubling one on the back: “Martin Amis once said Gee was the only female author of his generation he would bother to read.” Let that be your warning.