Posts Tagged ‘bsfa’
The winner of this year’s BSFA Review poll of reviewers was also my favourite science fiction of 2012: Empty Space by M John Harrison, the concluding volume of the Kelfuchi Tract trilogy. This truly remarkable novel is reviewed by Dan Hartland over the page: “The boldness of Empty Space, then, is in positing a physical source of the metaphorical, allegorical and symbolic currency of the literary novel. Like the Tract itself, the trilogy which bears its name permits two-way traffic: from the literary to the science fictional, Harrison carries artful prose and intense human sympathy; in the other direction, he drags substance and even rigour.” All three novels have been nominated for the BSFA Award and, if there is any justice, this will be Harrison’s year.
Then again, I wouldn’t bet against Jack Glass either. Adam Roberts is a bit of a marmite author: he is critically acclaimed and widely admired but his books have a tendency to rub people up the wrong way. I’m inclined to think that is a good thing but Jack Glass has undoubtedly proved less divisive than most of his work – in a forthcoming review, Dave Roberts describes it as his “most entertaining to date”. It has already appeared on the shortlist for the Kitschies (losing to Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway) and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it appear on the Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist after a much-remarked upon absence for the last couple of years.
Our third place novel is also a BSFA Award nominee: 2313 by Kim Stanley Robinson. As you’d expect from a KSR novel, it is hugely ambitious but even Ian Sales, who chose it earlier in the magazine as his book of the year, notes: “The future Robinson describes is a work of art, though it’s a pity he couldn’t give us a plot to match.” It is for this reason that Gary Dalkin’s forthcoming review describes the novel as a “thudding bore” but Robinson remains well loved.
What both the BSFA Award shortlist and our top five lacked this year were any novels by women. This is at least partially a reflection of the membership’s preference for science fiction over fantasy and the lack of much of a pool to draw from given the parlous state of British SF publishing when it comes to women. Hopefully the arrival of Del Rey Books in the UK this year, bringing with them Kameron Hurley and EJ Swift, will improve this situation. Still, it is worth noting that only two women have won the award in its 43 year history.
Despite the impediment of being a female fantasy writer – and a children’s fantasy writer to boot – Frances Hardinge makes our sixth place. Hardinge is simply one of Britain’s best fantasy authors, I am very pleased to see her appear on this list and I can’t wait to read A Face Like Glass. In contrast, Railsea, a children’s fantasy by perennial awards-magnet China Mieville, seems to have found little favour anywhere (although his story ‘Three Moments Of An Explosion’ did make the BSFA Award shortlist).
Just behind her in seventh is Boneland by Alan Garner, “a summation of Garner’s understanding of the impulses that shape and drive us as human beings, reaching far back into the mythic past”, as Maureen Kincaid Speller put it earlier. This book completes the immensely influential children’s fantasy trilogy he began over fifty years ago with The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen, testament to the rich history of British children’s literature. It remains remarkably fecund today: a new children’s genre imprint, Strange Chemistry, appeared in 2012 and Mark Connorton and Cherith Baldry review its four launch titles on page 42.
Garner shares the seventh spot with Intrusion by Ken MacLeod. It goes without saying that it also makes the BSFA Award shortlist – this is his ninth appearance. No one else writes anything like MacLeod and the membership have embraced him for that. The final novel on the shortlist, Dark Eden by Chris Beckett, didn’t place – I voted for it, Chris.
Perhaps appropriately the final slot on our list is shared by two entirely different novels; one from the very heart of British science fiction (Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds) and one from the slippery fringes (Hawthorn And Child by Keith Ridgway). This is a reminder of the depth and richness of speculative fiction, as is the fact that in all 51 titles received votes. That’s a year’s worth of reading for me, although much less for some of you!
BSFA Review Poll
1) Empty Space by M John Harrison
2) Jack Glass by Adam Roberts
3) 2313 by Kim Stanley Robinson
4) Communion Town by Sam Thompson
5) Extreme Metaphors, edited by Simon Sellars and Dan O’Hara
6) A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
=7) Boneland by Alan Garner
=7) Intrusion by Ken MacLeod
9) Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lord
=10) Hawthorn And Child by Keith Ridgway
=10) Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds
- The Angel Of Revolution by George Griffith and The Purple Cloud by MP Shiel – Reviewed by LJ Hurst
- Empty Space by M John Harrison (Gollancz, 2012) – Reviewed by Dan Hartland
- Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis (Gollancz, 2011) – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- The Fourth Wall by Walter Jon Williams (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Paul Graham Raven
- Intrusion by Ken MacLeod (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Gary Dalkin
- The Testament Of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers (Sandstone Press, 2011) – Reviewed by Sue Thomason
- Osiris by EJ Swift (Night Shade Books, 2012) – Reviewed by Karen Burnham
- Shift by Kim Curran and Katya’s World by Jonathan L Howard (Strange Chemistry, 2012) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
- Blackwood by Gwenda Bond and The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Strange Chemistry 2012) – Reviewed by Cherith Baldry
- Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (Hodder and Stoughton, 2011) – Reviewed by Liz Bourke
- Dust by Joan Frances Turner (Penguin, 2011) – Reviewed by Alan Fraser
- Timeless by Gail Carriger (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Liz Bourke
- The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky (Hodder & Staunton, 2011) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
- The Devil’s Diadem by Sara Douglass (Voyager, 2011) – Reviewed by Nic Clarke
- The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury, 2011) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
- Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (William Heinemann 2012) – Reviewed by Jim Steel
- Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Lynne Bispham
- Kultus by Richard Ford (Solaris, 2011) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
- The Ritual by Adam Nevill (Pan MacMillan, 2011) – Reviewed by Stephen Deas
- The Mall by SL Grey (Corvus, 2011) – Reviewed by Shaun Green
- The Greyfriar and The Rift Walker by Clay and Susan Griffith (Pyr, 2010, 2011) – Reviewed by Patrick Mahon
- To Indigo by Tanith Lee (Immanion Press, 2011) – Reviewed by Graham Andrews
- Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lord (Jo Fletcher Books, 2012) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
- The Minority Council by Kate Griffin, (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Lynne Bispham
- Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot Books, 2012) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
- This Is The Quickest Way Down by Charles Christian (Proxima, 2011) – Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
- Take No Prisoners by John Grant (Infinity Plus, 2011) – Reviewed by Tony Keen
- Mythanimus by Storm Constantine (Immanion Press, 2011) – Reviewed by Sue Thomason
- Words Of Re-enchantment by Anthony Nanson (Awen, 2011) – Reviewed by Lynne Bispham
This issue of the BSFA Review is something of a science fiction special and covers the whole spectrum of SF. I am also pleased to welcome several new contributors to these pages: Alison Page and Finn Dempster covering recent novels and Roger Luckhurst and Aishwarya Subramanian discussing a pair of academic volumes. Oh, and just for good measure we have Tricia Sullivan writing on Greg Egan too.
In keeping with the overall theme of Vector, the BSFA Review opens with LJ Hurst’s review of London Peculiar And Other Nonfiction by Michael Moorcock and Allan Kausch: “If Moorcock’s London were an organism, I suggest it would be either a chameleon or an amoeba. An amoeba because the city grows and absorbs what it grows around, a chameleon because it takes on appearances, possibly intentionally, becoming something else.” This quote gave me the impetus to pull the only one of China Mieville’s books which I hadn’t read yet, Looking For Jake And Other Stories, off the shelf.
London has been a looming presence in all Mieville’s work since his debut novel, King Rat, a shoddy attempt to fuse folk mythology with the its street culture. It was also re-imagined for the Bas-Lag novels that made his name as the violently febrile New Crobuzon and is there in his standalone works, above or below ground, for adults and for children. It also recurs again and again in this collection and, to someone who has made his home here, there is something transfixing about his ruined, post-collapse capital:
Primrose Hill was continually tunnelled through by some great maggoty imago; Kentish Town was a wasteland of heat and burnt-out houses that smouldered endlessly, in some arcane transmirror pyrosis. But Camden, where they had to go, was the running ground of apocalypse scum, the worst spivs from the dead market’s stall-holders, the least politicised of its punks.
It is an acquired taste though, saltier than his novels; his stories are more out of kilter, weirder than his novels and the hand of M John Harrison hangs heavy. They are also more personal and funnier: “I know I never came to you. You lived in fucking Barnet. I’m only human.”
Mieville lost out on the BSFA Short Fiction Award to Paul Cornell this year and those two stories as well as the other shortlisted works were collected in a booklet that was sent to members with the last mailing. This is becoming an annual tradition and one we are keen to continue. In our final review, former Vector editor Kevin Smith reviews the booklet and finds nothing to entice him back into the world of science fiction. As he puts it: “Have the authors lost the wow factor or have I?” Since nominations and votes come from the membership, I would hope people found something in the shortlist to excite them, but I’d be interested in comments from those of you who didn’t take part in the selection process itself and for whom the booklet was your first exposure to the stories. And I’d certainly encourage you all to start thinking about your nominations for next year now; the more people take part, the stronger the award is.
- London Peculiar And Other Nonfiction by Michael Moorcock and Allan Kausch – Reviewed by LJ Hurst
- Reflections On The Magic Of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones, edited by Charlie Butler, and Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones – Reviewed by Jessica Yates
- The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan – Reviewed by Dan Hartland
- The Godless Boys by Naomi Wood – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan – Reviewed by Tricia Sullivan
- Machine by Jennifer Pelland – Reviewed by Ian Sales
- vN: The First Machine Dynasty by Madeline Ashby – Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
- Rocket Science, edited by Ian Sales – Reviewed by Alastair Reynolds
- Adrift On The Sea Of Rains by Ian Sales – Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
- Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
- The Broken Universe by Paul Melko – Reviewed by Finn Dempster
- In The Lion’s Mouth by Michael Flynn – Reviewed by Duncan Lawie
- The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett – Reviewed by Jim Steel
- The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown – Reviewed by Gary Dalkin
- Random Walk by Alexandra Claire – Reviewed by Anthony Nanson
- 172 Hours On The Moon by Johan Harstad, translated by Tara F Chace – Reviewed by Anne F Wilson
- Manhattan In Reverse by Peter F Hamilton – Reviewed by Martin Potts
- Final Days by Gary Gibson – Reviewed by Stuart Carter
- Champion Of Mars by Guy Haley – Reviewed by David Towsey
- Age of Aztec by James Lovegrove – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
- Girl Genius Omnibus: Volume One – Agatha Awakens by Phil and Kaja Foglio – Reviewed by Glyn Morgan
- Doctor Who and the Daleks by David Whitaker, Doctor Who and the Crusaders by David Whitaker, Doctor Who and the Cybermen by Gerry Davis, Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen by Terrance Dicks, Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion by Terrance Dicks and Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters by Malcolm Hulke – Reviewed by Tony Keen
- Shada by Gareth Roberts, adapted from a script by Douglas Adams – Reviewed by Alison Page
- Maps Of Utopia: H. G. Wells, Modernity, And The End Of Culture by Simon J. James – Reviewed by Roger Luckhurst
- Postcolonialism and Science Fiction by Jessica Langer – Reviewed by Aishwarya Subramanian
- Kevin Smith on the shortlist for the BSFA Short Fiction Award
I don’t think anyone was surprised by Ian McDonald’s victory in the first Vector reviewers’ poll last year. The Dervish House received pretty much universal acclaim, won comprehensively and then went on to take the BSFA Award for best novel. Some years there is a book that just seems to capture the critical and popular consensus. In 2011, however, there were two: Embassytown by China Miéville and The Islanders by Christopher Priest.
These two very different novels by much admired authors were both shortlisted for this year’s BSFA Award and, as soon as I opened the poll, votes started coming in thick and fast from the reviewers. Miéville came sixth last year with Kraken, a novel I liked a lot but which was generally seen as the author blowing off steam. Embassytown was meatier fare, his first ‘proper’ science fiction novel, a return to the ambition of 2009′s The City and The City (which won the BSFA Award and the Arthur C Clarke Award). As Paul Graham Raven put it in Vector #268: “Embassytown is good, but it is not easy; it partakes of the tools of genre, but it does so in ways that are unusual or even antithetical to the conventions of genre.”
Priest, on the other hand, hadn’t published a novel since 2002’s The Separation (which also won both the BSFA Award and the Clarke). So this was an Event and, by all accounts, lived up to the decade long wait. The two novels kept swapping pole position between them and the fact they ultimately drew has some of the same cosmic justice as Paolo Bacigalupi and Miéville sharing the 2010 Hugo Award for best novel. My money is on Priest to just edge it for the BSFA Award but Miéville may take the short story award with ‘Covehithe’.
From familiar faces to new blood. I wrote about God’s War in my editorial in Vector #269 where I pointed out that it was a shame Kameron Hurley’s debut novel was ineligible for UK awards (although the related story ‘Afterlife’ did make the BSFA Award ballot). A roiling stew of influences and ideas, it was vital and exciting and I’m sure I won’t be the only person to be delighted it took bronze. Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi also sits outside of the UK genre scene and benefited from strong word of mouth but is otherwise the complete opposite to Hurley’s brash melange. It is a subtle, slippery novel – “an arch, stylish feminist skewering of the narrative conventions of several genres”, as Nic Clarke puts it, later in the magazine – but readers have clearly welcomed this ambiguity. Nina Allan, another writer of oblique literary fantasy, was shortlisted for the BSFA Award for short fiction last year for ‘Flying in the Face of God’, having previously been shortlisted in 2006 for ‘Bird Songs at Eventide’. The Silver Wind is her second collection and demonstrates that her reputation continues to quietly grow and grow. The title story was shortlisted this year, could she win this time?
Despite being the runner up of last year’s poll for New Model Army, Adam Roberts missed out on a place on the BSFA Award shortlist having previously made it in 2009 for Yellow Blue Tibia. In 2011, he turned this on its head by securing a place for By Light Alone on the shortlist whilst dropping to sixth in the poll. With Embassytown and The Islanders both in contention for the award, it seems unlikely that he has a chance of winning it this year but I wouldn’t bet against him for the future. Directly underneath Roberts was another BSFA Award contender: Osama by Lavie Tidhar. Although not Tidhar’s first novel, this was definitely his breakout book and raises expectations for the future. (This also means that Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith – reviewed by Paul Kincaid in this issue – was the only novel on the shortlist not to appear on the poll.)
The third edition of the SF Encyclopaedia, edited by John Clute, David Langford and Peter Nicholls, was made available online for free through Gollancz in October. Although still only in beta, people clearly thought the extra 1.8 million words already published deserved recognition (they’ve added another 200,000 since then). It is also surely likely to win the BSFA Award for non-fiction. In contrast, Eric Brown was perhaps unlucky to miss out on a place on the ballot for his best received novel in years, The Kings Of Eternity, having been previously shortlisted in 1994 for Engineman. Finally, we have this year’s token epic fantasy (last year it was Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay). Only with the BSFA could A Dance With Dragons, seventh instalment in George RR Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire, be considered an underdog!
In total 50 different books received votes, including The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel, which just missed the cut off point. Falling similarly short was The Weird, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. This monumental anthology is reviewed by Adam Roberts later in the issue (it’s business as usual for the BSFA Review despite the two dozen best of the year pieces starting over the page). I’m particularly pleased that this issue’s reviews heavily features short fiction, chapbooks, fiction in translation and non-fiction as well as a pair of debut science fiction novels by women. It is important that we cover big books like Embassytown and The Islanders but, as those 50 votes show, it is a big, big genre and I want to bring as much of it as possible to you.
BSFA Reviewers’ Poll
=1) The Islanders by Christopher Priest
=1) Embassytown by China Miéville
3) God’s War by Kameron Hurley
4) Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
5) The Silver Wind by Nina Allen
6) By Light Alone by Adam Roberts
7) Osama by Lavie Tidhar
8) SF Encyclopaedia (3rd edition beta), edited by John Clute, David Langford and Peter Nicholls
9) The Kings Of Eternity by Eric Brown
10) A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin
- The Recollection by Gareth L. Powell (Solaris, 2011) – Reviewed by Abigail Nussbaum
- Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (Corvus, 2012) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
- Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith (Newcon Press, 2011) – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- Triptych by JM Frey (Dragon Moon Press, 2011) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
- The Weird, edited by Anne and Jeff VanderMeer (Corvus 2011) – Reviewed by Adam Roberts
- Jesus and the Eightfold Path by Lavie Tidhar (Immersion Press, 2011), The Joy of Technology by Roy Gray (Pendragon Press, 2011) and Paintwork by Tim Maughan (Amazon Createspace/ebook, 2011) – Reviewed by Shaun Green
- Sky City: New Science Fiction Stories by Danish Authors, edited by Carl-Eddy Skovgaard (Science Fiction Cirklen, 2010) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Lemistry, edited by Ra Page and Magda Raczyńska (Comma Press, 2011) – Reviewed by Dan Hartland
- David Mitchell: Critical Essays, edited by Sarah Dillon (Gylphi Books, 2011) – Reviewed by Niall Harrison
- Science Fiction: A Very Short Introduction by David Seed (Oxford University Press, 2011) – Reviewed by Tony Keen
- Auntie’s Charlie: An Autobiography by Charles Chilton (Fantom Publishing, 2011) – Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
In the last issue, I suggested that there was an increasing Transatlantic divide within science fiction. Since then I’ve read two debut SF novels which have further fuelled this belief. Both are published by Night Shade Books in the US but have no UK publisher and, although they are only a mouse click away from the British reader, this at least partially removes them from the discourse. For example, they won’t turn up on the BSFA or Arthur C Clarke Award shortlists because they can’t.
The first of these novels is Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh and there is a small irony here in that the novel is expanded from a short story of the same name which was originally published in this country in Interzone (and shortlisted for the BSFA Award). It is an interesting take on one of the two currently dominant modes of SF: the collapse.
“It’s so hard to believe,” Colin said as we crossed the steaming, empty parking lot toward the bowling alley.
“That we’re poor. That we’re homeless.”
“I mean, we have college degrees,” he said.
“I know,” I said.”
Is this now our default future? Not too long ago the singularity was the next big thing and humanity was potentially unbounded. Now, the idea that things are bad and are just going to keep on getting worse seems less pessimism than realism. This is reflected in the increased popularity of depictions of bleak futures by writers both within and without the science fiction community. I was a judge for last year’s Clarke Award and therefore read pretty much every science fiction novel published in the UK and, along with space operas, such stories made up the biggest chunk of submissions. We used to call such narratives “post-apocalyptic” but these days the term seems both too cataclysmic and too abrupt for the type of fiction that is most commonly being produced. A book like The Road by Cormac McCarthy is anomalous, a throwback; rather than nuclear fire or The Day After Tomorrow ice, the world usually ends not with a bang but a whimper. There is no scourged Earth for our lone protagonists to wander through, no clear before and after, rather they must live through the slow degradation of everything they have known. Energy prices keep increasing, food prices keep increasing, unemployment goes up, homelessness goes up, the weather becomes more and more extreme, disease becomes more and more prevalent. Eventually the strain proves too much and the centre cannot hold: things fall apart. I’ve taken to calling this subgenre simply “collapse”; however, you might just as easily call it “soft apocalypse”.
Jasper is a white American with a college degree who somehow finds himself destitute and living the life of a gypsy. That is McIntosh’s term and deliberately adds a racial element; Jasper’s whiteness has been rescinded and those who have managed to keep a precarious hold on their possessions treat him as they would once have treated immigrants. Indeed, the US apparently has no qualms about rescinding his very citizenship: “They’re deporting homeless US citizens to third world countries along will illegals… They’re trying to defend it as retaliation for poor countries encouraging their people to come here. And they’re getting lots of support from people on the right.”
Starting by deliberately echoing the Great Depression, the novel slips forward in time a couple of years with each chapter. This is a technique used to impressive effect in Steve Amsterdam’s brilliantly titled but wildly uneven collapse novel, Things We Didn’t See Coming, and allows for the fact that the future will undoubtedly be both weird and changeable. Post-apocalypitic literature was a fiction of finality: this is the end, all options are closed down, reduced to the basics. The collapse is more fluid, as the years pass society ebbs and flows as it tries to keep purchase on the concept of civilisation. So Soft Apocalypse whilst there is a focus on ensuring basic needs (water, food, shelter) are met, there is also a focus on things that would be ridiculous luxuries in the post-apocalyptic world (dating, music, education). The sort of things that pre-collapse young people are interested in, in other words.
McIntosh’s biography describes him as a “psychology professor at Georgia Southern University, where he studies Internet dating, and how people’s TV, music, and movie choices are affected by recession and terrorist threats.” Much of this fertile ground is clearly present in the novel and his great achievement is projecting his current milieu into a downwardly spiralling future. But that is also its limitation. Projecting the quarter life crisis of the post-campus novel is something that core SF couldn’t do but once you’ve made that leap there isn’t anywhere else to go. When Jasper speaks it is in a voice we know all too well:
“Sometimes I hated these people, who lived so comfortably while the rest of us barely got by. Maybe I hated them because I always figured I’d be one of them, I don’t know.”
The second of the two books was God’s War by Kameron Hurley which has benefited from liberal online promotion amongst the British science fiction community courtesy of ex-Vector editor Niall Harrison but it remains a novel that is resolutely under the radar. It is a planetary romance, the once popular subgenre that currently finds itself outshone by its well-travelled younger sibling, space opera. The great virtue of space opera is scale, the widescreen baroque as Brian Aldiss brilliantly put it; the planetary romance offers something similar in microcosm, the different cultures and colours packed side-by-side on a globe. In this focus on worldbuilding, the form frequently resembles epic secondary world fantasy (especially since the cultures involved are often at comparable levels of technological advancement). The interplay between fantasy and science fiction is particularly intriguingly in God’s War which critic Farah Mendlesohn has gone so far as to describe as being “sword and sorcery far future fantasy” rather than SF. For me, the novel is clearly and importantly science fiction but has been interestingly filtered through a New Weird sensibility that we would more usually expect to be applied to epic fantasy.
Nasheen and Chenja are the two major powers on the planet of Umayma, both subscribing to slightly different branches of an Islam further filtered through thousands of years of thought and both at war because of this for what is functionally forever. As is traditional, it is young men who are forcibly recruited to feed this machine. In Chenja, this has resulted in a small upper class of old men with dozens of wives. In Nasheen, the prevelance of women on the home front has led to them taking control. This “genocide of gender”, as one character aptly puts it, leads to a matriarchy with no men and a patriarchy with none either.
Nyx is a bel dame, rounding up Nasheenian deserters for the endless war at the front. She is an alpha female, a badass action hero, but not a man with breasts as is so often the way in genre fiction. Earlier in the year an aphorism (or ‘Tweet’, as we call them these days) was floating round the internet wondering: “Why do people say grow some balls? Those things are weak and sensitive. If you want to get tough, grow a cunt. Those things take a pounding.” Nyx would be onboard with that.
When we meet her, she is already ragged; she has just sold her womb and has taken black work in addition to her government contract. The first act ends with her being violently cast out of her murderous sorority and imprisoned. The book returns to her eight years later and, after the density and intensity of the first half, the world becomes a more familiar place. She has assembled a crew and is scratching out a living as a bounty hunter when she is inevitably drawn into a potentially epoch-shattering conspiracy.
It is fair to say that the plot is the most underpowered aspect of God’s War but it is hard to care too much when it is so intellectually and imaginatively stimulating. The science fiction heart of the novel comes through in the intersectionality of Hurley’s work, the way she pushes together and pulls apart huge issues like religion, feminism and warfare. For example, the women of Nasheen claim to love their boys but they idealise them for a supposed virtue that allows them to dehumanise them and ultimately send them to the slaughter, echoing both the way young men are currently treated and reminds us of the way women have similarly been objectified throughout the history. This is melange of ideas is furthered further thickened by the intrusion of the weird; shapeshifters and magicians and insect technology, all with a SF underpinning but used for the same destabilising purpose. The result is a novel that is overwhelming and by the end there is a sense of exhaustion; for Nyx, for the world, for the reader. The sequel, Infidel, was also published this year and opens up the world but is this necessarily a good thing?
Tom Hunter, director of the Clarke Award and BSFA Committee Member Without Portfolio, is fond of saying that the future of SF is hybridity. I’m not entirely convinced by his evangelism but this blending – whether literary fiction with genre as in McIntosh or fantasy with SF as in Hurley – is clearly oxygenating speculative fiction. The US and UK genre publishing pools are big enough to be in no danger of stagnating but a bit more percolation between them would definitely be healthy.
- Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss (Titan Books, 2011) – Review by Alastair Reynolds
- Everyone’s Just So So Special by Robert Shearman (Big Finish, 2011) – Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
- The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M Valente (Night Shade Books, 2010) – Reviewed by Niall Harrison
- Ventriloquism by Catherynne M Valente (PS Publishing, 2010) – Reviewed by Nic Clarke
- The Immersion Book of Steampunk, edited by Gareth D. Jones and Carmelo Rafala (Immersion Press, 2011) – Reviewed by Glyn Morgan
- Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ian Whates (Solaris, 2011) – Reviewed by David Towsey
- Escape Velocity: The Anthology, edited by Geoff Nelder and Robert Blevins (Adventure Books, 2011) – Reviewed by Dave M. Roberts
- Crash Day by Jack Mangan and The Legend of False Dreaming by Toiya Kristen Finley (Pendragon Press, 2011) – Reviewed by Penny Hill
- Rule 34 by Charles Stross (Orbit, 2011) – Reviewed by Paul Graham Raven
- Equations of Life by Simon Morden (Orbit, 2011) – Reviewed by CB Harvey
- Germline by TC McCarthy (Orbit, 2011) – Reviewed by Stuart Carter
- The Map of Time by Félix J Palma (HarperCollins, 2011) – Reviewed by Gary Dalkin
- The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett (Orbit, 2010) – Reviewed by Anne F Wilson
- Heaven’s Shadow by David S. Goyer and Michael Cassutt (Tor UK, 2011) – Reviewed by Graham Andrews
- Wither by Lauren DeStefano (HarperCollins, 2011) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
- The End Specialist by Drew Magary (Harper Voyager, 2011) – Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
- The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington (Orbit, 2011) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
- Redlaw by James Lovegrove (Solaris, 2011) – Reviewed by Jon Wallace
- Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? by Max Brallier (Gallery Books, 2011) – Reviewed by Lynne Bispham
- Indigo Eyes by Fel Kian and Greyglass by Tanith Lee (Immanion Press 2011) – Reviewed by Cherith Baldry
- Echo City by Tim Lebbon (Orbit, 2011) – Reviewed by Jim Steel
- Sea of Ghosts by Alan Campbell (Tor, 2011) – Reviewed by Mark Harding
- The Goblin Corps by Ari Marmell (Pyr, 2011) – Reviewed by Lalith Vipulananthan
- Blackdog by KV Johansen (Pyr, 2011) – Reviewed by AP Canavan
- A Dance With Dragons by George R R Martin (Voyager, 2011) – Reviewed by Alan Fraser
As an aside in my post about BSFA Award for best novel, I promised to review the shortlist for the short fiction award and then set out my ballot and predict the winner. But then I had a thought: perhaps other people would like to read them at the same time. All five stories have been made available online so they are accessible to everyone and it would be nice to get a bit of a debate going. With that in mind, I’m planning to run a short story club here next week, starting on Monday, 6 February 2012 and looking at a different story each day. Here is the schedule, including links to each story:
- Monday: The Silver Wind by Nina Allan
- Tuesday: The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell
- Wednesday: Afterbirth by Kameron Hurley
- Thursday: Covehithe by China Mieville
- Friday: Of Dawn by Al Robertson
I’ll post my thoughts as well as links to any existing online reviews and then it would be great to hear thoughts from others.
I’m writing this not long after the announcement of the Hugo Awards at Renovation and again musing about science fiction’s apparent Transatlantic divide. The Hugo Award for Best Novel was won by Connie Willis for two books, Blackout and All Clear, which form a single novel. This novel runs to almost 1,200 pages and I’ve yet to see anyone suggest such verbiage was necessary or served any purpose beyond making the poor reader pay twice for the same story. I’ve also yet to see anyone in the UK praise the novel at all. Rather I’ve seen it remorselessly criticised for research so sloppy it is borderline offensive. In contrast, Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House – winner of the BSFA Award and Vector reviewers’ poll as well as being shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award – came last in the vote.
This is less about the taste of the Hugo voters – although there is always scope for criticism on those grounds – than the fact publishing in the US and UK seems increasingly out of synch. It is something I noticed earlier in the year when Locus published their recommended reading list and you can also see it on the rest of the Hugo shortlist. Although Blackout/All Clear ultimately won the award, Mira Grant’s Young Adult zombie novel Feed gained the most first preferences. Like NK Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms it was published in this country by Orbit and received mixed but respectable reviews. The final book on the list, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cryoburn, hasn’t been published in this country. This gives a sense that the US and the UK are two quite distinct science fiction cultures.
The Transatlantic divide is more prominent whilst being simultaneously less important in other award categories. No one will be surprised that the Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form award consisted of five American films. Even the latest instalment in the surprisingly good Harry Potter series, which makes much use of British labour, is ultimately American under its skin. (Britain does have the dubious honour of having a stranglehold on Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form thanks to Doctor Who.)
For me, it is a much more interesting list than that for Best Novel. It goes without saying that Toy Story 3 is the best film on that list, it also goes without saying that Inception won (but it is hard to get too upset about that). As I said, I liked the Death Hallows Part 1 for its successful polishing of JK Rowling’s turd and, although I hated Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (in large part because I had read the comics), I know a lot of people took it to their hearts. The only film on the list I hadn’t seen was How To Train Your Dragon, based on a series of children’s novels by Cressida Cowell. Having now seen it, I can report that whilst a lot of fun, it shows why Dreamworks will always play second fiddle to Pixar.
Hiccup is a weedy little kid, completely out of place in his village of burly Viking warriors. The biggest and burliest is Stoick the Vast, chief of the village and Hiccup’s dad (as is inevitably the case with Hollywood films, his mother is safely dead). To compensate for his lack of physical prowess, Hiccup is a brilliant engineer, although of course this talent is not held in any esteem by the others. Completely isolated, he secretly lusts after Astrid, a girl who embodies all the Viking virtues he does not. I think you can see where this is going: Hiccup uses his brain to save the day, make his dad proud and get the girl.
The not-so-secret ingredient that adds some much needed spice to the extremely familiar structure of the films is the dragons. They eat the villagers’ sheep and burn down their houses and, however many the villagers kill, there are always more. Despite this rather grim premise, it is joyfully outlined in a clever opening sequence. In another nice touch, there are many different types of dragon, the most deadly and feared being the Night Fury which is so fast no one has actually seen one. Using his mastery of technology, Hiccup manages to wing one but when he catches up with the downed beast he finds himself unable to deliver the coup de grâce. From this a friendship develops between the two because – who would have thought it? – the dragons are just misunderstood. It’s hokey and overly familiar but the animators do a great job of non-verbally conveying the dragon’s intelligence and personality.
And that sums up How To Train Your Dragon: there is quite a bit of wit but it never manages to rise about its generic plotting. As for Blackout/All Clear, well, I’ll be reading it later in the year (Gollancz publish the second volume here in October) so I’ll be able to see if it is as witless British reviewers have suggested or whether the Hugo voters are really onto something.
- Out Of This World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It, exhibition (20 May to 25 September 2011, British Library) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
- Pardon This Intrusion: Fantastika in the World Storm by John Clute (Beccon, 2011) – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- Embassytown by China Miéville (PanMacMillan, 2011) – Reviewed by Paul Graham Raven
- The Noise Within and The Noise Revealed by Ian Whates (Solaris, 2010 and 2011) – Reviewed by Ian Sales
- Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey (Orbit, 2011) – Reviewed by Chris Amies
- Son of Heaven by David Wingrove (Corvus, 2011) – Reviewed by Jim Steel
- Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (Simon and Schuster, 2011) – Reviewed by Patrick Mahon
- Rossum’s Universal Robots by Karel Čapek, translated by David Short (Hesperus, 2011) – Reviewed by L J Hurst
- Black Halo by Sam Sykes (Pyr, 2011) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
- The Heir Of Night by Helen Lowe (Orbit, 2010) – Review by Mark Connorton
- The Hammer by KJ Parker (Orbit, 2011) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
- The Inheritance by Robin Hobb and Megan Lindholm (Voyager, 2011) – Reviewed by Amanda Rutter
- Regicide by Nicholas Royle (Solaris, 2011) – Reviewed by Dave M Roberts
- Epitaph by Shaun Hutson (2010, Orbit) – Reviewed by Martyn Taylor
- The Concrete Grove by Gary McMahon (Solaris, 2011) – Reviewed by Shaun Green
- Horns by Joe Hill (Gollancz, 2010) – Review by Lalith Vipulananthan
- Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett (Corgi, 2010), The Folklore of Discworld by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson (Corgi, 2009) and I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (Doubleday, 2010) – Reviewed by Jessica Yates
- Ghost of a Chance by Rhiannon Lassiter (Oxford University Press, 2011) – Reviewed by Graham Andrews
- The Prometheus Project: Stranded by Douglas E Richards (Paragon Press, 2010) – Reviewed by Cherith Baldry
The Routledge Concise History Of Science Fiction by Mark Bould and Sherryl Vint marks the conclusion of a sustain period of genre activity from the academic publisher. First in 2009 came the Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, a vast work edited by Bould, Vint, Andrew M Butler and Adam Roberts. The prohibitive price put it out of the reach of pretty much everyone but academic libraries until a paperback edition was published at the beginning of the year. It is this edition which Glyn Morgan reviews over the page.
In the course of doing so he notes “the companion to the Companion”: Fifty Key Figures (edited by the same foursome). I reviewed Fifty Key Figures for the online magazine Strange Horizons where I suggested the point of the book “is to broadly map a large and fragmented territory in a way that engages the interested general reader and stimulates further investigation…. Of course, by its nature, it is somewhat jagged itself, fifty spikes jutting up from the vast plains of the genre.”
Now we have the Concise History – the companion to the companion to the Companion, perhaps – which smoothes out that landscape somewhat. At the same time, it brings new risks; Fifty Key Figures does at least avoid the “potentially unattainable comprehensiveness that a more conventional history of the genre demands of both author and reader.” This sentiment is echoed by Bould and Vint themselves in their introduction: “Writing the history of science fiction is an impossible task, and even writing a history is daunting.” Their solution is to acknowledge their limitations, set out their boundaries and provide signposting.
So the use of the word ‘concise’ is important. Compare this book, for example, to the recent Palgrave History of Science Fiction, edited by Adam Roberts (him again). After dealing with the problems of definition, Bould and Vint devote a single chapter to “science fictions before Gernsback.” Roberts spends six chapters and 150 pages getting to the Twentieth Century. This is not a criticism of Roberts’s book, simply a suggestion that the Concise History is more likely to find favour with the general reader, the reader who is perhaps less interested in the genre emerging in the 17th Century as a dialogue between Protestant and Catholic worldviews and more in the themes and concerns of the last eighty years of modern SF.
Each chapter is short – about 20 pages including interpolated text boxes pointing in other directions – starts with a paragraph overview and ends with a bulletpoint summary. We are briskly taken from the Thirties to pretty much Now (the last word goes to China Miéville’s The City & The City). From the outset there is an emphasis on a plurality of approaches. For example, in the chapter on the Thirties (“Proliferations”) care is taken not just to address the rise of the pulp magazines but also comics and radio and TV serials. The editors remark that “histories of the genre usually marginalise or exclude such SF” but they are surely right that our collective understanding of what SF has been as much informed by the latter as the former. This careful look at “enrolment”, the way some works are brought into the canon of science fiction and others moved into other boxes (such as fantasy or horror), lends a gentle but persistent (and entirely welcome) air of revisionism to the book.
Whilst the Routledge Companion and Fifty Key Figures are clearly primarily orientated towards students, they are also of considerable interest to the general reader. The same is even truer of the Concise History, an ideal book for a new SF reader who wants to know where we’ve come from. It is a book I’ve always wanted, a book I wish I had as a child.
- The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts and Sheryl Vint (Routledge, 2009) – Reviewed by Glyn Morgan
- The Mervyn Stone Mysteries: Geek Tragedy, DVD Extras Include: Murder and Cursed Among Sequels by Nev Fountain (Big Finish, 2010) – Reviewed by Gary Dalkin
- Sci-Fi London Film Festival: Dinoshark (2010), Sharktopus (2010), One Hundred Mornings (2009), Zenith (2010), Gantz (2011) and Super (2010) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
- Ignition City, written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Gianluca Pagliarani (Avatar, 2010) – Reviewed by James Bacon
- Twin Spica: Volume 1 by Kou Yaginuma (Vertical, 2010) – Reviewed by Nick Honeywell
- Mardock Scramble by Tow Ubukata, translated by Edwin Hawkes (Haikasoru, 2011) – Reviewed by Alan Fraser
- Gantz (2011) – Reviewed by Lalith Vipulananthan
- Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Harper Voyager, 2010) – Reviewed by Dan Hartland
- The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Orbit, 2010) – Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
- On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers (Corvus, 2011) – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- The Broken Kingdoms by NK Jemisin (Orbit, 2010) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
- The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham (Orbit, 2011) – Reviewed by Sue Thomason
- The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz, 2011) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
- The Scarab Path by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor UK, 2010) – Reviewed by Nic Clarke
- The Wolf Age by James Enge (Pyr, 2010) – Reviewed by A.P. Canavan
- Blood and Iron by Tony Ballantyne (Tor UK, 2010) – Reviewed by David Towsey
- The Evolutionary Void by Peter F Hamilton (Pan MacMillan, 2010) – Reviewed by Martin Potts
- Point by Thomas Blackthorne (Angry Robot, 2011) – Reviewed by Alan Fraser
- Embedded by Dan Abnett (Angry Robot, 2011) – Reviewed by Stuart Carter
- The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar (Angry Robot, 2010) – Reviewed by Niall Harrison
- The Rivers Of London by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz, 2011) – Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
- Secrets of the Fire Sea by Stephen Hunt (Harper Voyager, 2011) – Reviewed by Lynne Bispham
- The Horns Of Ruin by Tim Ackers (Pyr, 2010) – Reviewed by Simon Spurrier
You could perhaps have anticipated the result…
In a change to previous years, for Vector’s review of 2010 I asked reviewers to both vote for their five favourite novels published last year and write a piece on their reading in general. The freestyle pieces start on the next page with Graham Andrews discussing a forgotten paperback but by now I’m sure your eye has already been drawn to the results of the poll.
The triumph of The Dervish House by Ian McDonald was comprehensive; it received twice as many votes as New Model Army by Adam Roberts which came in second. If you’ve read any other end of year articles you probably won’t be surprised, in many corners it seems that The Dervish House is the science fiction novel of 2010. This was also reflected in its appearance on the shortlist for the BSFA Award for best novel. As BSFA members, the results of that award are in your hands. At this point, however, I would be surprised if McDonald didn’t take it home. I would be equally surprised if The Dervish House didn’t turn up on other award shortlists.
There was a strong showing for other novels as well though. New Model Army may have come runner up but, in his review, Mark Connorton hopes that this won’t always be the case: “For the last few years Roberts has been the perennial nominee at SF awards. Hopefully this will be the one to change it for him.” Iain M Banks is another writer whose stature and acclaim hasn’t translated into prizes. After the general disappointment with Matter, Surface Detail was received as a return to form in many quarters, a “classic Banksian synthesis of a sprawling space opera” as Marcus Flavin puts it.
The British edition of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl only came out in December but it has already gained a substantial following. The fact it won both the Hugo and the Nebula last year probably had something to do with that and it is also shortlisted for this year’s BSFA Award. Of the rest of the shortlisted novels, Ken MacLeod’s The Restoration Game and Tricia Sullivan’s Lightborn (reviewed bv Jonathan McCalmont) both failed to make the cut but Lauren Beukes’s second novel, Zoo City, just squeaked in.
The top five was dominated by science fiction – perhaps not surprising given the name of our organisation – but in fourth place was Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay, “a reflection of Tang Dynasty China that rings our present world like a bell” according to Niall Harrison. Not far behind was Kraken by China Mieville. After last year’s all conquering The City & The City, this was widely seen as a more modest work but a modest Mieville work is still a substantial beast and his popularity shows no sign of waning.
Completing the list, Patrick Ness concluded what has to be this young century’s finest work of Young Adult science fiction with Monsters Of Men, Richard Powers provided the token non-genre book with his blending of science, fiction and science fiction in Generosity and, at last, Chris Beckett found both a publishing deal and the acclaim he deserves with The Holy Machine.
Finally, tying with Zoo City for tenth place was Finch, the third instalment in Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris series. As Paul Raven says: “Don’t be afraid to enter Ambergris without knowing what to expect. But do be prepared to leave with more questions than you arrived with.”
So that is what our reviewers thought. I am one of the judges of this year’s Arthur C Clarke Award so I won’t say what my favourite books of 2010 were. I don’t think it is breaking the Clarke omerta to say I think it has been a very strong year though. This strength was remarked upon by several reviewers in their individual pieces over the next couple of pages and reflected in this top ten.
I hope the pages of this review section have introduced you to lots of new sf over the course of 2010. I’ve enjoyed my first year at Vector and plan to keep bringing you the widest range of reviews possible. Reviews of Under Heaven, The Windup Girl and Zoo City are all forthcoming and, in addition to the end of year pieces, this issue contains its fair share of reviews. I am particularly please to welcome Gwyneth Jones to these pages with a feature review of Animal Alterity, Sheryl Vint’s examination of the animal in sf.
Vector Reviewers’ Poll 2010
1) Dervish House by Ian McDonald
2) New Model Army by Adam Roberts
3) Surface Detail by Iain M Banks
4) Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
5) The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
6) Kraken by China Miéville
7) Monsters Of Men by Patrick Ness
8) Generosity by Richard Powers
9) The Holy Machine by Chris Beckett
=10) Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
=10) Finch by Jeff VanderMeer
- Finch by Jeff VanderMeer (Corvus, 2010) – Reviewed by Paul Graham Raven
- Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan (Orbit, 2010) – Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
- Surface Detail by Iain M Banks (Orbit, 2010) – Reviewed by Marcus Flavin
- The Technician by Neal Asher (Tor, 2010) – Reviewed by Stuart Carter
- Version 43 by Philip Palmer (Orbit, 2010) – Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
- How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Corvus, 2010) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
- Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson (HarperCollins, 2009) – Reviewed by Anthony Nanson
- Music For Another World, edited by Mark Harding (Mutation Press, 2010) – Reviewed by Dave M. Roberts
- The Immersion Book of SF, edited by Carmelo Rafala (Immersion Press, 2010) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Zombie: An Anthology of the Undead, edited by Christopher Golden (Piatkus, 2010) – Reviewed by CB Harvey
- The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer (Night Shade Books, 2010) – Reviewed by Niall Harrison
- Feed by Mira Grant (Orbit, 2010) – Reviewed by Alex Williams
- Tomes of the Dead: Anno Mortis by Rebecca Levene (Abaddon, 2008) – Reviewed by Shaun C Green
- Songs Of The Dying Earth, edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois (Voyager, 2010) – Reviewed by L J Hurst
- The Black Prism by Brent Weeks (Orbit, 2010) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
- The Fallen Blade by John Courtenay Grimwood (Orbit, 2011) – Reviewed by Anne F Wilson
- Animal Alterity: Science Fiction And The Question Of The Animal by Sherryl Vint (Liverpool University Press, 2010) – Reviewed by Gwyneth Jones
Satan Burger, Razor Wire Pubic Hair, The Menstruating Mall, Ape Shit, The Haunted Vagina, Sausagey Santa (“featuring Santa as a piratey mutant with a body made of sausages”), Adolf In Wonderland, Ultra Fuckers and The Faggiest Vampire: A Children’s Story are just some of the novels of Carlton Mellick III, one of the most prolific writer of bizarro fiction. Absurd, surreal, offensive and deliberately confrontational, those titles give you a pretty good idea of what this form of outsider literature is like. Whether you view them as being indicative of a gleeful gonzo anarchy or merely a juvenile sense of transgression is another question.
I started my induction into the world of bizarro with Rampaging Fuckers Of Everything On The Crazy Shitting Planet Of The Vomit Atmosphere! by Mykle Hansen. It is subtitled “three novels” but, at only 215 pages, these are novellas at best. The first of these is ‘Monster Cocks’, a sort-of-satire about the end of the world featuring Jack Stalker, your average American Everyman with a micropenis. Jack has a foolproof plan though: ask strangers on the internet for penis enlargement advice. After all, as Hansen puts it in typically deadpan style, “I’ve seen pictures of their dicks so I know I can trust them.” Initially, it seems he is right to trust them because soon he has the monster cock he’s always dreamed of. He names his new penis Lassie. Unfortunately, Lassie gets out of control:
“That really excellent and pressing question – what to do, exactly, with my seven-foot-long bloodthirsty pet anaconda cock-monster, who had ripped free of my crotch and ate the policeman who thinks I murdered the abusive boyfriend of Angela Fine”
Indeed. ‘Monster Cocks’ is actually surprisingly gentle – a “poignant tragedy” it says on the back – but it is hard to escape the thought that, these days, nothing’s shocking. After all, it was only two decades ago in 1991 that Lord Horror by David Britton – proto-bizarro if ever I saw it – was actually banned. Banned! That was the last time a book has been banned under the Obscene Publications Act 1857 and the idea it could be successfully enacted again is pretty much inconceivable. Last year Darryn Walker was prosecuted for publishing online a story in which the members of the pop group Girls Aloud were raped, tortured and murdered in graphic detail. This is extreme stuff but by no means unprecedented for internet fanfic, as his defence counsel said “in terms of its alleged obscenity, it is frankly no better or worse than other articles.” Walker was not convicted.
The genie is out of the bottle. When Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds was banned by WH Smith and John Menzies it meant something, now everything is just a click away. Walker can self-publish his darkest fantasies and anyone in the world can read them, Bizarro Books can happily sell their wares through Amazon. This revolution in production and distribution gives us, the reader, unfettered access to filth but it also allows publishers to print ultra-niche products and still find an audience.
For example, last week I received an email asking me if I would like to review a “multicultural lesbian steampunk anthology. Yes, I said, yes, I would. The anthology – the rather weakly-named Steam-Powered, edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft and published by Torquere Press – was in my inbox the next morning. As is usual for a small press anthology, there aren’t many well-known names on the table of contents are unfamiliar but it does open with a story from NK Jemisin.
The outline of ‘The Effluent Engine’ is entirely familiar – a spy arrives by airship in a foreign city, intent on securing a scientific secret – but the details are not: the spy is from post-revolution Haiti and seeks to acquire the ability to distil methane from the island’s plentiful rum effluent in order to keep its people free from colonial tyranny. Of course, this is Jemisin so romance quickly raises its ugly head in the form of a scientist’s comely (and fiercely intelligent, naturally) sister. Things develop as you would expect.
Are either of these books any good? Well, I read them very much in the spirit of enquiry and, after my first exposure, had no pressing urge to explore further. A little goes a long way with such specialised tastes. But, at a time when the horizons of corporate publishing shrink ever tighter, I’m glad they exist.
- Orgasmachine by Ian Watson (Newcon Press, 2010) – reviewed by Justin Robson
- Shine, edited by Jetse de Vries (Solaris, 2010) – reviewed by Anthony Nanson
- The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz, 2010) – reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz, 2010) – reviewed by Tony Keen
- The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod (Orbit, 2010) – reviewed by Michael Abbott
- The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross (Orbit, 2010) – reviewed by Martin Potts
- Escape From Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (Tor, 2009) – reviewed by Dave M Roberts
- The Turing Test by Chris Beckett and The Last Reef by Gareth L Powell (Elastic Press, 2008) – reviewed by Dave M Roberts
- The Holy Machine (Corvus, 2010) and Marcher (Cosmos Books, 2008) by Chris Beckett – reviewed by Jim Steel
- Inside/Outside – Chris Beckett interviewed by Paul Graham Raven
- Major Carnage by Gord Zajac (ChiZine Publications, 2010) – reviewed by Shaun Green
- Nexus: Ascension by Robert Boyczuk (ChiZine Pubications, 2010) – reviewed by Graham Andrews
- The Nemesis List by RJ Frith – reviewed by Ben Jeapes
- The Noise Within by Ian Whates (Solaris, 2010) – reviewed by Stuart Carter
- Brave Story and The Book Of Heroes by Miyuke Miyabe (Haikasoru, 2007 and 2009) – reviewed by Cherith Baldry
- WE by John Dickinson (David Fickling Books, 2010) – reviewed by Donna Scott
- I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (Penguin, 2010) – reviewed by CB Harvey
- Monsters Of Men by Patrick Ness (Walker Books, 2010) – reviewed by Anne F Wilson
- The Iron Hunt, Darkness Calls and A Wild Light by Marjorie M Liu (Orbit, 2008-10) – reviewed by Amanda Rutter
- The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan (Orbit, 2009) – reviewed by Alan Fraser
- Shadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov (Simon & Schuster, 2010) – reviewed by Sandra Unerman
- The Office Of Shadow by Mathew Sturges (Pyr, 2010) – reviewed by AP Canavan
- Lord Of The Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier (Orbit, 2010) – reviewed by Lynne Bispham
As reviews editor for Vector, my priority is to make sure that our members receive regular, timely reviews which bring critical insight to a wide range of books. At the same time, I don’t want all this material to be locked away in the print magazine forever. So I am keen to make some of the BSFA’s huge archive of reviews available online.
This is a big job and I am starting with small steps. I already publish my First Impressions column on this blog and that lists each review published in Vector. I have also agreed with a couple of reviewers that they can also republish their reviews on their own blogs to bring the Vector and the BSFa to the attention of a wider audience.
My main goal is to make much more available through the BSFA’s own sites though. Now, you may well have noticed that the Vector website has been in stasis for some time but I can assure you that the overhaul of all its websites is one of the BSFA’s priorities for 2011. In the meantime, I have been using Torque Control as an interim measure and this week I reprinted all my old Vector reviews over there.
Pretty Little Things To Fill Up The Void clearly harks back to the early days of cyberpunk but it is too redundant even to be the future as envisaged in the Eighties. In fact, this is almost pre-cyberpunk and shares more in common with Hubert Selby Jr than with any current SF writers. It is clearly a conscious choice but I’m not sure exactly why or to what end. One thing is for certain; this isn’t science fiction but nor is it purely mimetic because is so strongly abstracted from the real world. The city is a sort of fantasy sinkhole, a playground for malcontents, and this robs it of its power.
(It is clear I struggled to understand what Logan was up to here. I liked his next novel, Katja from the Punk Band, rather more.)
Nanson writes well, if not particularly excitingly. For a writer who makes clear in his introduction that his work is infused with spiritualism he is surprisingly rigorous. If anything it is so self-consciously precise as to be slightly stifling. It is not his writing that proves the problem though but rather his subject. The problem with trying to convey the ineffable is that it is, well, ineffable.
Imagine if Richard Dawkins was not only American but retarded. Imagine he taught himself to read using the work of illiterate megasellers like James Patterson and Tess Gerritsen. Imagine he further fleshed out his understanding of human nature on a diet of romance novels and misery memoirs. Finally, imagine he stayed up one night getting drunk and watching piss poor police procedurals before having the sudden brainwave of re-writing American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Imagine all that and you have imagined Melinda Snodgrass’s dire The Edge Of Reason and thus saved yourself the pain of actually reading it.
Edward M Lerner is a traditional SF writer in that he is an engineer who knows a lot about S and not much about F. After ghostwriting a couple of Ringworld prequels for them, this is his first novel proper for Tor and only adds to my sense that something has gone badly wrong with their quality control of late. Fools’ Experiments is a tedious technothriller doled out in 71 bite-sized (but not particularly thrilling) chapters.
The main selling point of Wireless is ‘Palimpsest’, an unpublished novella. A mix of time travel and deep time future history, it is a powerful piece but sabotaged by an afterword in which Stross makes clear that it should really be a novel, had industry requirements not dictated otherwise. I understand the travails of the jobbing writer – Stross has chronicled them well on his blog – but Wireless is so market-driven that any enjoyment of the stories was overwhelmed by a desire for less haste and graft and more reflection and quality control.
As a bonus, here a few further thoughts about Wireless and the amount of sunshine in Stross’s fiction.