Posts Tagged ‘sf’
Villjamur was a granite fortress. Its main access was through three consecutive gates, and there the garuda retained the advantage over any invading armies. In the centre of the city, high up and pressed against the rock-face, beyond a lattice work of bridges and spires, was Balmacara, the vast Imperial residence, a cathedral-like construct of dark basalt and slick-glistening mica. In this weather the city seemed unreal.
The opening of Mark Charan Newton’s Nights of Villjamur has been posted at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist. His favourite novels are Underworld by Don DeLillo, The Scar by China Meiville and The Book Of The New Sun by Gene Wolfe so I am hoping for interesting things from this debut novel.
Thankfully the Locus round table is now over. In the conciliatory manner typical of Locus editorial staff Liza Groen Trombi says:
While most have welcomed the blog and the launch discussion, we have clearly annoyed a few people by not conforming to their ideas of what we ought to be doing.
The complaints I’ve seen are that the blog is boring and it takes seven hours for comments to appear but well done to Locus for striking a blow against conformity. Anyway, with the round table finished the blog proper can begin, starting with this article by Graham Sleight on advocacy and recognition SF. Stay tuned for his inevitable post about hedgehog and fox SF.
I reviewed The Heritage by Will Ashon for Strange Horizons so I was sent a copy by the publisher. I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise because it was published by Faber & Faber in the bastardised trade paperback format, a hideous half-way house between hardback and paperback. However, since I liked Clear Water I probably would have bought the real paperback when it was released this month. Except, as Ashon reports, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity:
So, the good burghers of Faber & Faber have decided against publishing a mass-market paperback edition of “The Heritage”. I would’ve been pissed off, anyway, I guess, but I think would have understood this hard-headed business decision. After all, if you wanna kiss the ring of the Leather Pope then corporate capitalism’s where it’s at and fuck any of the considerations (art, literature, quality) you may pay lip service to. But I think my sense of fair play was piqued by being told less than two weeks before said paperback edition was supposed to be out. I mean, really, how shit is that?
This has happened so rapidly that Amazon still have the paperback edition listed, albeit as “currently unavailable”. It is an extremely cruel blow for Ashon which he has tried to soften by making the novel available to download for free. I would recommend that you do.
When Algis Budrys died last year all his books were out of print in the UK, even the Hugo-nominated Rogue Moon (1960). I found a copy of this a couple of years ago, thought it was the best SF novel I’d read all year and vowed to track down more of his work. On my first trip to Hay-On-Wye last year I found copies of The Falling Torch (1959) and The Iron Thorn (1967) in the basement of Booth’s and I’ve just got round to reading them.
The plot of The Falling Torch seems like that of a conventional pulp: one man must free Earth from enslavement by alien invaders. This is certainly the impression the back cover blurb gives but anyone buying it on the strength of this is likely to be disappointed given how comprehensively it undermines the expected narrative. The opening chapter describes the state funeral of President Michael Wireman, emancipator of Earth. Interestingly it is written from the perspective of an anonymous young politicitian who is poised to succeed him having out maunovered the other contenders:
They were plainly identified in the public eye as subordinates. They were too far up the ladder to be rising young men; too well branded as not having enough ability to wrest position at the very top.
This gets to the very heart of the novel; this isn’t a story about adventure, it is a story about work. The Falling Torch is a novel that is obsessed with hierarchy. The next chapter moves back in time and out of the solar system to the government in exile where again we are confronted with further people politics. The outcome is that Wireman is sent to Earth to make contact with the leader of the rebels. He turns out to be a gangster and proto-dictator and another power game ensue. The pattern repeats itself again and again.
The Falling Torch, with its jerky, episodic structure, isn’t an entirely successful novel. Most of the things we might expect to see – the actual liberation, for example – take place entirely offscreen. Instead Budrys concentrates on the the more prosaic struggle for dominance in every day situations and, more problematically and less convincingly, on Wireman’s psychological uniqueness. Essentially he saves the planet by a unique and beautiful snowflake. We are repeatedly told that Wireman is not like other men but we are only told it, never shown it, and his personal quest for satori never rings true. (Apparently it sold a quarter of a million copies, God only knows what people made of it.)
Although The Iron Thorn was only published eight years later it seems infinitely more modern (although it doesn’t contain any meaningful female characters either.) Its plot is furnished with contemporary SF tropes such as genetic engineering, grumpy AIs and nanotech and it is less wilfully abstract. It opens in a science fantasy landscape that turns out to be Mars where a human called Honor White Jackson is hunting a beast called an Amsir as part of an initiation ritual. Jackson is another square peg in a round hole and from here the book onion skins out as he chaffs against his societal constraints. This expanding sphere of knowledge about the universe is handled very well and Budrys is rather better at portraying Jackson’s exceptionalism than Wireman’s though.
In his Yesterday’s Tomorrows column Graham Sleight implicitly describes these as minor work in Budrys’ canon. My selection was entirely informed by availability but I’m glad I read them, The Iron Thorn in particular. On the inside of my copy of the book his publishers describe Budrys as being “universally regarded as a great storyteller in the tradition of Kipling, Wells and Tolkein.” At the time this must just have seemed like hubris but now it is quite sad. It would be wonderful to see a publisher putting these books back into print, particularly since they are only a 150 pages long and you could plausibly collect all his novels in one omnibus.
Bookspot Central publish a review:
It must be said that The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death ain’t your typical Charlie Huston novel – whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean. Yeah, it has the blood (tons of the stuff), it has the kick-ass dialogue, the one-of-a-kind stream-lined prose, and it moves along like a motherfucker – but this is no doubt a major departure for Huston. Shit, I’d argue that Mystic Arts isn’t even noir.
Yeah, I fucking just said that. Deal with that shit.
Fantasy Book News & Reviews wring their hands:
While I won’t go so far as to say that I found the review offensive, I did wonder about the prolific profanity. Is that really appropriate in a review? Especially considering the review is published by a “professional” review site?
The scare quotes are presumably because the idea that Bookspot Central is a professional review site is laughable. Anyway, what this post singularly manages to miss is the review is not bad because it contains swearing but, rather, is bad because it is fucking shit. As OF Blog of the Fallen go pointlessly overboard in proving. I love the fantasy blogosphere (and I haven’t even mentioned the girls are yucky debacle.)
The latest edition of Vector is out. I have a review and a letter of comment in it and other people have more interesting things – like Martin McGrath’s essay on John Scalzi’s feeble Old Man’s War books – in it. However, since the website hasn’t been updated for a couple of years there is nothing to link to and so this is probably only of interest to you if you are a member. In which case you will already have received your copy. So, instead, here are some links:
- Locus have launched a group blog which is still very much finding its feet.
- Jonathan McCalmont continues to bang the barleypunk drum as he thinks about the future of British SF.
- Elsewhere Damien G Walter is more conventional in his selection of bright young things.
- And Stephen King says Stephenie Meyer is shit. Although he also implausibly claims JK Rowling is not.
WORLDBLING A variety of worldbuilding in which a great many details of an imaginary world are put on rather showy and vulgar display in order to impress upon the ridder the prodigious imaginative wealth of the author. The imaginative wealth of the author, it can be added, is not usually in doubt, although some critiasses, especially those that value restraint, subtlety and inflection, question the judgment of authors who indulge too blatantly in worldbling.
I’ve written a few “best of the year” pieces and Anathem has turned up on all of them, despite the fact it clearly isn’t very well written. This is because I am indulging in a sort of special pleading – but the fact its not that well written isn’t the point! – that I usually distain. For the frist time in my life I find myself defending the idea of SF as the literature ideas. Some small lack of perspective caused by having engaged intensely with a mammoth text and finding your time wasn’t completley wasted may perhaps play a part as well.
Adam Roberts addresses these points in his review but more importantly he enriches the critical vocabulary with various choice neologisms. Will worldbling become the plot coupons for the new millenium? A gold star for the first person to use one of these terms in the wild.
David Barnett has a post up on the Guardian Book Blog about that old favourite, As Others See Us. I have long held the view that rather than just being harmless smirking at the ignorance of others who Just Don’t Get It this sort of thing is actually indicative of a poisonous persecution complex that hurts the SF community. Barnett pitches his piece in an agnostic tone, it is designed to generate debate rather than impose a view. It is mildly disappointing to see the same old suspects being brought up – Margaret Atwood features prominently – and the same old arguments being re-hashed but the comments to the article are actually some of the more balanced I’ve seen on this issue.
As it happens, Atwood will be publishing another SF novel – The Year of the Flood (Amazon have got the title wrong) – later this year. It appears to be set in the same world as Oryx And Crake or the synopsis references it, at any rate, but the events of that novel don’t seem entirely compatible so it will be interesting to see how it turns out. I am certainly looking forward to it though and hope to review it later in the year.
It seems appropriate to close this entry with this: Margaret Atwood On Science Fiction – The Great Hits.
As I mentioned early the Guardian are doing a list of the 1000 best novels broken down into seven slightly odd categories. They’ve just reached science fiction and fantasy. Having seen their crime and comedy lists I knew this was likely to be a somewhat strange selection and so it proves but it is a pretty interesting and high quality group of novels of the fantastic. Here is the list in full (bold for read):
Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
Brian W Aldiss: Non-Stop (1958)
Isaac Asimov: Foundation (1951)
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin (2000)
Paul Auster: In the Country of Last Things (1987)
JG Ballard: The Drowned World (1962)
JG Ballard: Crash (1973)
JG Ballard: Millennium People (2003)
Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory (1984)
Iain M Banks: Consider Phlebas (1987)
Clive Barker: Weaveworld (1987)
Nicola Barker: Darkmans (2007)
Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships (1995)
Greg Bear: Darwin’s Radio (1999)
William Beckford: Vathek (1786)
Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination (1956)
Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Poppy Z Brite: Lost Souls (1992)
Charles Brockden Brown: Wieland (1798)
Algis Budrys: Rogue Moon (1960)
Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita (1966)
Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Coming Race (1871)
Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1960)
Anthony Burgess: The End of the World News (1982)
Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars (1912)
William Burroughs: Naked Lunch (1959)
Octavia Butler: Kindred (1979)
Samuel Butler: Erewhon (1872)
Italo Calvino: The Baron in the Trees (1957)
Ramsey Campbell: The Influence (1988)
Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)
Angela Carter: The Passion of New Eve (1977)
Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus (1984)
Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)
Arthur C Clarke: Childhood’s End (1953)
GK Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2004)
Michael G Coney: Hello Summer, Goodbye (1975)
Douglas Coupland: Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)
Mark Danielewski: House of Leaves (2000)
Marie Darrieussecq: Pig Tales (1996)
Samuel R Delaney: The Einstein Intersection (1967)
Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
Philip K Dick: The Man in the High Castle (1962)
Thomas M Disch: Camp Concentration (1968)
Umberto Eco: Foucault’s Pendulum (1988)
Michel Faber: Under the Skin (2000)
John Fowles: The Magus (1966)
Neil Gaiman: American Gods (2001)
Alan Garner: Red Shift (1973)
William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)
Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland (1915)
William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)
Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (1974)
M John Harrison: Light (2002)
Nathaniel Hawthorne: The House of the Seven Gables (1851)
Robert A Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
Frank Herbert: Dune (1965)
Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game (1943)
Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker (1980)
James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)
Michel Houellebecq: Atomised (1998)
Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)
Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled (1995)
Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (1898)
PD James: The Children of Men (1992)
Richard Jefferies: After London; Or, Wild England (1885)
Gwyneth Jones: Bold as Love (2001)
Franz Kafka: The Trial (1925)
Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon (1966)
Stephen King: The Shining (1977)
Marghanita Laski: The Victorian Chaise-longue (1953)
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Uncle Silas (1864)
Ursula K Le Guin: The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
Ursula K Le Guin: The Earthsea series (1968-1990)
Stanislaw Lem: Solaris (1961)
Doris Lessing: Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)
CS Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56)
MG Lewis: The Monk (1796)
David Lindsay: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)
Ken MacLeod: The Night Sessions (2008)
Hilary Mantel: Beyond Black (2005)
Michael Marshall Smith: Only Forward (1994)
Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (1954)
Charles Maturin: Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)
Patrick McCabe: The Butcher Boy (1992)
Cormac McCarthy: The Road (2006)
Jed Mercurio: Ascent (2007)
China Miéville: The Scar (2002)
Andrew Miller: Ingenious Pain (1997)
Walter M Miller Jr: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)
David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas (2004)
Michael Moorcock: Mother London (1988)
William Morris: News From Nowhere (1890)
Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987)
Haruki Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995)
Vladimir Nabokov: Ada or Ardor (1969)
Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003)
Larry Niven: Ringworld (1970)
Jeff Noon: Vurt (1993)
Flann O’Brien: The Third Policeman (1967)
Ben Okri: The Famished Road (1991)
George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-four (1949)
Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club (1996)
Thomas Love Peacock: Nightmare Abbey (1818)
Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan (1946)
Frederik Pohl & CM Kornbluth: The Space Merchants (1953)
John Cowper Powys: A Glastonbury Romance (1932)
Terry Pratchett: The Discworld series (1983- ) (Well, I’ve read at least twenty of them…)
Christopher Priest: The Prestige (1995)
Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials (1995-2000)
François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-34)
Ann Radcliffe: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)
Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000)
Kim Stanley Robinson: The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)
JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1988)
Joanna Russ: The Female Man (1975)
Geoff Ryman: Air (2005)
Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry: The Little Prince (1943)
José Saramago: Blindness (1995)
Will Self: How the Dead Live (2000)
Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818)
Dan Simmons: Hyperion (1989)
Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (1937)
Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash (1992)
Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
Bram Stoker: Dracula (1897)
Rupert Thomson: The Insult (1996)
JRR Tolkien: The Hobbit (1937)
JRR Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings (1954-55)
Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court (1889)
Kurt Vonnegut: Sirens of Titan (1959)
Horace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto (1764)
Robert Walser: Institute Benjamenta (1909)
Sylvia Townsend Warner: Lolly Willowes (1926)
Sarah Waters: Affinity (1999)
HG Wells: The Time Machine (1895)
HG Wells: The War of the Worlds (1898)
TH White: The Sword in the Stone (1938)
Angus Wilson: The Old Men at the Zoo (1961)
Gene Wolfe: The Book of the New Sun (1980-83)
Virginia Woolf: Orlando (1928)
John Wyndham: Day of the Triffids (1951)
John Wyndham: The Midwich Cuckoos (1957)
Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1924)
So I make 60 that out of 149 which is considerably better than the 15 or so I was averaging for the other lists. There are some interesting books on there I’ve never heard of like Pig Tales. There are some selections which probably won’t seem to make much sense with a coupel of years hindsight like The Night Sessions. There are several writers who don’t appear for their most important book, the maddest of which must be the choice of Years Of Rice And Salt instead of Three Colours Mars. All in all, a nice chewy list though.
The Guardian have now published the full list of all one thousand books.
My review of The Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook is up now at Strange Horizons.
It is an omnibus of his first three Black Company novels and the books tugged me back and forth in a couple of directions and I’m not sure how I feel about the finished review so I would be interested in any comments on it from those who have read them. (Niall would kill me if I didn’t say this: leave the comments over on Strange Horizons rather than here.)