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Archive for November 28th, 2009

The Emperor’s New Clothes?

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John Clute’s Excessive Candour review column recently transfered from SF Weekly to Sci-Fi Wire when the former merged with the latter. This caused some degree of confusion for the punters of Sci-Fi Wire and eventually lead to Clute being dumped before immediately being snapped up by Strange Horizons.

Back in September, Jeff Vandermeer helpfully gave Sci-Fi Wire’s readers a translation of his review of The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Vandermeer concluded:

In an age when we have not too much sophisticated analysis of books but too little, it is hard to fault a reviewer for expanding our vocabulary even as he explicates a text. The fact is, the ways in which his words seem to stand out like a flashing siren or fit in as if part of an intricate mosaic will always depend on the brains of each individual reader.

There is some further discussion of this over at Torque Control. This has got me thinking: how do I feel about Clute? I have always counted him a good thing but only in an unreflexive and passive way. I may read his reviews but I don’t seek them out and I prefer many other reviewers. I despise the willful ignorance of the people on Sci-Fi Wire who dismiss him out of hand but at times his stylistic excesses irritate me and appear more like obfuscation than illumination. I have failed to truly engage with anything he has written. So I have resolved to think more closely about him, his use of language and his critical framework. I’m not sure what form this will take (or why you would be interested) but it may well involve a more serious take on Vandermeer’s translation idea once Clute is ensconced at Strange Horizons.

Written by Martin

28 November 2009 at 17:33

Posted in criticism, sf

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‘Savage Breasts’ by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

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Do you find the following amusing? “I felt like a palm tree hand-pollinated for the first time. I began to have clusters of dates.” If so, this is the story for you. It is an arch 1950s pastiche in which Mae June sends off to Charlotte Atlas (boom boom) for a pamphlet to increase the size of her breasts. They get bigger but they also become aggressive. With mildly humourous consequences.

Quality: **
Wit: **

Incidently this is one of two stories in Witpunk which contain the word “breast” in the title. Breasts are inherently funny, apparently.

Written by Martin

28 November 2009 at 15:47

Posted in sf, short stories

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The last time I went to see Firsts it was because my wife was in one of the performances. This time my sole motivation was the fact it is a shockingly good deal: four pieces of contemporary performance for a fiver. Even a mixed bag is worth sampling at that price.

We were slightly spoilt to start with ‘A View From Down Here’ by Collectif And Then…, an aerial duet for double cloud. It was inspired by children’s letter and readings of these framed the piece on stage but really this was unnecessary because the brilliant child-like joy of the piece shone through from the very opening, before they’d even ascended the rope. I’m very tempted to see their next performance at Jackson’s Lane in the new year.

It was then a complete contrast to move back down to Earth for ‘imreadywhenuare’ by Simon Williams and Bad Taste Cru, a resolutely masculine and serious work. It comes with a lot of bumf about addressing peer pressure and urban conformity but it doesn’t really getting into this. There are a couple of things here. Firstly, I’ve looked up a snippet of the piece on YouTube which is very different and features four dancer. So it may well be that this version has been substantially buggered about with. It certainly looks pretty rough. Secondly, the audience must carry some of the blame. As soon as the dancers started breaking they started whooping – “Wow! Breaking! Amazing!” – and when (obviously) this turned out to only be part of the piece this left the dancers slightly stranded and the performance lopsided.

Also lopsided but much more successfully was ‘The Making Of Doubt’ by Stammer Productions. It opens with a long, slow waltz between two ripped open cardboard boxes which I thought was sweet but I could tell split the audience. The boxes then revealed four dancers, each with an additional prosthetic limb, struggling to control their new bodies as they emerged into the world. I thought this was amazing but I did hear a few grumbles in the interval.

There was pretty much nothing but grumbling for ‘The Second Death Of Caspar Helendale’, a collaboration between Jessica Curry and Dan Pinchbeck, which was just fucking shit. I will cut Curry some slack because at least she wrote the music but the concept of a requiem in and for Second Life is appalling. It was originally commissioned by 2ND LIVE: “exploring live performances in the Second Life (r) world.” Christ.

Written by Martin

28 November 2009 at 11:13