Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Archive for April 2011

‘Stone Lives’ by Paul di Filippo

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This is only di Filippo’s third published story (he must have literally hundreds now) and it shows. The style is much blander than we are used to from di Filippo, there is no sign of his trademark wit and the plot is just ridiculous.

Punkosity: ****
Quality: **

Written by Martin

17 April 2011 at 11:13

Posted in sf, short stories

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‘Freezone’ by John Shirley

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After gargoyles and mermaids, this sounds much more like it. Freezone! It conjures up unfettered capitalism with a seamy underbelly. So it is a bit of a surprise to discover that the protagonist, Rick Rickenharp, is your dad.

First though, we have several pages of dire infodumping. Here is a particularly bad example:

The company that bought Disneyland and Disneyworld and Disneyworld II – all three of which had closed in the wake of the CSD: the Computer Storage Depression. Also called the Dissolve Depression.

Once this is painful scene-setting is dispensed with we are introduced to Rickenharp. He wears a fifty year old leather jacket alledgedly owned by John Cale (yeah, right), blue jeans, Harley Davidson boots and shades. “And he did all this because it was gratingly unfashionable.” It is certainly grating. Rickenharp is in a rock band, a rock band called Rickenharp, a rock band that plays proper rock. None of this modern flare or minimomo rubbish.

One of the first bits of advice aspiring writers are given is not to write about writing. Shirley has been in several bands, variously described on the internet as punk, post-punk and (alarmingly) post-punk-funk, and I kinda wish someone had given him similar advice about not writing about music. Shirley’s love of his subject matter and his lack of skill combine to form a frankly sickening narrative voice:

    Without consciously knowing it, Rickenharp was moving to the music. Not too much. Not in the pushy, look-at-me way that some performers had. The way they had of trying to force enthusiasm from the audience, every move looking artificial.
    No, Rickenharp was a natural. The music flowed through him physically, unimpeded by anxieties or ego knots. His ego was there; it was the fuel for his personal Olympian torch. But it was as immaculate as a pontiff’s robes.

I was cringing as I typed that. There are still 24 pages to go but I am going to pause here because I can’t take any more for the moment.

Okay, I’m back. Unfortunately that breather didn’t work very well because I still had to return to the story and find, on the very next page, this:

    And like a horniness it had built up in them, like sexual energy, dammed behind their private resentments; and now it was pouring through the dam, and the band shook with the release of it as Rickenharp thundered into his progression and began to sing…
    The audience stared at him with insistent hostility, but Rickenharp liked it when the girl played pretend-to-rape-me. Force it into their ears, man.

It is hard to top a line as profoundly awful as “and like a horniness” but making the metaphor all rapey certainly does the trick. Congratulations, Shirley. There then follows a pointless, jammed in interview fragment and a meeting with Dick van Dyke: “Oi sawr you at Stone’enge five years ago when you ‘ad your second ‘it.” Stonehenge again! Now it is drawing with Battersea.

Rickenharp then takes some drugs and wanders Freezone in search of a plot. He doesn’t find one but we do get a nice trip through an appropriately cyberpunk city. After the tour of the tech and the flesh it seems that the story is going to gently fade into nothingness. Unfortunately Shirley has one final treat for us:

“And when I get you alone I’m going to batter your cervix into jelly.”
“You think that kind of talk turns me on? Well, it does.”

Oh dear.

Punkosity: ***
Quality: *

Embarrassingly I’ve gone through life thinking John Shirley and John Varley are one and the same. I feel like I need to apologise to Varley.

Written by Martin

16 April 2011 at 11:14

Posted in sf, short stories

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My review of Source Code is now up at Strange Horizons.

Moon is quiet, oppressive and uses an extremely muted color palette. It presents the universe as being grimly deterministic. Stevens, by contrast, is almost immediately aware of his situation and from there it is only a small step to accepting it and, ultimately, changing it. His journey much more conforms to the Hollywood archetype. Correspondingly, the color palette is reversed and the film is suffused with a self-help sensibility: carpe diem, every second counts, what you do if you only had a minute to live? Although Moon concluded with an unlikely happy ending, it always seemed bolted on. Source Code’s happy ending is never in doubt and Ben Ripley’s script could have been written by Basil Fotherington-Thomas (hello sky, hello trees; hello train, hello terrorists). The film’s capacity for sentimentality still manages to surprise, though.

As it happens, I saw the film on the same day as both my current and previous editors at Strange Horizons (Abigail Nussbaum and Niall Harrison). They both liked it rather more than be and Abigail published her review on Saturday:

Source Code, then, is an underbaked war movie and a slightly wobbly science fiction film. What’s left is an entertaining and occasionally moving SFnal action flick that is smarter and more thought-through than it has any business being, and refreshingly uninterested in wowing us with explosions and special effects. There’s been a mini-glut of low-budget science fiction films from major studios recently (Skyline, Limitless, Battle: Los Angeles, The Adjustment Bureau), and though I don’t yet know how Source Code stacks up (and am anyway only planning to see the last of the four) I think that trend is something to celebrate in itself. A wider field means more chances for quality to accidentally make its way to the screens, and lower budgets put less pressure on filmmakers to stick slavishly to proven, and brain-dead, formulas.

There is also further discussion in the comments on both these reviews.

Written by Martin

11 April 2011 at 14:20

‘Till Human Voices Wake Me’ by Lewis Shiner

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It’s got a mermaid in it. That’s it.

Punkosity: **
Quality: *

Written by Martin

6 April 2011 at 10:53

Posted in sf, short stories

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‘Petra’ by Greg Bear

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A load of gargoyles come alive, mythic strangeness ensues. This is not a side of Bear’s work that I know; it is sort of proto-New Weird which might make it just plain weird but doesn’t make it cyberpunk.

Punkosity: *
Quality: ****

Written by Martin

5 April 2011 at 12:33

Posted in sf, short stories

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‘Solstice’ by James Patrick Kelly

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You don’t get much cyberpunk set in Wiltshire. ‘Solstice’ gravitates to the West Country because of Stonehenge, a subject that interests Kelly enough for him to have hacked up great divots of research onto the page. Rather than being particularly British, however, this is more Transatlantic in tone.

Our protagonist is Tony Cage and, in a nod to Douglas Adams, he spends half the year dead for tax reasons (okay, in cryogenic storage in Ireland). I spent the first half of the story puzzling over whether he is English, Irish or American, a confusion deepened by some of Kelly’s dialogue. For example, early on a young black British reporter says to him: “I say, you wouldn’t by any chance be holding any free samples?” If this character can speak in a mixture of an English idiom that is 50 years out of date and American slang that is 20 years out of date then how can the reader help but feel slightly off kilter? Is this deliberately disorientating or his Kelly grasp of dialogue just a bit off? (Given the second “any” in that sentence I would suggest the latter.)

Eventually it becomes clear that Cage is an American, a Cornell graduate who has gone on to make a fortune creating designer drugs. With more money than he can possibly spend, he decides to invest in a female clone of himself. This is why the tax dodge is a necessary narrative device: it allows the clone, Wynne, the grow up to adulthood whilst Cage remains in his prime.

So we’ve had all this stuff about the history of Stonehenge, we’ve got drug use and altered consciousness as a major theme and we have the strange daughter/companion/partner relationship between Cage and Wynne. Where is this all going?

Well, they get off their tits on an experimental drug at Stonehenge on the solstice and Cage has an epiphany about their relationship. So it is all flagged up and neatly brought together but it is very hard to care. Cage engenders no empathy so I was unable to be moved by his personal revelation and the story larded with a lot of unnecessary baggage. For example, there is also absolutely no reason for Stonehenge to play such a central role. Cage’s interest is never explained so it is left to the reader to assume that Kelly had a nice holiday there once.

Punkosity: ***
Quality: **

Incidently, this is the second story in the anthology to visit Battersea. Who knew it was the home away from home for cyberpunks?

Written by Martin

1 April 2011 at 12:48