Archive for July 2013
This story is actually from the earlier ‘Draftees (1960s)’ section of the anthology (despite being published in 1972). I skipped over it at the time because I didn’t really have anything to say about it. It still don’t but it seems appropriate to return to it immediately after Michael Moorcock’s contribution. It is a three page compressed novel that is satirical where Moorcock is sincere. The editors quote Brian Aldiss to the effect that this story finished off the up until now endless saga, written finis to those mighty tomes, killed the entire literature dead.” Well, nice try. Still, as a nail in space opera’s coffin, it is considerably more impressive and effective than Michael Kandel’s attempt.
Published in 2002, this story has nothing in common with contemporary space opera and, as the title suggests, instead harks back to the science fantasy of Leigh Brackett and Clive Jackson. So the first sentence is: “They came upon the Earthling naked, somewhere in the Shifting Desert when Mars’ harsh sunlight beat through thinning atmosphere and the sand was raw glass cutting into bare feet.” The protagonist is referred to by his full name through out, imbuing it with an air of Chuck Norris-esque comic bombast: “To call Captain John MacShard a loner was something of a tautology. Captain John MacShard was loneliness personified.” Silly, romantic, obsolete, it is not a pastiche but a slice of time-slipped pulp straight from the source.
What better way to return to The Space Opera Renaissance than with a story entitled ‘Space Opera’? Except, of course, it isn’t space opera. Instead, it is an obvious joke: what if, like space opera was opera about space? So Kandel gives us a lengthy synopsis of an imaginary opera with occasional critical asides, as if one were reading a tedious entry in a poorly written overview of the field.
Hartwell and Cramer describe Kandel as “the sort of SF writer who perceives the odors of contempt and literary class prejudice that still hang in the social air when the term space opera is used in literary circles, and leaves the room.” An arse, in other words. They go on to say that the story “poke[s] fun at the absurdities of opera and of space opera” but I didn’t notice this. The only thing I found enjoyable about this story was Kandel’s ill-advised name for his aliens which gives rise to lines like this: “A chorus of bints sings of the forthcoming invasion of the Dalminian Empire.”
A couple of months ago, I praised Gollancz for reprinting Climbers by M John Harrison. Now they deserve more praise for similar acts of literary preservation. First of all, they are publishing a revised version of The Red Man by Matthew de Abaitua as an ebook. Since we live in the future, it is accompanied by a short film based on the first chapter:
I reviewed The Red Men for Strange Horizons. It was a pretty mixed review – do I write any other sort? – but I’m glad it is being reprinted, both because it is an interesting work in its own right but also because it represents a second bite at the cherry for de Abaitau:
This isn’t a novel you can get an easy grip on; like the famous elephant surrounded by blind men, its shape and texture suggest differing beasts depending on where you grab it. Literary thriller and domestic drama, thought experiment and drug trip, cyberpunk and technopagan, satire and prophecy. It is almost as if de Abaitua is worried that he will only get one chance and has consequently crammed all his ideas into one novel.
I’ve probably said that in other reviews too since it is a persistent issue with debut novels. But these days, there is some truth in that worry for authors. The modern genre often appears to be curving back to its pulp origins; without a midlist, the only way for authors to keep their heads above the water is to bang out a couple of books a year across a range of subgenres. If you are a stranger sort of writer, if you you have feet in different camps, then you are likely to sink without a trace. De Abaitua’s follow-up was not a novel but a book about camping. Will Ashon, a similar sort of writer, was unceremoniously dumped by his publisher at around the same time. Gollancz will also be publishing de Abaitau’s new novel, If Then, perhaps they could pick up Ashon for a new deal too?
That is idle dreaming but Gollancz are going to bring back into print another writer from my wish list: Simon Ings. My first experience of Ings’s fiction was his two recent novels from Atlantic, The Weight of Numbers and Dead Water. Neither are science fiction (and I squinted very hard at Dead Water when I was a judge for the Arthur C Clarke Award) but both are excellent. But once upon a time, Ings was known as an SF novelist; a bright young star of British scene in the early Nineties. I picked up a secondhand copy of his debut novel, Hot Head and it more than stands up so I am very excited to read the remainder of his backlist. Gollancz will also be publishing his new novel, Wolves, with this rather lovely cover:
At the opposite end of the literary spectrum is Rod Rees whose debut novel, The Demi-Monde: Winter, was the worst book I read in 2012. Foolishly his publisher, Jo Fletcher Books, recently gave him free rein on their blog and what he produced was stupid and offensive. I have sometimes wonder if publishers do this in the belief that all publicity is good publicity: how else to explain Night Shade Books giving Thomas Morrissey a platform? Rees’s publishers seem a bit stung though because Jo Fletcher has written this godawful response to the criticism they have received. It is probably a good rule of thumb that publishers shouldn’t respond to criticism of their authors for exactly the same reason that authors shouldn’t respond to criticism of their work. If you are going to respond, try not to be passive-aggressive, shameless and patronising in your first sentence, spend the remainder of your words chasing a tedious free speech red herring and then sign-off with condescending abuse. (Further commentary on the whole sorry mess from Liz Bourke here, here, here and here.)