BSFA Review – Vector #276
Like many of the people reading this, I own hundreds of books I haven’t read. It seems likely that I will die with some of these books unread – and I’m not planning to die for quite a while. However, as you may remember, I recently moved house so the majority of my library is still entombed in boxes. This means that when I fail to keep myself sufficiently supplied with new fiction, I am reliant on the lottery of the charity shop pile containing books rejected by our reviewers. Such was the predicament I found myself in last month.
It didn’t help that the book I had just finished was Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer, a thrillingly cryptic reincarnation of New Wave SF with a thoroughly modern sensibility. You need something decent after a book like that. So my eye was drawn to his quote on the back cover of The Barrow by Mark Smylie. In hindsight, the warning signs where all there. For starters, Vandermeer’s praise – “this fresh take on highly recommended heroic fantasy” – doesn’t even make sense. Then there is the usual fat fantasy cholesterol: it is 700 pages long, preceded by half a dozen maps and rounded out with two epilogues and a glossary. But the real problem, as soon becomes evident, is that Smylie writes comics for a living and hasn’t quite figured out the transition to prose. This means that when he introduces characters, he is thinking not of his reader but of his illustrator.
Here he is introducing the first character in the novel: “He was dressed in a dark brown high-collared long coat of stiff leather, tight blue-black cloth breeches, and black leather boots, all splattered with mud and dirt… A point dagger and heavy-bladed falchion were strapped to his side by a broad black leather baldric.” And the next one: “His fine travel coat and breeches were woven of good dark wool with silk trim…” The clomping foot of nerdism is alive and well; no wonder the book is so bloody long.
I do wonder if its relative brevity is part of the appeal to adults of teen orientated fiction. So the next book I plucked off the shelf was Arclight by Josin L McQuein from Egmont’s new Young Adult imprint, Electric Monkey. It has an enjoyably prickly female protagonist and a weirder setting than the zombie apocalypse it initially resembles but it also has this:
“Move, or I’ll move you.” Tobin shifts his position for better leverage.
Desperation and lack of ideas make me stupid. I grab Tobin’s face with both hands, close my eyes, and kiss him on the mouth.
It is astonishing that such a laughable and regressive cliché can be published in 2014. It killed the book for me – I don’t want to read this rubbish and I don’t want another generation to be taught that female sexuality is a tool for averting male violence. Another of Electric Monkey’s launch titles, Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall, will be reviewed in the next issue and sounds a hell of a lot better.
At this point, I moved to my son’s shelves and from books notionally written for children to books actually written for children. The first of these was an intriguing small press book, London Deep by Robin Price and Paul McGrory, where each page is split equally between prose and illustration with the narrative flipping seamlessly between the two mediums. It is an interesting concept and the stylised black and white art by McGrory is effective. Unfortunately this is not matched by Price’s writing which marries perhaps the most preposterous plot I’ve ever read with relentlessly clumsy prose. I had to stop after a dozen pages.
In contrast, I read dozens and dozens of pages of Zita The Space Girl, Beth Hatke’s SF graphic novel for kids, and could presumably have gone on doing so indefinitely since absolutely nothing happened. In despair, I turned to my local Oxfam where I found a copy of Stonemouth by the late, great Iain Banks for a quid. I overpaid: it is the latest and last iteration of a story he’s told before and told better, a book that makes you gag on its nostalgia. Oh, Banksy.
Luckily, at that point The Method by Juli Zeh – which I longed for in my editorial for Vector #274 – finally dropped through my letterbox. It was every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped.
- We See A Different Frontier, edited by Fabio Fernandes and Djibril al-Ayad (Futurefire.net Publishing, 2013) and Mothership: Tales From Afrofuturism And Beyond, edited by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall (Rosarium Publising, 2013) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Sunshine Patriots by Bill Campbell (Rosarium Publishing, 2013) – Reviewed by Shaun Green
- Your Brother’s Blood by David Towsey (Jo Fletcher Books, 2013) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
- Looking Landwards, edited by Ian Whates (Newcon Press, 2013) – Reviewed by Paul Graham Raven
- Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit, 2013) – Reviewed by Niall Harrison
- The Lego Movie (2014) – Reviewed by Leimar Garcia-Siino
- Ender’s Game And Philosophy: The Logic Gate Is Down, edited by Kevin S. Decker (John Wiley & Sons, 2013) – Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
- A Brief Guide To CS Lewis: From Mere Christianity To Narnia by Paul Simpson (Robinson, 2013) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
- Proxima by Stephen Baxter and On A Steel Breeze by Alistair Reynolds (Gollancz, 2013) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
- The Age Of Scorpio by Gavin Smith (Gollancz, 2013) – Reviewed by Stuart Carter
- Plastic by Christopher Fowler (Solaris, 2013) – Reviewed by Graham Andrews
- The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Tor, 2014) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
- The Many-Coloured Land by Julian May (Tor, 2013) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
- The City by Stella Gemmell (Corgi, 2013) – Reviewed by Liz Bourke
- Naomi’s Room and The Silence of Ghosts by Jonathan Aycliffe (Corsair, 2013) – Review by Gary Dalkin
- Dreams And Shadows by C Robert Cargill (Gollancz, 2013) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
- The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston (Thomas Dunne Books, 2013) – Reviewed by Alan Fraser
- Legends, edited by Ian Whates (Newcon Press, 2013) – Reviewed by Tony Jones
- End Of The Road, edited by Jonathan Oliver (Solaris, 2013) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
- A Gentle Flow of Ink by Graham Andrews (FeedARead Publishing, 2013) – Reviewed by Kate Onyett
- How To Be Dead by Dave Turner (Aim For The Head Books, 2013) – Reviewed by Kate Onyett