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BSFA Review – Vector #283

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I am writing this – my last editorial – in the aftermath of Mancunicon, the 67th British national science fiction convention. As usual, there was a strong BSFA presence, including (obviously) at the BSFA Awards which were announced on Saturday. The Best Artwork award went to Jim Burns for his cover for Pelquin’s Comet by Ian Whates. I think this was all Ian’s fault. As chair of the BSFA, he challenged me to put up or shut up and get involved with the organisation. The result was a special BSFA booklet, SF Writers On SF Films: From Akira To Zardoz (remember that?). The experience was obviously a good one as I came back for more when the role of reviews editor was advertised.

I wasn’t sure how long I would be doing to job for when I started but it turned out to be almost six years. At Eastercon I managed to catch up with three of the four Vector editors I served under during that period: Niall Harrison, Shana Worthen and Glyn Morgan. Glyn was actually on a panel with me, Book Reviews In The Age Of Amazon: “In place of relatively few “gatekeeper” reviewers in relatively few venues, we have a commons where anyone can review if they choose.” Everyone is entitled to their opinion and it is positive thing that the internet has provided a democratic platform for everyone. But it isn’t either/or; there is still a space for informed, considered and – crucially – edited opinions.

So perhaps it was fitting that straight after that panel I met my successor as reviews editor, Susan Oke, for the first time (in the slightly unexpected location of the Strange Horizons tea party in the Deansgate Hilton’s Presidential Suite up on the 22nd floor). My aim was to leave the reviews section in better shape than I found it and I think I’ve achieved this. I’m sure Sue will improve further on what I’ve done and I look forward to watching that journey as a member. And also contributing since I will be experiencing life on the other side of a table as a reviewer, rather than an editor. Go easy on me, Sue, I’m a bit rusty!

Reviews

  • Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho (Fixi Novo, 2014) – Reviewed by Aishwarya Subramanian
  • Sorcerer To The Crown by Zen Cho (Macmillan, 2015) -Reviewed by  Maureen Kincaid Speller
  • IF THEN by Matthew De Abaitua (Angry Robot, 2015) – Reviewed by Shaun Green
  • Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald (Gollancz, 2015) – Reviewed by Duncan Lawie
  • The Word For World Is Forest by Ursula K Le Guin (Gollancz, 2015) – Reviewed by Paul Graham Raven
  • The Night Clock by Paul Meloy (Solaris Books, 2015) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Tor, 2014) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
  • The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton (Corsair, 2016) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor, 2015) – Reviewed by Susan Oke
  • The Last Witness by KJ Parker (Tor, 2015) – Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
  • What if I got down on my knees? by T Rauch (Whistling Shade Press, 2015) – Reviewed by Kate Onyett

Written by Martin

19 May 2016 at 14:00

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BSFA Review – Vector #282

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BSFA members will have noticed that there was no editorial in this issue’s BSFA Review. This was because once again I ran out of time which, in turn, is one of the reasons I am standing down as reviews editor. It has been a great couple of years and I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved but it is time for a change. So I’m very pleased to announce that Susan Oke will be taking over from me from Vector #283.

Reviews

  • Modernism And Science Fiction by Paul March-Russell (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) – Reviewed by Anthony Nanson
  • Europe At Midnight by Dave Hutchinson (Solaris, 2015) – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
  • Memory Of Water by Emmi Itäranta (HarperCollins, 2014) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
  • Mother Of Eden by Chris Beckett (Corvus, 2015) – Reviewed by Dave M Roberts
  • The Causal Angel by Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz, 2014) – Reviewed by Susan Oke
  • The Fifth Dimension by Martin Vopěnka, translated by Hana Sklenkova (Barbican Press, 2015) – Reviewed by Dan Hartland
  • Barricade by Jon Wallace (Gollancz, 2014) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
  • Pelquin’s Comet by Ian Whates (Newcon Press, 2015) – Reviewed by Susan Oke
  • The House Of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard (Gollancz, 2015) – Reviewed by Duncan Lawie
  • Signal To Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Solaris, 2015) – Reviewed by Shaun Green
  • The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs (Gollancz, 2014) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
  • The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen, translated by Lola M Rogers (Pushkin Press, 2014) – Reviewed by L J Hurst
  • Deep Time by Anthony Nanson (Hawthorn Press, 2015) – Reviewed by Karen Burnham
  • Ashamet, Desert Born by Terry Jackman (Dragonwell Publishing, 2015) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
  • Fencing Academy by AW Freyr (Uruk Press, 2015) – Reviewed by Susan Oke

Written by Martin

13 February 2016 at 08:45

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BSFA Awards Voting – Short Fiction Longlist

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Every year I have good intentions of reading lots of short stories, identifying some real gems and then nominating them for the BSFA Awards. Most years I fail. So I am very pleased that the BSFA have now introduced a two-stage voting process where members can vote on a longlist of nominations. Given the size of the field and the difficulty of achieving blind consensus on the best short fiction published through nominations (witness the 2013 Hugo short story shortlist only having 3 nominees that had the minimum of 5% of nominations) this is a sensible change but on a personal level, it is hugely welcome because it allows me to re-engage with the field.

There are 41 stories on the longlist and I’ve read 34 of them. On that basis, my votes are:

  1. ‘A Day In The Deep Freeze’ by Lisa Shapter – Set in an anonymous mid-Twentieth Century America that hides something truly horrific, this is a remorseless novella that is completely unique and penetrates bone deep. This is the only one of my selections that isn’t available for free but you should buy it now.
  2. ‘The Game of Smash and Recovery by Kelly Link – It is a Link story and it is a very good Link story and it is science fiction. What more do you want?
  3. ‘Manifesto of the Committee to Abolish Outer Space’ by Sam Kriss – Combatative, creative non-fiction that is like nothing else on the longlist.
  4. ‘Elephants and Corpses’ by Kameron Hurley – One of only two secondary world fantasy stories, this is typical exuberant, inventive Hurley which is something this rather mannered longlist needed.

If I had four more votes, they would be for:

My votes sort of accord with those of Nicholas Whyte but I’m looking forward to seeing what stories other people are going for. And I’m hoping to write more about the stories on the shortlist itself once it is announced.

Written by Martin

15 January 2016 at 08:32

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BSFA Review – Vector #281

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I had been planning to review about Y Dydd Olaf by Gwenno for my editorial this time round but I’ve rapidly came to the conclusion I’m not qualified to write about it. If I wanted to put you off, I would describe it as a folktronica concept album sung in Welsh (and, occasionally, Cornish). But I don’t because it is great. Perhaps more alluring is the fact Y Dydd Olaf (The Last Day) is also the title of a 1976 science fiction novel by Owain Owain, nuclear scientist, poet and Welsh language activist. Alas, as far as I can tell it has never been translated into English. If any members have read a copy, please let me know!

The language barrier for the album initially seemed less insurmountable; a track like ‘Patriarchaeth’ sounds like it should be pretty self-explanatory and Saunders has given some fascinating interviews about where her music is coming from and the seed Owain’s novel has sown. So this gave me hope. And, after all, my favourite science fiction albums are all instrumental. This includes both actual SF soundtracks such as Tron: Legacy by Daft Punk, albums that merely sound like soundtracks such as Tarot Sport by Fuck Buttons.

The sequel to Tron gets a bad rep as just another example of Hollywood cannibalising itself and I can’t in good conscience describe it as a good film but the audio and visual design is stunning and the partnership with Daft Punk is inspired. The opener, ‘Overture’, is pure blockbuster bombast. Hubris clobbered by nemesis, indeed. This then slides into ‘The Grid’ before the sublime ‘Son Of Flynn’, each sketching out SF worlds in less than two minutes each.

Meanwhile ‘Surf Solar’, the opening track of Tarot Sport, is ten and half minutes minutes of escalating, unrestrained sense of wonder. For some reason, it always puts me in mind of space elevators; the optimism and drama of Arthur C Clarke’s The Fountains Of Paradise and gothic destruction of Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds. ‘Surf Solar’ is truly epic and listening to it whilst driving on the motorway is likely to lead to your license being endorsed.

Y Dydd Olaf is a rather different kettle of fish, both for its tone and its use of words. In fact, its surface is remarkably sunny for a dystopia, perhaps not surprising from an artist whose previous outfit was The Pipettes. But I say ‘surface’ since the aforementioned ‘Patriachaeth’ marries a bouncy electro beat and soaring vocals to the following refrain: “Patriarchy, and your soul is under siege”. But I only know that because I looked it up.

As the album progress, the production becomes increasingly harried by robotic noises of the sort that make The Middle Of Nowhere my default ‘bloody hell, the future’s out to get me’ album. There are even pwew-pwew laser noises as ‘Sisial Y Môr’ fades out. But what does it all mean? You can clearly pick up the rejection of purist folk revival and the embrace of a counter-narrative built around industrial heritage; simplistically, a sonic melding of north and south Wales. Still, a lot of context and hence nuance is striped out by my inability to understand the lyrics which means that, unlike the other examples above, I feel like I am missing half the picture.

So I can tell you ‘Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki’ is the standout track on the album and I that a big part of why I love it is Saunders’s phrasing but I can’t tell you what she is saying. Interestingly, however, the album comes with an accompanying suite of remixes including a radical re-interpretation of this song by TOY. This howling, violent version is perhaps more accessible for being entirely abstract (though certainly not better).

Despite all this equivocation, I can wholeheartedly recommend the album to you. If you only want to own one Welsh language… well, make it Mwng by Super Furry Animals. If you want to own two, buy Y Dydd Olaf. And I’m sure random music recommendations is exactly why you are a member of the BSFA. Still, this column was certainly less outright ill-conceived that one of my scraped editorial ideas to review the 2013 Tom Cruise film Oblivion based solely on its soundtrack. My notes include such baffling scribbles as “same setting as The Lion King?” and “Morgan Freeman = giant spider” so I think you can probably count yourself lucky.

Reviews

  • Twelve Tomorrows, edited by Bruce Sterling (MIT Technology Review, 2014) – Reviewed by Shaun Green
  • Glorious Angels by Justina Robson (Gollancz, 2015) – Reviewed by Dan Hartland
  • The Bees by Laline Paull (Fourth Estate, 2014) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
  • Rook Song by Naomi Foyle (Jo Fletcher Books, 2015) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
  • Superposition by David Walton (Pyr, 2015) – Reviewed by Gary Dalkin
  • A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe (Tor, 2015) – Review by Gary Dalkin
  • The Madagaskar Plan by Guy Saville (Hodder and Stoughton, 2015) – Reviewed by L J Hurst
  • The Empire Of Time by David Wingrove (Del Rey UK, 2014) – Reviewed by Graham Andrews
  • The Seventh Miss Hatfield by Anna Caltabiano (Gollancz, 2014) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
  • Dark Star by Oliver Langmead (Unsung Stories, 2015) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
  • Edge Of Dark by Brenda Cooper (Pyr, 2015) – Reviewed by Stuart Carter
  • In Dark Service by Stephen Hunt (Gollancz, 2014) – Reviewed by Kerry Dodd
  • The Night Mayor by Kim Newman (Titan Books, 2015) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman

Written by Martin

18 October 2015 at 18:50

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BSFA Review – Vector #280

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You are about to read a dirty word but please don’t turn the page, I promise it is only a passing reference. So, the Hugos… wasn’t that a great shortlist for Best Graphic Story? Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate and three Image titles: Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass And Sorcery, Saga Volume 3 and Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick. After years of being an embarrassment, Best Graphic Story is now the least embarrassing shortlist on the ballot.

Whilst I was waiting for Image to release the second collected volume of Sex Criminals, I came across another one of their titles in a local charity shop. As it were. If Sex Criminals is an attention grabbing name, Sex: Summer Of Hard is about as subtle as an erect penis waggling in your face. However, the nakedness of its name does not immediately live up to expectations. Instead we have the first volume of a comic that appears to be asking the question, what would happen if Bruce Wayne hung up his cowl?

Simon Cooke is a 35 year old billionaire playboy. Up until seven months ago, he was also the Armored Saint. As is traditional, this superhero alter-ego was motivated not by inequality or poverty but rather the “complete and utter decadence” of the city. Did I mention that he is blond?

Having promised his Alfred figure that he will quit his night job, Cooke returns to Saturn City in order to begin running the family business. As you can imagine, the hard-working professionals who actually run the global company are thrilled. After a hard day doing nothing, Cooke decides to unwind by heading to an exclusive brothel. One which just happens to be owned by one of his ex-nemeses, Annabelle Lagravenese AKA supervillian Shadow Lynx AKA his ultimate unrequited crush. She is as incredulous as the reader:

Guess I’ll just have to take your word for it that you’re not here on some sort of bizarre reconnaissance mission…
Of course, that opens up an even more interesting possibility…
…your curious, aren’t you?
Not that I blame you. The way you were living, it stands to reason that once you hung up the helmet, the psychological floodgates would open up, big time…

Battle through all that highlighter pen – heavy handily and repetitively used throughout the book’s dialogue to convey emphasis – and you find that the comic is really answering another question: what if Bruce Wayne was a virgin?

It is certainly a novel premise but not exactly one the world has been calling out for. “Do you know how many times I’ve played drunk?” Cooke says to his lawyer at one point. The implication that he’s being playing the playboy seems to extend to the Playboy models seen on his arm. His lawyer encourages him to live the life for real: “Imagine if Tinto Brass made a film about Saturn City.” This drinking binge climaxes in a bizarre scene in which the wasted pair suddenly become irresistible to women. Of course they do.

Alongside this we get a lurid, conventional superhero story starring Cooke’s Robin figure, Keenan, who has now taken up the mantle. This comes complete with grotesque geriatric kingpin, one minute having sex with a prostitute and shooting her in the back of the head at the point of orgasm, the next pulling all a man’s teeth out and having him raped by a Pulp Fiction-style gimp. “The kind of stuff we used to get from Preacher,” notes a cover. This is intended as praise but instead is true in the sense it is primitive, adolescent schlock. As so often happens with comics, the conservative is presented as the subversive.

When Sex isn’t being offensive, it is being silly or just dull. It lacks all of the wit and subtly of its near namesake Sex Criminals. Which is a shame because superhero suppression is clearly fertile territory in which to sow a psychodrama but Joe Casey’s writing buries this potential and Piotr Kowalski’s newspaper strip-style artwork tramps down the soil. Instead we get Frank Miller’s take on Eyes Wide Shut which is every bit as unappealing as it sounds.

I’m surprised the Puppies didn’t nominate it for a Hugo.

Reviews

  • Stay by John Clute (Beccon Press, 2014) – Reviewed by Paul Graham Raven

  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sceptre, 2014) – Reviewed by Anthony Nanson

  • The Best British Fantasy 2014, edited by Steve Haynes (Salt Publishing, 2014) and Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume One, edited by Laird Barron and Michael Kelly (Undertow Publications, 2014) – Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite

  • The Way Inn by Will Wiles (Fourth Estate, 2015) – Review by Gary Dalkin
  • The Peripheral by William Gibson (Viking, 2014) – Reviewed by Kerry Dodd
  • Langue[dot]doc 1305 by Gillian Polack (Satalye Publishing, 2014) – Reviewed by Shana Worthen
  • Saint Rebor by Adam Roberts (NewCon Press, 2015) – Reviewed by Ian Watson
  • The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord (Jo Fletcher Books, 2014) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
  • The Grasshopper’s Child by Gwyneth Jones (TJoy Books UK, 2014) – Review by Ian Sales
  • The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (Tor UK, 2015) – Reviewed by Cherith Baldry

  • Folk’d by Laurence Donaghy (Blackstaff Press, 2013) – Reviewed by Susan Oke

  • The Good Shabti by Robert Sharp (Jurassic London, 2015) – Review by Gary Dalkin

Written by Martin

1 July 2015 at 17:01

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BSFA Review, Er, Reviews

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As you should have clocked by now, I update my BSFA Review editorials when my reviewers post their pieces online on their own sites. Usually this is pretty sporadic but two people have had a bit of a splurge recently so I thought I’d draw attention to the extra goodness now available.

Firstly, Maureen Kincaid Speller:

Secondly, Martin McGrath:

(Apparently I only let Martin review things in pairs.)

Written by Martin

30 April 2015 at 19:01

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Further Thoughts On The BSFA Award For Non-Fiction

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If you are a member of the BSFA, you have until 1 April to vote in the BSFA Awards. I had hoped to write about the shortlists but, as is increasingly common these days, I’ve run out of time. So instead I’ll briefly follow up my thoughts on nominating for the Non-Fiction Award.

The first thing to say is that I’m very pleased ‘The State Of British SF’ has been shortlisted. This was very much a team effort but it is also the first time I’ve ever been nominated for an award. Which is nice. (In other nice news, I’m also one of the contributors to Speculative Fiction 2014.)

Second, I’m also pleased to see one of my nominations, ‘Deep Forests And Manicured Gardens: A Look At Two New Short Fiction Magazines’, on the shortlist. Since nominating it, Ethan Robinson has posted this very interesting response to both ‘Deep Forests’ and ‘Short Fiction And The Feels’. I think Robinson’s piece is best when describing the latter because of the different political contexts of the two essays under discussion and the fact McCalmont only has a direct stake in one. I don’t think that he would disagree that he has a fondness for rhetoric and grandstanding; often, as in ‘Deep Forests’, I think that can be creative but in ‘The Feels’ it is more destructive. Or, as Robinson puts it: “In general the fact that oppression is something real and concrete that actual human beings have to deal with every moment of their lives, and not just an abstract “issue” for people unaffected by it to have fun opinions about, is something that McCalmont seems utterly unable to grasp.”

Finally, I’m a fan of Paul Kincaid’s criticism and had a quick skim of Call And Response before I sent it out for review so I’m pleased to see his collection on there too. But it does point to the continually problematic nature of the award. Not only do we have books competing with essays, here we have what is essentially a re-print collection competing with a brand new monograph. Meanwhile, Sibilant Fricative by Adam Roberts – which to my mind is essentially the same type of book as Kincaid’s – is ineligible. It is all a bit messy but then this award category always has been and my only solution I can come up with is to abolish it.

Written by Martin

30 March 2015 at 19:49

Posted in awards, sf

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