Everything Is Nice

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

Posts Tagged ‘reviews

Third Wave Fantasy

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My review of Swords & Dark Magic, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders, is up now at SF Site:

So Swords & Dark Magic is an excellent showcase for both its contributors and the subgenre itself. If epic fantasy is generally considered to be most comfortable with a word count measured in the millions, sword and sorcery proves to be the perfect genre for the short story. Like their protagonists, the authors follow the adventurers’ code: get in and get out. The result is an anthology with a remarkably high hit rate. In fact, this is probably the single best original fantasy anthology I’ve read. More please.

It turned out to be a cracker but I initially requested a copy of Swords & Dark Magic because of an increasing interest in commercial fantasy, its substance and its taxonomy. This was also the subject of two earlier posts:

Edit: I gave Gene Wolfe’s contribution, ‘Bloodsport’, short shrift in my review since I don’t think it really fits with the anthology. However, I did discuss it in detail here.

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16 August 2010 at 16:08

War Makes Monsters Of Men

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My review of Monsters Of Men by Patrick Ness is up now at Strange Horizons.

For me, The Knife Of Never Letting Go, the first volume of Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, was pure infatuation. It was a novel I knew little about, which I had requested to review on a whim, and within pages I was smitten. The Ask And The Answer was a different proposition. There were now expectations. As a result I was able to look at the novel more closely, more critically than its predecessor, but still with a generosity of spirit. And this was repaid by a bold novel which took the original adventure in a much more radical and hard-nosed direction. At the same time, despite Ness’s success in re-inventing his story, flaws did start to appear: an elevation of moral and political symbolism above what we might find believable; the dilution of the narrative voice; rather too much irksomely histrionic teenage angst; and a simplicity to its prose which sometimes veers into dumbing down.

Now the series concludes with Monsters of Men and those flaws haven’t gone away. They are minor, but from time to time their repetition does provoke a disproportionate reaction, as though Ness has forgotten to put the towel on the radiator after he’s used it just once too often. There is one particularly manufactured moral dilemma late on in the book that actually made me scream. More often, though, I am willing to overlook imperfections because of the obvious qualities the book is endowed with. Some I doubt I even see. I really think I am in love.

As that quote suggests, it is less analytical and more emotional than most of my reviews but I think that is what the novel required. As far as I am concerned, Chaos Walking is one of the most important works of both science fiction and children’s literature of the last decade.

Written by Martin

14 June 2010 at 13:42

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Punk Rock

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I’ll tell you about punk rock: punk rock is a word used by dilettantes and, uh… and, uh… heartless manipulators, about music… that takes up the energies, and the bodies, and the hearts and the souls and the time and the minds, of young men, who give what they have to it, and give everything they have to it. And it’s a… it’s a term that’s based on contempt; it’s a term that’s based on fashion, style, elitism, satanism, and, everything that’s rotten about rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t know Johnny Rotten… but I’m sure, I’m sure he puts as much blood and sweat into what he does as Sigmund Freud did. You see, what, what sounds to you like a big load of trashy old noise… is in fact… the brilliant music of the genius… myself. And that music is so powerful, that it’s quite beyond my control. And, ah… when I’m in the grips of it, I don’t feel pleasure and I don’t feel pain, either physically or emotionally. Do you understand what I’m talking about? Have you ever, have you ever felt like that? When you just, when you just, you couldn’t feel anything, and you didn’t want to either. You know, like that? Do you understand what I’m saying, sir?

Iggy Pop

My review of Katja From The Punk Band by Simon Logan is up now at SF Site.

Written by Martin

17 May 2010 at 08:29

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Clear Plate

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My review of A Guide To Fantasy Literature by Philip Martin is up now at SF Site. I’d completely forgotten about this review but it means that for the first time in almost a decade I have nothing pending. What freedom! Unfortunately, the book itself isn’t very good:

I still can’t tell you who the intended audience of The Guide To Fantasy Literature is, it falls between so many stools. Looking over my review, similar words and phrases crop up again and again: “scrappy,” “ragtag and vague,” “compressed and idiosyncratic,” “lackadaisical,” “remarkably casual.” These are not individually damning criticisms but they certainly don’t present any incentive to read this book. Martin’s book has passion but it lacks utility.

Written by Martin

1 April 2010 at 14:59

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My long review of The Secret History Of Science Fiction, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel (and previously mentioned here, is up now at SF Site. The introduction is blunt but to the point:

The Secret History of Science Fiction is a very good collection of short stories. It is not, however, a very good anthology.

It is a problem I’ve had more than a few times – the gap between the individual stories and overall of aim of the editor – and it is a problem I’m sure I will have again.

Speaking of which, for the next of my story by story reading projects I’m planning to read The Ascent Of Wonder: The Evolution Of Hard SF, edited by David G Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. It is an absolute monster: just under 1,000 pages. It has three introductions, for God’s sake, one for each of the editors and a bonus one for Gregory Benford. Having read Paul Kincaid’s review of the anthology – in which he takes strong issue with the editors’ definition of hard SF – and sharing similar concerns to him, I suspect this will be another anthology which I find frustrated by its editors. We shall see.

I will start with Benford’s introduction later this week but the whole thing will probably take me until the end of the year.

Written by Martin

1 February 2010 at 16:14

The Year Of The Rapture

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My joint review of The Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood and The Rapture by Liz Jensen is up now at Strange Horizons:

Both Atwood and Jensen have form, but there are far more similarities between The Year of the Flood and The Rapture than I was expecting. This review was predicated on the simple coincidence of Bloomsbury publishing two works of literary science fiction at around the same time. Inevitably the novels were concerned with dystopian and apocalyptic themes, the bread and butter of non-genre SF, but their concerns within these broad subgenres are shared and Jensen is obviously influenced by Atwood. Neither author seems quite sure what to do with their concerns, though, and this tarnishes the notable achievements of their books. In the end, The Rapture is the more successful because of the purity of its tone; there are none of the mad digressions of The Year of the Flood. I expected more of Margaret Atwood because she is so obviously capable of it. I will now expect the same of Liz Jensen, and I am especially interested to see whether they will both return once more to the possibilities offered by science fiction.

Today is also the first of John Clute’s Scores columns for Strange Horizons.

Written by Martin

18 January 2010 at 11:54

Fifty! Fifty! Fifty!

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My review of Fifty Key Figures In Science Fiction, edited by Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts and Sherryl Vint, is up now at Strange Horizons.

Bould has been very busy of late and this is a good thing.

Written by Martin

23 October 2009 at 08:45


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My twin review of The Lord Of The Sands Of Time by Issui Ogawa and All You Need Is KILL by Hiroshi Sakurazaka is up now at Strange Horizons:

These are both very short novels – Sands of Time is just over 200 pages—and whilst it is to their credit that they both feel like short novels rather than overgrown short stories they are a long way from being The Great Gatsby. They never manage to go much beyond short stories, clinging to their single central idea, not quite achieving the breadth or depth of a good novel. These are not novels to sink into but discrete packets of entertainment, the ideal sort of thing for a train journey but with the disposability that suggests. If you are heading on such a journey leave Lord of the Sands of Time behind though; it is unoriginal and uninteresting and soon you will be staring out the window. Instead take All You Need Is KILL which, despite being perhaps no less familiar, is punchy and fun and a good way of passing the time.

Written by Martin

18 September 2009 at 12:12


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My review of both Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui and the anime adaptation by Satoshi Kon is now up at Strange Horizons.

Written by Martin

10 July 2009 at 21:39

Tick Tock

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My review of God Of Clocks by Alan Campbell is up now at Strange Horizons.

In my first draft I went off on one about the evils of trilogies, missed deadlines and modern publishing in general. Thankfully for you lot most of this got cut. However, I will take this opportunity to reproduce the full quote from Richard Morgan that I mention in the review:

See, I’d always talked a good fight about making each book in this trilogy a self contained novel, but it wasn’t until quite recently that I realised how deeply satisfied I was with the ending of The Steel Remains. Sure, there are loose ends, but when wasn’t that true of one of my books? But my characters all ended up where I wanted them to be, they bedded down into the consequences and outcomes of what they’d seen and done with the pleasing clunk of emotional deadbolts falling into place – so rolling them all out of bed again, splashing water on their faces and getting them to open up and let in the morning light has proved a lot more problematic than I’d expected. I started at least twice and then had to tear up what I’d written because it was some weak-assed shit. Worse still, when I did finally get onto what felt like the right track, it involved at least a couple of scenes that I really didn’t want to write. If you guys thought The Steel Remains was brutal, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Written by Martin

3 July 2009 at 08:23