Everything Is Nice

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

Posts Tagged ‘sf

Legends Of The Red Sun

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Villjamur was a granite fortress. Its main access was through three consecutive gates, and there the garuda retained the advantage over any invading armies. In the centre of the city, high up and pressed against the rock-face, beyond a lattice work of bridges and spires, was Balmacara, the vast Imperial residence, a cathedral-like construct of dark basalt and slick-glistening mica. In this weather the city seemed unreal.

The opening of Mark Charan Newton’s Nights of Villjamur has been posted at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist. His favourite novels are Underworld by Don DeLillo, The Scar by China Meiville and The Book Of The New Sun by Gene Wolfe so I am hoping for interesting things from this debut novel.


Written by Martin

20 February 2009 at 15:20

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Better Recognise

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Thankfully the Locus round table is now over. In the conciliatory manner typical of Locus editorial staff Liza Groen Trombi says:

While most have welcomed the blog and the launch discussion, we have clearly annoyed a few people by not conforming to their ideas of what we ought to be doing.

The complaints I’ve seen are that the blog is boring and it takes seven hours for comments to appear but well done to Locus for striking a blow against conformity. Anyway, with the round table finished the blog proper can begin, starting with this article by Graham Sleight on advocacy and recognition SF. Stay tuned for his inevitable post about hedgehog and fox SF.

Written by Martin

17 February 2009 at 10:04

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I reviewed The Heritage by Will Ashon for Strange Horizons so I was sent a copy by the publisher. I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise because it was published by Faber & Faber in the bastardised trade paperback format, a hideous half-way house between hardback and paperback. However, since I liked Clear Water I probably would have bought the real paperback when it was released this month. Except, as Ashon reports, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity:

So, the good burghers of Faber & Faber have decided against publishing a mass-market paperback edition of “The Heritage”. I would’ve been pissed off, anyway, I guess, but I think would have understood this hard-headed business decision. After all, if you wanna kiss the ring of the Leather Pope then corporate capitalism’s where it’s at and fuck any of the considerations (art, literature, quality) you may pay lip service to. But I think my sense of fair play was piqued by being told less than two weeks before said paperback edition was supposed to be out. I mean, really, how shit is that?

This has happened so rapidly that Amazon still have the paperback edition listed, albeit as “currently unavailable”. It is an extremely cruel blow for Ashon which he has tried to soften by making the novel available to download for free. I would recommend that you do.

Written by Martin

11 February 2009 at 11:03

Posted in books, publishing, sf

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Yesterday’s Tomorrows Today

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When Algis Budrys died last year all his books were out of print in the UK, even the Hugo-nominated Rogue Moon (1960). I found a copy of this a couple of years ago, thought it was the best SF novel I’d read all year and vowed to track down more of his work. On my first trip to Hay-On-Wye last year I found copies of The Falling Torch (1959) and The Iron Thorn (1967) in the basement of Booth’s and I’ve just got round to reading them.

The plot of The Falling Torch seems like that of a conventional pulp: one man must free Earth from enslavement by alien invaders. This is certainly the impression the back cover blurb gives but anyone buying it on the strength of this is likely to be disappointed given how comprehensively it undermines the expected narrative. The opening chapter describes the state funeral of President Michael Wireman, emancipator of Earth. Interestingly it is written from the perspective of an anonymous young politicitian who is poised to succeed him having out maunovered the other contenders:

They were plainly identified in the public eye as subordinates. They were too far up the ladder to be rising young men; too well branded as not having enough ability to wrest position at the very top.

This gets to the very heart of the novel; this isn’t a story about adventure, it is a story about work. The Falling Torch is a novel that is obsessed with hierarchy. The next chapter moves back in time and out of the solar system to the government in exile where again we are confronted with further people politics. The outcome is that Wireman is sent to Earth to make contact with the leader of the rebels. He turns out to be a gangster and proto-dictator and another power game ensue. The pattern repeats itself again and again.

The Falling Torch, with its jerky, episodic structure, isn’t an entirely successful novel. Most of the things we might expect to see – the actual liberation, for example – take place entirely offscreen. Instead Budrys concentrates on the the more prosaic struggle for dominance in every day situations and, more problematically and less convincingly, on Wireman’s psychological uniqueness. Essentially he saves the planet by a unique and beautiful snowflake. We are repeatedly told that Wireman is not like other men but we are only told it, never shown it, and his personal quest for satori never rings true. (Apparently it sold a quarter of a million copies, God only knows what people made of it.)

Although The Iron Thorn was only published eight years later it seems infinitely more modern (although it doesn’t contain any meaningful female characters either.) Its plot is furnished with contemporary SF tropes such as genetic engineering, grumpy AIs and nanotech and it is less wilfully abstract. It opens in a science fantasy landscape that turns out to be Mars where a human called Honor White Jackson is hunting a beast called an Amsir as part of an initiation ritual. Jackson is another square peg in a round hole and from here the book onion skins out as he chaffs against his societal constraints. This expanding sphere of knowledge about the universe is handled very well and Budrys is rather better at portraying Jackson’s exceptionalism than Wireman’s though.

In his Yesterday’s Tomorrows column Graham Sleight implicitly describes these as minor work in Budrys’ canon. My selection was entirely informed by availability but I’m glad I read them, The Iron Thorn in particular. On the inside of my copy of the book his publishers describe Budrys as being “universally regarded as a great storyteller in the tradition of Kipling, Wells and Tolkein.” At the time this must just have seemed like hubris but now it is quite sad. It would be wonderful to see a publisher putting these books back into print, particularly since they are only a 150 pages long and you could plausibly collect all his novels in one omnibus.

Written by Martin

8 February 2009 at 17:29

Posted in books, sf

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I Love The Fantasy Blogosphere

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Bookspot Central publish a review:

It must be said that The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death ain’t your typical Charlie Huston novel – whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean. Yeah, it has the blood (tons of the stuff), it has the kick-ass dialogue, the one-of-a-kind stream-lined prose, and it moves along like a motherfucker – but this is no doubt a major departure for Huston. Shit, I’d argue that Mystic Arts isn’t even noir.

Yeah, I fucking just said that. Deal with that shit.

Fantasy Book News & Reviews wring their hands:

While I won’t go so far as to say that I found the review offensive, I did wonder about the prolific profanity. Is that really appropriate in a review? Especially considering the review is published by a “professional” review site?

The scare quotes are presumably because the idea that Bookspot Central is a professional review site is laughable. Anyway, what this post singularly manages to miss is the review is not bad because it contains swearing but, rather, is bad because it is fucking shit. As OF Blog of the Fallen go pointlessly overboard in proving. I love the fantasy blogosphere (and I haven’t even mentioned the girls are yucky debacle.)

Written by Martin

7 February 2009 at 09:50

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It’s War

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The latest edition of Vector is out. I have a review and a letter of comment in it and other people have more interesting things – like Martin McGrath’s essay on John Scalzi’s feeble Old Man’s War books – in it. However, since the website hasn’t been updated for a couple of years there is nothing to link to and so this is probably only of interest to you if you are a member. In which case you will already have received your copy. So, instead, here are some links:

  • Locus have launched a group blog which is still very much finding its feet.
  • Jonathan McCalmont continues to bang the barleypunk drum as he thinks about the future of British SF.
  • Elsewhere Damien G Walter is more conventional in his selection of bright young things.
  • And Stephen King says Stephenie Meyer is shit. Although he also implausibly claims JK Rowling is not.

Written by Martin

5 February 2009 at 22:48

Pity The Poor Ridder

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WORLDBLING A variety of worldbuilding in which a great many details of an imaginary world are put on rather showy and vulgar display in order to impress upon the ridder the prodigious imaginative wealth of the author. The imaginative wealth of the author, it can be added, is not usually in doubt, although some critiasses, especially those that value restraint, subtlety and inflection, question the judgment of authors who indulge too blatantly in worldbling.

I’ve written a few “best of the year” pieces and Anathem has turned up on all of them, despite the fact it clearly isn’t very well written. This is because I am indulging in a sort of special pleading – but the fact its not that well written isn’t the point! – that I usually distain. For the frist time in my life I find myself defending the idea of SF as the literature ideas. Some small lack of perspective caused by having engaged intensely with a mammoth text and finding your time wasn’t completley wasted may perhaps play a part as well.

Adam Roberts addresses these points in his review but more importantly he enriches the critical vocabulary with various choice neologisms. Will worldbling become the plot coupons for the new millenium? A gold star for the first person to use one of these terms in the wild.

Written by Martin

3 February 2009 at 13:10

Posted in books, criticism, sf

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