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Posts Tagged ‘simon ings

The Collapse Of Complex Societies

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My review of Wolves by Simon Ings is up now at Strange Horizons. It is a conflicted review for a conflicted novel but it is ultimately a positive review for an exciting novel:

Wolves, then, is best understood not as a triumphant return but as a fascinating work of transition. Ings is taking bold, vigorous steps forward but this is treacherous terrain and it is no surprise that he slips backwards from time to time. Sometimes though, he is just too cavalier. I’ve mentioned several authors as reference points throughout this review, each with a strong personality; the point is not to hold Ings to another’s standards but to set out the company he is confidently keeping. These are some of the most important figures in SF and Ings is moving into this territory, he just needs to fully commit. If he currently seems stranded half way to Harrison, I don’t think it will be for long.

I try to avoid anything about a book before I write my review but once I’d emerged from my shell, I discoverd three interesting pieces that touch on issues I raise. Firstly, a lovely tribute to Iain Banks from Ings. I see a lot of both Banks and M John Harrison in Wolves so was particularly struck by his opening anecdote:

I first met Iain Banks at Lumb Bank, a writing centre near Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. The area has since become the hairdressing and financial services capital of the western world, but back then you could still find the odd lock-in. Banksie (always and forever Banksie: the other one is a parvenu) was teaching a course in writing science fiction. Mike Harrison was his guest reader, a prickly bugger who’d just finished a story called Small Heirlooms, for my money one of the great short stories of his or anyone’s career. I didn’t get how Banks and Harrison were such mates — the one bristling with psychic armour, the other ebullient, friendly, and without any apparent side to him at all.

Secondly, Toby Litt’s rave review in the Guardian. Having played the game of supposed influence myself, I probably shouldn’t throw stones whilst standing in a greenhouse but I think the connection Litt sees to JG Ballard is a bit of a red herring. I loved his suggestion that Ings was an “SF Thomas Hardy” though:

And here is where the Ballard comparisons stop short – because what is strongest in Wolves, and what gives the novel its greatest power to dominate the mind, is something it has in common with Graham Swift’s Waterland, Alan Warner’s These Demented Lands or Nicola Barker’s Wide Open. That is, an action that comes out of those scraggy edgelands where earth and water mix, where the shore is never certain.

This chimes with a wider point I make in my review:

Unnamed and unnameable; in contrast to Ings’s two globe-trotting previous novels, Wolves is ageographic. It takes place on some other island, an unnamed place linked only to Earth itself by the odd reference to things like “the Turkish quarter” and by the ghost of the British landscape. The combination of the tongue-tip familiar and the estrangingly alien is all part of the highly effective destabilising strategy Ings is deploying.

Thirdly, there are Ings’s comments on the genesis of the novel: “The deepest truth is that for over a year Wolves sat in my drawer, unsellable, malign, predicting, chapter by chapter, the worst year of my life.” This is extraordinarily candid stuff. It is also a perfect example of what a reviewer doesn’t want to read whilst they are working! Reading it after my review was complete answers some questions but poses others. So there is much more to say about Wolves – on influence and landscape and biography – and I am hoping to be able to write more about it myself later in the month. But for now, one more link: Jonathan Gibbs on Jeffrey Alan Love’s wonderful cover.

Written by Martin

10 February 2014 at 13:41

Posted in books, sf

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Good Cop, Bad Cop

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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:

Simon Ings - Wolves

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.)

Written by Martin

11 July 2013 at 13:12