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SFFH Reviews and Articles in General Publications
Wednesday 25 December 2002
San Francisco Chronicle December 22, 2002
Michael Berry reviews Elizabeth Moon's new novel The Speed of Dark (Ballantine), Charles Dickinson's A Shortcut in Time (Forge), and F. Paul Wilson's The Haunted Air (Forge).
For a while, it seems as if "The Speed of Dark" might be tilting into the territory of Daniel Keyes' classic "Flowers for Algernon," especially as Lou develops a romantic attraction to a fellow fencer. But Moon nimbly avoids the cliches that have accreted around this kind of story. This near-future novel is less about the changes the cure will deliver than about Lou's growing realization of how his autism defines him as a person, and of what it means to be human.
Los Angeles Times Book Review December 22, 2002
Michael A. Hiltzik reviews Michael Crichton's Prey (HarperCollins).
One can always predict what new peril to Life As We Know It will make its way to the TV news shows or the cover of Time magazine by checking out the premise of Michael Crichton's latest bestseller. ...
Crichton is an action writer, however, not an author of speculative fiction. His novels come alive in ghost towns and distant jungles, not among regular folks in the real world. In fact, Crichton's Silicon Valley, where "Prey" opens, is oddly dated. In the aftermath of the dot-com crash, there hangs over the region something like, well, a dark cloud of nanoparticles, and if Crichton alludes to this chill even once in "Prey," I must have missed it.
Washington Post Book World December 22, 2002
Douglas E. Winter reviews Stel Pavlou's Decipher (St. Martin's, September),
an ambitious yet calculated first novel by British screenwriter Stel Pavlou, who splices Michael Crichton's Sphere (1987) into a classic of supernatural fiction, H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness (1936). ...
The similarities to Lovecraft and Crichton extend to the novel's style. Particularly in action mode, Pavlou's prose is quintessential pulp, as if torn from the pages of 80-year-old issues of Weird Tales: breathless with enthusiasm, ripe with adverbs and outlandish similes ("It was like some huge bucket of vanilla sorbet had toppled over and oozed down Fifth Avenue") -- and even double similes ("Like the battlements of some great medieval castle the vast fortress-like outer wall of the city of Atlantis stood before them, shimmering relentlessly"). Lovecraft's cosmic dread -- and the gosh-wow wonder of his science-fantasy peers -- are packaged in the familiar Crichton formula. ...
But let's be fair to Stel Pavlou. This is his first novel, and the effort he put into the book is undoubted. What we read in Decipher is publishing's increasing preference for product. As the Hollywood cliché suggests, the presumption is that people are willing to spend money to read a book that's just like one they've read before.
Friday 20 December 2002
Salon December 17, 2002
David Brin takes on Tolkien, "enemy of progress", and imagines the epic saga from Sauron's point of view.
Ask yourself: "How would Sauron have described the situation?"
And then: "What might 'really' have happened?"
Now ponder something that comes through even the party-line demonization of a crushed enemy -- this clear-cut and undeniable fact: Sauron's army was the one that included every species and race on Middle Earth, including all the despised colors of humanity, and all the lower classes.
Hmm. Did they all leave their homes and march to war thinking, "Oh, goody, let's go serve an evil Dark Lord"?
And remember this too: Enlightenment, science, democracy and equal opportunity are still the true rebels, reigning for just a few generations (and still imperfectly) in one or two corners of the Earth, after elite chiefs, romantic bards and magicians dominated our ancestors for maybe half a million years. ...
Then you can read the letters in reply, including one from Paul T. Riddell.
Let's keep enjoying kings and wizards. But also remember to keep them where they belong.
Where they can do little harm.
Where they entertain us.
The Times of London December 18, 2002
Fantasy is the opium of the ignorant and the indolent says Felipe Fernandez-Armesto; "the popularity of The Lord of the Rings signifies our cultural impoverishment".
For fantasy is self-doomed to be implausible. It is hard to feel involved when the author can whistle up a wizard to get the hero out of a fix. Magic, like madness, is no way to contrive a denouement: in worlds where anything can happen, the tension of the plot - which depends on characters trapped in the constrictions of reality - dissolves. Art demands discipline, and there are no disciplines tighter than those of the real world. History and myth have the best stories and the best images: fantasy-authors ransack them to get their ideas. Why warp myths when they are wonderful unwarped?
The State (South Carolina) December 15, 2002
On the other hand, if you like Tolkien, this article suggests what else you might like to read: Sara Douglass, M. John Harrison, Jeff VanderMeer, and others.
Washington Post Book World December 15, 2002
Paul Di Filippo reviews new collections by John Sladek and Pamela Sargent, Douglas A. Anderson's annotation of Tolkien's The Hobbit, Peter Straub's guest-edited issue of Conjunctions, and the Old Earth Books reprints of five novels by Edward Whittemore:
Whittemore's grand themes - the mutability of identity, the tragicomic nature of life, the way pretense becomes reality, the war between faith and materialism, the nature of failure and redemption, the struggle either to fulfill or overcome one's heritage - ensure that his massive story, however baggy its pants, will still inspire strong frissons and catharsis, as well as many laughs. The tangled lineages of his characters - think Ross MacDonald squared - illustrate his desire to make the essential connections that alone confer meaning to life. And his intricate plots ultimately invalidate any of the small logics humans employ to make sense of creation, in favor of the heart's intuition under the light of the soul.
BookSense.com December 2002
Recently posted are an interview with
China Mieville by Gavin Grant, another Grant interview Suzy McKee Charnas, and a short essay, The Cardboard Suitcase, by John Kessel, which recalls attending the 1969 Worldcon in St. Louis.
My mother had bought me a new suitcase in honor of the occasion. I was proud of it -- its dark blue surface was pressed with fine grain and its metal fittings shone silver. Inside were silk ribbons to secure your clothing, and pouches for socks and valuables. I had packed and repacked it three times in the last two days. In the pocket of my green plaid sports jacket I carried the little key to the suitcase's locks.
I was wearing my gold tie. I had shined my shoes and gotten a haircut before leaving home. I was happy and excited, tall and well groomed and 18 years old.
Friday 6 December 2002
The New Yorker December 9, 2002
Several Locus Online readers (who either buy off the newsstand, or get their subscription copies much earlier than LO does) have alerted us to a "Talk of the Town" piece in the new issue linking Philip K. Dick to the new Information Awareness Office of the Department of Defense. (It's not online, though this piece by Adam Gopnik about fairy tales is, as is David Denby's review of Adaptation and Solaris.) The piece includes these last couple lines:
We may not always have a leader as punctilious about civil liberties as President Bush ... whose devotion to the Bill of Rights sometimes seems shaky. Maybe the Administration needs to catch up on its sci-fi reading. Philip K. Dick meant his dark visions as warnings, not as bureaucratic charters for George W. Unfortunately, Bush doesn't know Dick.
Also, the short story in the Dec. 2nd issue, Louise Erdrich's "Shamengwa", has an element of supernatural fantasy, so is worth checking out.
November Field Inspections