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SFFH Reviews and Articles in General Publications

Friday 30 November 2001

§ New York Times Book Review November 25, 2001
Nikki Dillon enthusiastically reviews Walter Mosley's Futureland (Warner Aspect).

These nine interwoven stories also neatly tap into our post-Sept. 11 fears and nightmares. ... ''Futureland'' brims with an acute awareness of history and social unrest. Beneath the high-tech gadgetry and noir atmosphere, the stories here are thoughtful explorations of race and identity.

And Geoff Nicholson reviews J.G. Ballard's Super-Cannes (Picador USA), expressing skepticism of the author's thesis that gratuitous violence is an antidote to "the suburbanization of the soul."

If this sounds like claptrap in the wake of Sept. 11, I can only say that I first read this book over a year ago when it was published in Britain and it sounded like claptrap then too. ... Ballard's moral concern is that if technology edits out our more ordinary, daily transgressions, then the human spirit, perverse and lurid as it is, will find ever more elaborate and dangerous ways to transgress. This is obviously something worth saying, but I'm not sure that we need a shambling 390-page novel to say it. ... [O]ne hates to say this about a Ballard novel, [but] there's something terribly out of touch about this book.

§ Telegraph 10 November 2001
This review of Ballard's Complete Short Stories sees the book marking the end of an era of short story magazines.

The decline is evident from the list of magazines where Ballard first published his stories: Science Fantasy, New Worlds, Amazing Stories, Worlds of If. As far as I know, none of these magazines still exists. The situation of 40 or 50 years ago, of a host of magazines publishing genre short stories - not just science fiction, but mini-thrillers, pocket-horror, concise romances - has almost vanished. The one or two magazines that soldier on have a forlorn air.

§ The Independent 23 November 2001
Roz Kaveny reviews Ursula K. Le Guin's The Telling, just published in the UK by Gollancz.

Dealing righteously with other people and the world means thinking about your actions and analysing the motives and ideologies that lie behind them. We need ways of thinking those necessary thoughts, ways of exploring possibilities that are not unchangeable rules. In this sense, Ursula Le Guin's The Telling is the most profoundly useful and timely of her many science fiction novels, as well as one of the most moving.

§ New Scientist 01 December 2001
And here's David Langford's short review of Le Guin.

§ Publishers Weekly
Recent starred reviews:

  • November 12, 2001: for Jo Walton's The King's Name (Tor, Dec), sequel to The King's Peace.
    War is a tough subject to do well, but in this gritty, moving second and final book in the saga of Tir Tanagiri, British author Walton makes the strife of civil war not only believable but understandable. ... This fine work should garner an award nomination or two.
  • November 19, 2001: for S.T. Joshi's nonfiction The Modern Weird Tale (McFarland, Dec) [Amazon has 9 sample pages]; despite cavils,
    [T]his volume shouts brilliance and diligence and belongs on the bookshelf of every thinking horror reader.
  • November 26, 2001: for Patrick O'Leary's The Impossible Bird (Tor, January).
    A zany premise, coupled with realistic characters drawn into a confusing reality, results in a tour de force that handles themes of death, loss and love with panache and a dash of humor.
Also in the November 26 issue, this article about the trade in limited and signed first editions, using the example of Mark Danielewski's postmodern horror novel House of Leaves (Pantheon).
As it turned out, Reeves was not the only one with a hunch about this book. The entire 2,000-copy hardcover print run sold out prior to the book's March 2000 pub date, primarily to book dealers, collectors and savvy bookstore owners who speculated that the precious few hardcovers would be very much sought after. Their instincts were good: the experimental novel is currently fetching $250 on Advanced Book Exchange and eBay.

Wednesday 21 November 2001

§ November 20, 2001
Glen David Gold is interviewed by Gavin J. Grant. There's also an excerpt from Gold's novel Carter Beats the Devil.

§ Guardian November 3, 2001
James Sallis is interviewed, about his recent biography of Chester Himes, and his background helping Michael Moorcock edit New Worlds.

§ New Statesman 19th November 2001
John Wyndham is the subject of an article by Mark Slattery about the author of The Day of the Triffids, who "put sci-fi on the map."

Too often was John Wyndham described as a disaster novelist. He was, more correctly, a post-disaster novelist. In that sense, he was an optimist. Even his critics acknowledge that his success introduced sci-fi to a new audience. Especially popular in America, he took a genre that lacked critical kudos, and which was anchored to a cult readership, and displayed it in the shop window of English literature.
Also in this issue, a review by Sebastian Shakespeare of Ballard's Complete Stories.
If "Ballardian" were to enter the English language, as it one day must, what would it stand for? The poetry of technology? A visionary science-fiction style? Or perhaps prescience? Perhaps all of the above. J G Ballard has made futurology seem almost respectable.

Wednesday 14 November 2001

§ New York Times Book Review November 11, 2001
Gerald Jonas's latest SF column covers books by Michael Flynn, Pat Murphy, and Sarah Zettel. Jonas is excited by Flynn's In the Country of the Blind"One of the strengths of Flynn's book is his insistence that scientific insight into the forces of history cannot exclude uncertainty."—though he doesn't mention that this Tor hardcover edition isn't a new book, but a reissue (albeit slightly revised) of Flynn's first novel, published as a paperback in 1990.

Also this week, Andrew O'Hehir reviews Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen (Small Beer Press).

Link can handle slapstick comedy and Gothic horror; her stripped-down prose is light on description but rich in evocation and subterranean meaning. She embraces fantasy in its fullest sense and in doing so transcends all considerations of genre. Unlike those waiters under the eagle-eyed scrutiny of the girl detective, she earns our trust. At their best, her stories have the vibrancy, the buzzing resonance and the oddly insistent quality of dreams. They aren't linked to one another, at least not in the sense that they share settings or characters, but they all draw water from the same clear, cold, deep well.

§ Washington Post Book World November 11, 2001
Paul Di Filippo reviews the just-released US edition of J.G. Ballard's Super-Cannes (Picador).

On the surface, we have a tale that might almost have issued from the pen of Daphne Du Maurier, ripe for a Hitchcockian transformation to the screen. (Ballard in fact alludes to Hitchcock in Chapter 16, making me realize for the first time how many qualities these two mordant, icy auteurs share, an observation that I do not believe has found its way into print before. ...)

[I]n sketching the rough beast continually being born out of the confluence of media and dreams, this book comes closer to a report on tomorrow's headlines than many a "hardcore" science fiction novel.
Also, Martin Morse Wooster reviews Clive Barker's Coldheart Canyon (HarperCollins), seemingly concurring with the Los Angeles Times's review (below).
Because [Barker] has had more success than most writers in dealing with Hollywood, you'd think that all his meetings with insiders would give him insights that outsiders would not have. This proves not to be the case. Coldheart Canyon is a mildly entertaining, vapid novel that's as insightful as an issue of Us.

§ The Onion A.V. Club November 14, 2001
Ballard and Barker together again: Scott Tobias reviews Super-Cannes:

A surrealist at heart, Ballard lives for those moments when natural and unnatural worlds come together to form a new landscape that's twisted, unstable, and sometimes oddly beautiful. At nearly 400 pages, Super-Cannes is too loose in its plot mechanics to match the taut, diamond-sharp efficiency of Crash or High-Rise. ... But when Ballard sets his imagination to a corporate wonderland run amok, where effete executives are turned into fascist thugs and secret perversions lurk behind every door, Super-Cannes skewers its target with a chilly elegance that's unmistakably his own.
And Tasha Robinson interviews Cliver Barker about working for Disney, the real Hollywood, and why he won't direct any more films.

§ San Francisco Chronicle Book Review November 11, 2001
Ballard's new novel is briefly reviewed by Dodie Bellamy, who calls it a "noir sci-fi thriller".

Ballard is a master of atmosphere, and his evocations of degeneracy are as dazzling as they are brutal.
Also, regular SF columnist Michael Berry reviews King & Straub's Black House, and Ken Foster reviews T.C. Boyle's collection After the Plague.

§ The Independent 10 November 2001
Gareth Evans interviews J.G. Ballard about his Collected Stories.

"I never re-read my own stuff. By the time you reach my age you've compiled what is in effect a huge case for the defence ['or maybe for the prosecution', he suggests later], without knowing what the charge is."

§ The Guardian November 10 2001 and The Sunday Times November 11 2001
Two interviews with Philip Pullman: Sally Vincent interviews Pullman at length, about his childhood, present-day writing habits, children, his readers' literal-minded questions, religion, and drugs.

Three quarto-sized sheets, neat as pins, lie on a narrow ledge, beside them a posh Biro. A day's work, 1,000 handwritten words. When he became a full-time writer, Pullman went to night school to learn physically how to write, how to hold a pen correctly, how to shape letters into a perfect script, how to become so expert at the technique of sending messages from the brain down the shoulder and along the arm into the fingers and on to the page, that he'd never have to give it another thought.
And Stuart Wavell's interview with Pullman focuses on the controversy caused by the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, and Pullman's opinions of Milne, Lewis, religion, society's attitudes toward children, religion, and current publishing standards.
"You can't have your heroes and heroines going off by themselves to camp on an island. The publishers wouldn't let you do it. There are all sorts of health and safety problems, paedophiles and goodness knows what else. The fear is that children are so stupid they'll copy what they see in books. So in order to give children adventures now, you either have to set it in the past when that sort of thing was allowed, or in another world where the rules are different. But you can't do it realistically."
Also in The Guardian: a transcript of a literary panel from this year's Cheltenham Literary Festival with Terry Pratchett.

§ London Review of Books 15 November 2001
Reasons for Liking Tolkien is a 13,000-word essay by Jenny Turner focusing on critical trends Tolkien's popular trilogy-- "a work written to keep the modern world at bay that the modern world adores"--with consideration of what Tom Shippey and others have to say.

Thursday 8 November 2001

§ Salon Nov. 8, 2001
Kelly Link is reviewed and interviewed by Laura Miller. (The book will also be reviewed in this Sunday's New York Times.)

Other contemporary writers have borrowed from fairy tales, of course, most notably the late British author Angela Carter, clearly an influence on Link. But while Carter recast the old stories in ornate, voluptuous prose that reveled in their Freudian and Sadeian undertones, Link's writing is cool, controlled and scrupulously spare. Carter would tweak the legends of, say, Bluebeard or Little Red Riding Hood to arrive at an exhilarating, if sometimes savage, feminist denouement. Most of the young women in Link's stories, on the other hand, have the self-deprecating, wisecracking outlook of Melissa Bank and Lorrie Moore. Carter celebrated desire, while Link prefers to tally up its costs.

Wednesday 7 November 2001

§ Guardian Unlimited November 4, 2001
Jason Cowley reviews the 1200-page The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard (Flamingo).

[N]o other contemporary British writer possesses his prescience and perspicacity, his instinct for catastrophe. No other writer foresaw, in quite the same way, how televised images of fame and death were to become all-powerful in our culture.

... Those who complain that he repeatedly writes the same book, that he cannot do character or convincingly animate women, misunderstand a writer who is less a formal storyteller than a prose surrealist. The motifs in his work are abandoned airfields, drained swimming pools, crashed cars, flooded lagoons, overlit motorways. His male heroes - doctors, pilots, architects, engineers - are emblematic last men, moving uneasily though flimsy, disintegrating worlds (in their impassive striving they recall the sad urban dreamscapes of Edward Hopper).

... If Ballard is an anti-utopian writer, a pessimist of human nature, it is because by the time he returned to England, as a young adult after the war, he had seen and experienced the worst of the world and of man's potential for depravity. He was without hope or illusion, his imagination forever after to be shadowed by the ruined towns, abandoned aircraft, crashed cars and arbitrary disappearances and injustices of his childhood. And so, as the political philosopher John Gray has written, Ballard's fictional achievement is to have communicated a vision of what fulfilment might mean in a time of nihilism. And who would argue that ours is not a time of nihilism and that Ballard is not the ideal chronicler of our disturbed modernity?

§ January November 2001
Claude Lalumière reviews Ernest Hogan's third novel Smoking Mirror Blues (Wordcraft of Oregon), about a renegade AI that is the incarnation of the Aztec trickster god Tezcatlipoca.

[W]hat impresses most about Hogan's Smoking Mirror Blues is its use of language. For this novel, Hogan created a Californian English that expands upon modern English's trend towards neologisms, snappy compounds and netspeak. It also incorporates a generous amount of Spanish. Hogan doesn't go so far as to turn his book into gibberish; he pushes his inventions just far enough that the reader feels constantly on the edge of being challenged by the language, while being able to understand it perfectly. A neat trick: Hogan gives his novel an authentic sheen of future exoticism while skillfully keeping the text crystal clear.

§ Los Angeles Times November 6, 2001
Clive Barker gets no respect from his hometown newspaper: Michael Harris reviews Coldheart Canyon.

[I]t's ironic that in a novel that attacks Hollywood for its greed and egotism and the "mindless dreck" it produces, a novel that goes so far as to identify the movie capital with Hell itself and its effects on American culture with the machinations of the Father of Lies, Clive Barker should have created such a typical Hollywood product.

§ New York Times November 4, 2001
Stephen King and Peter Straub fare better in a short notice by Mary Elizabeth Williams.

What elevates ''Black House'' beyond ordinary horror novels is the richness of its cast, from a bunch of philosophy-reading bikers to a sleazy journalist to a grieving mother on the brink of madness.

Saturday 3 November 2001

§ Los Angeles Times November 1, 2001
Arthur C. Clarke is subject of a regular LAT feature that interviews celebrities about their use of personal technology. His comments touch on September 11...

E-mail takes up practically all my time.

Q: You get that much e-mail in a day?

Usually about 30 e-mails that I answer. I correspond with a lot of people--after the attacks on New York I was writing to many friends there. My agent saw people jumping out of the building. I think it was a defining moment in history, much like the sinking of the Titanic. In both cases you have a stable, maybe complacent civilization suddenly hit by disasters. There are a lot of parallels, I think.

I wrote this in an e-mail to my friend director Jim Cameron, who happened to be at the Titanic, making dives down to the wreck. He communicated from the Russian ship they were using.

§ Independent 02 November 2001
J.R.R. Tolkien's letters, being auctioned this month, reveal that he was not an enthusiastic self-promoter; article by Cahal Milmo.

Writing to a family friend and confidant, George Sayer, whose family are selling the archive, the author said he had agonised over the publicity piece for the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, published in 1954. In one letter from the archive, expected to fetch up to £35,000, he told Sayer the task had proved too much and that he eventually "gave up and got the 'blurb' writers to do it".

§ New Scientist 02 November 2001
An article describes a recent paper (from Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets) by Geoffrey A. Landis and NASA co-worker Diane Linne proposing a rocket-powered "hopper" vehicle to explore Mars. Using solar power and the Martian atmosphere to refuel, it would be able to hop around on Mars indefinitely. (The image shows the hopper's solar arrays deployed.)

§ Publishers Weekly October 29, 2001
A starred review for Geoffrey A. Landis's Impact Parameter (Golden Gryphon):

In balancing his expertise as a working scientist against his obvious love of language and emotional sensitivity, Landis consistently achieves striking characterizations within the confines of ingenious futuristics. ... [H]e gives "hard" science fiction a heart.

The previous issue, October 22, has an interview with Ray Bradbury.

Concerning the recent terrible terrorist events, he refers to a recent essay in which he wrote, "Mankind is too soon from the cave, too far from the stars, we are the in-between generation, not having accepted the gift of life completely. We diminish it by such acts. Not by war, hatred and greed, but then we recover and do good things. We are half and half people. We need forgiveness. We have to move forward, go back to the moon, go to Mars, on into the universe, meantime struggling with the two halves of ourselves. The events of recent weeks have been a real struggle not to go crazy."
And a starred review for Charles de Lint's The Onion Girl (Tor), with short sidebar interview.
PW: Jane Yolen calls you the "Greenman of Fantasy Writing." If you could be a mythic character, who would you be?

CDL: I'm not sure what she means, but I like the sound of it.... I would be Taliesen so I could talk to the animals.

PW: Why do you prefer to describe your work as mythic fiction rather than fantasy?

CDL: The reason is—if you're going to be in a genre, it should be a genre you choose yourself. I believe the fiction I'm doing is closer to mainstream than fantasy. It has fantastical elements in it, but it also has real-world elements.

§ The Futurist October 29, 2001
David Brin has a long essay, Some Notes About Calamity...and Opportunity written shortly after the Sept. 11th attacks, followed by another, The value - and empowerment - of common citizens in an age of danger posted in October (also posted on also has, among many, an essay by UK writer Charlie Stross, Needed: A New Age of Enlightenment.

Pioneer Press September 27, 2001
A guest essay by Gene Wolfe, published in a Chicago-area local newspaper, is unfortunately not online. Wolfe urges citizens to act quickly, and pressure the politicians to take action...

We will be told that the perpetrators (and only the perpetrators) must be punished, and that the greatest pains must be taken to make certain no innocent person suffers. That sounds much better than saying no action should be taken, but it comes to the same thing. The perpetrators cannot be punished. They died in the planes they hijacked and are beyond our reach. It is not possible to fight a war (not even a losing war) without causing innocent people to suffer.
Wolfe's recommendations for immediate action: 1) declare war on nations that harbor terrorists; 2) arm the plane crews; 3) seal the borders; 4) return non-citizens to their homelands; 5) root out terrorist organizations everywhere; and 6) stop pressuring Israel to go soft on terrorists.

October Field Inspections

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