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Friday 31 May 2002

§ BookSense May 28, 2002
Gavin J. Grant interviews Neil Gaiman about his forthcoming Coraline (HarperCollins).

Coraline is not only the shortest book I've ever written, but also the one that took the longest to write.

I think I averaged about about 2,000 words a year. I started it in 1990 or '91 for my little daughter, Holly -- who is now a great big, practically grown-up thing -- and finished it for my daughter Maddie. It's the thing I was writing in my own time, and it was very organic.

I stopped writing when I didn't know what happened next. Sometimes it would take four years, then I'd know what happened next, and I'd go away and write it.

§ The Onion A.V. Club May 29, 2002
Andy Battaglia reviews Shelley Jackson's The Melancholy Of Anatomy: Stories.

In the book's best story, "Egg," a woman happens upon a mysterious red orb, which grows from a small dot to the size of a room. The so-called egg is an overtly pregnant symbol of the growing despondence between the woman and her lesbian lover. But it's also a deftly rendered embodiment of metaphor itself, a stand-in for the unknowability that serves as Jackson's main muse.

§ Guardian Unlimited Books May 22, 2002
What did H.G. Wells think about D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover?

Wells found the story of a titled woman redeemed by sexual love with a gamekeeper so ridiculous that he set out to take the rise out of Lawrence.

He scribbled rude drawings and insults all over the title page of a precious first edition copy signed by Lawrence himself. ...

Friday 24 May 2002

§ Los Angeles Times May 23, 2002 [requires registration]
Another respectful review, by Thomas Frick, of John Crowley's The Translator (Morrow).

John Crowley is the award-winning and much-admired author of seven previous novels, vast in conception and hard to classify. Though he is generally considered a fantasist, Crowley's fantasy is of a sort that seems to lurk just under the surface of our own world, like a mirror urgently reflecting our image back at us with increased intensity and subtly altered perspectives.

"The Translator" is in many ways a surprising departure, a Cold War drama whose emotional and political realism is conveyed with unexpected delicacy and nuance.

Thursday 23 May 2002

§ The American Prospect 5.16.02
Chris Mooney's Idea Log, responding to an earlier piece about the influence of Attack of the Clones on public discussion of the cloning controversy, finds a different fantasy more central in the "relationship between the fantasy and sci-fi genres and worries about technology": Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

The Lord of the Rings has long appealed to radicals (and reactionaries), especially those animated by a strong desire to restore more simple and ennobling ways of life. In the 1960s, LOTR was adored by hippie counterculturalists, who scrawled "Frodo Lives!" and "Gandalf for President" on buildings and subway stations. Tolkien labeled his American following a "deplorable cultus," but the author's deep disillusionment with modernity fed into the hippie ethos of creating a brave new world -- more natural, more true, more free. In Gandalf's counsel that the powerful but corrupting Ring of Power must be destroyed, rather than used as a weapon against Sauron, antiwar activists saw a clear allusion to the Bomb. Radical environmentalists derived similar messages. ...

Tuesday 21 May 2002

§ Globe Books May 18, 2002
Spider Robinson reviews Better To Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril, by Judith Merril & Emily Pohl-Weary (Between the Lines).

Canadian science fiction, to the extent that there is such a thing, exists in large part because Judith Merril chose to move here. Her impact on the field can be inferred from the reason that I was asked to write this review. "Everyone I can find here in Toronto was either a dear friend or a bitter enemy of hers," the editor said.

I think even Merril's worst enemy would agree that this book is a fascinating and invaluable historical resource and literary treasure trove, a uniquely privileged window on the Golden Age of Science Fiction and the remarkable, contentious, colourful, creative men and women who invented it as they went along.
Related links:
About Emily Pohl-Weary
Between the Lines page (publisher)
Books launch photos by Ellen Datlow
The Merril Collection

§ Guardian May 18, 2002
Steven Poole, reviewing China Mieville's new novel The Scar (Macmillan UK), is put off at first by the "preening" of the opening 40 pages.

Once the novel settles down after its ill-judged beginning, Miéville begins to construct an intriguing plot of espionage and deceit. He gives himself the leisure to elaborate the topography and politics of Armada, as well as the characters and activities of its citizens, to the extent that the reader is gradually won over in sheer astonishment. Every invention is lovingly exploited...

The Scar eventually demonstrates enough invention and brutal energy, firmly ruled by a calm architectonic intelligence, to show that Miéville is one of the most imaginative young writers around in any kind of fiction.
There's also Mieville's list of top 10 weird fiction, with titles by M. John Harrison, Philip K. Dick, and Kelly Link. The Scar was also reviewed by Andrew McKie in the Telegraph last week. (Note this site now requires free registration.)

§ San Francisco Chronicle May 19, 2002
Michael Berry's column covers Rudy Rucker's Spaceland (Tor), James Herbert's Once... (Tor), and Sheri S. Tepper's The Visitor (Eos). Rucker

knows the South Bay dot-com milieu inside and out and has a lot satiric fun at its expense.

Rucker is one of the genre's most reliable humorists, and he packs "Spaceland" with plenty of wry observations and loopy scenarios. Even if you couldn't handle college algebra, "Spaceland" provides more than its fair share of mind-bending fun.

§ New Scientist 18 May 2002
Roger Bridgman reviews Terry Pratchett & Co.'s The Science of Discworld II: The Globe (Ebury Press), explaining that the guiding conceit of this volume is a new theory of what makes us human.

According to the Disc-world trio, this is simply our ability to tell stories. Forget language (you can tell stories without it), forget art (every picture tells a story), forget Homo sapiens, in fact. We should really be called Pan narrans, the story-telling ape, because this single talent explains everything else in human culture.

§ Los Angeles Times May 14, 2002
Merle Rubin reviews the movie tie-in edition of Philip K. Dick's novelette The Minority Report, faulting it for lacking the depth and detail of a novel.

Dick does not seem to have fully exploited the potential of his own material here. Certainly, he has not portrayed his characters with any degree of depth. Nor has he fully explored all the ramifications of their situation or the implications of the themes he has introduced. In basing the Precrime System on the precognitive ESP faculties of idiots savants rather than on the use of, say, psychological, sociological or genetic paradigms, Dick short-circuits some potentially fascinating questions about the limits of science and social science in predicting human behavior. ... Fans of Philip K. Dick tend to be imaginative people, and in this story he has left a great deal to the reader's imagination.

§ Sydney Morning Herald May 18, 2002
Ken Gelder reviews Stephen King's Everything's Eventual (Hodder & Stoughton).

§ CNN May 14, 2002
A profile of Star Wars Episode II novelizer R.A. Salvatore — the man who killed off Chewbacca.

Salvatore would seem an unlikely person to be writing the "Star Wars" books -- or any books at all. A math major in college, he acknowledges having practically given up on reading by the time he graduated from high school.

Then came the Blizzard of '78, a massive snowstorm that shut down the East Coast. Salvatore's college was shut down for a week, and with little else to do he picked up the reading material at hand -- a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" his sister had given him.

"I went into Middle Earth and never came out," says Salvatore. When he finally did emerge, he was a new man. He changed his major to communications and started reading voraciously.

§ The Onion A.V. Club May 15, 2002
Tasha Robinson reviews Douglas Adams's The Salmon of Doubt (Harmony).

Taken together, the disparate pieces paint a loving portrait of Adams as a respected, hilarious, highly intelligent man with a crippling lack of self-confidence that only seemed to surface when he was trying to write.

Tuesday 14 May 2002

§ Guardian Unlimited May 11, 2002
Though it was released simultaneously in the US and the UK, Douglas Adams's last book, The Salmon of Doubt, is getting significant coverage in his home country, but none that we've seen in his adopted one. (He was living in Santa Barbara CA when he died.) Nicholas Lezard's review here is an appreciation of Adams's life as much as an assessment of this last book.

As the numerous interviews with him reprinted in The Salmon of Doubt attest, Adams was a keen logician, a disciple as well as a friend of Richard Dawkins, and a proselytising atheist. He was tickled by the coincidence that his initials were DNA, and that he was born in Cambridge five months before Crick and Watson discovered the molecule of the same name. There is an amusing exchange between him and a group with the embattled-sounding name of American Atheists, who ask: "Have you faced any obstacles in your professional life because of your Atheism (bigotry against Atheists), and how did you handle it? How often does this happen?" The earnest detail of the question suggests that atheist-persecution is a bit of a problem over there. Adams's reply, which it must have been a pleasure to give: "Not even remotely. It's an inconceivable idea."
Charles Shaar Murray in The Independent isn't as deep but is just as appreciative.
Adams was essentially a satirist travelling under a farceur's colours. It should come as no surprise that his favourite authors included Kurt Vonnegut and PG Wodehouse. At his best, he aspired to combine the former's fatalist absurdism and the latter's linguistic arabesques, via their shared acuity about the vagaries of human behaviour.

He was passionate about science, the environment, computers, comedy and music; all of which interests are generously represented here. Like Orwell, with whom he had virtually nothing in common except an admiration for Wodehouse and a detestation of the deadly combination of small-mindedness and great power, he could be immensely didactic about the precise methodology of brewing the perfect cup of tea.
Elsewhere in The Guardian, Jon Courtenary Grimwood briefly reviews new books by Richard Morgan, Greg Egan, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Martin Millar. On Egan's Schild's Ladder:
Any novel that uses line drawings to explain the complexity of quantum theory is going to make demands that some readers are unable to accept, but this is Egan at his best, writing hard science with panache and putting believable characters into morally difficult situations. As impressive as it is demanding.
On Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt:
There are problems with this novel, not least historical over-simplification and a narrative that occasionally gets reduced to precis, but the imagination that allows Robinson to mesh Islam with reincarnation to produce a kind of Zen Sufism is stunning.

§ The New York Times Book Review May 12, 2002
Back in the USA, Jessica Olin's review of John Crowley's The Translator (Morrow) gives not the slightest hint that the author has any relation to genre fiction. She likes it.

Crowley obviously loves poetry, and he can write it, too. He gives Falin and Kit definitive, individual voices as poets, and it's a treat to come upon their creations. ... ''The Translator'' remembers a time when books were important enough to be banned and smuggled; when in the Soviet Union 15,000 people would fill a sports stadium to hear a poet read, or people starved for books could be found ''reading on the trains and crowded streetcars, swapping books and journals, reading two at a time.'' In this context, Falin's insistence that his students memorize poems makes sense: to love a piece of writing is to know it ''by heart.''

§ Los Angeles Times May 12, 2002
Does anyone take musical pop stars' opinions on politics seriously? Well then, how about their tastes in books and movies? Here are Top 5 picks from Moby (a descendant of Herman Melville, actually; thus his moniker), who by the way runs his own daily weblog at, of course,

"Starship Troopers" (1997). "An art film in the trappings of a banal, generic science-fiction movie."

"Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Cord. "I grew up obsessed with science-fiction books because I'm basically a geek, and this might be the best one ever written."

Publishers Weekly
Among recent starred reviews from the anonymous PW reviewers...

  • April 22, 2002: Laurie Marks's Fire Logic (Tor).
    In her first novel since Dancing Jack (1993), Marks has created a work filled with an intelligence that zings off the page. ... This beautifully written novel avoids the holes in logic typical of most stories of this nature and includes enough blood and adventure to satisfy the most quest-driven readers.
  • April 29, 2002: Rudy Rucker's Spaceland (Tor).
    Rucker's new hard SF satire tweaks the dot-com Y2K subculture into a hilarious tribute to Edwin Abbott's Flatland (1884). ... Combining valid mathematical speculation with wicked send-ups of Silicon Valley and its often otherworldly tribespeople, Rucker achieves a rare fictional world, a belly-laugh-funny commentary on the Faustian dilemma facing a lumpish 21st-century tech-addicted everyman...
    Same issue, yet another Tor book: James F. David's Before the Cradle Falls, coming in June.
    In this superbly paced mix of science fiction, thriller and police procedural, set in contemporary Portland, Ore., police detective Kyle Sommers has taken to the bottle to fight the memories of his daughter Shelby's death in an accident for which he was responsible. ...
  • May 6, 2002: Not a Tor book: Jeff VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen (Prime) -- an expanded version of his earlier book with the same title.
    This beautifully written, virtually hallucinatory work isn't for every taste, but connoisseurs of the finest in postmodern fantasy will find it enormously rewarding.

Friday 10 May 2002

§ CNN May 05, 2002
In a review given unusual prominence -- it was included in CNN's e-mail newsletter of major daily news, and was linked briefly from the CNN homepage -- L.D. Meagher calls David Weber's The Excalibur Alternative (Baen) "a truly awful book".

As an adventure story, "The Excalibur Alternative" is woefully short on action. As a military chronicle, it is woefully short on strategy and tactics. As science fiction, it is merely woeful.

Those who attempt to gain respectability for the genre would be horrified if this book became a success. Weber sets science fiction back 50 years, to the days of ray guns and bug-eyed monsters.

Tuesday 7 May 2002

§ The Sunday Times May 05, 2002
Simon Brett reviews Douglas Adams's posthumous collection The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (UK: Macmillan; US: Harmony Books). The sundry pieces, such as newspaper essays and interviews, are uneven and often flat in print says Brett, but the title story, a Dirk Gently novel unfinished at the time of Adams's death, is

sheer delight and, much more than the rest of the book, bring[s] home what we have been deprived of by the death of Adams. All the quirkiness is there, his strangely dislocated view of the ordinary...

§ The New York Times May 5, 2002
A front page article in Sunday's New York Times summarizes the status of the delayed 5th Harry Potter novel. Of particular interest are details near the end about Harry Potter fan fiction...

It took decades of "Star Trek" reruns to inspire a genre of "fan fiction," but just two years without a Harry Potter book.

Ms. Tandy helped start a Harry Potter "fan fiction" Web site,, and said its number of registered users had grown from zero to 4,000 in the last 10 months. In one popular story, Harry Potter and his schoolboy nemesis, Draco Malfoy, grow up to be gangsters and gay lovers in London. Ms. Tandy said her site tries to exclude children under 13 and avoids posting "X-rated" material. Other Harry Potter "fan fiction" sites are less strict.

Frustration with the delay among teenage and older Harry Potter fans online has often spilled out in feuds. Hard-core fans debate which characters will end up romantically linked. They call their rival camps "ships," short for relationships, and some partisan Web sites denounce or ban advocates of rival "ships."

§ Sydney Morning Herald May 4, 2002
In Australia, kids haven't given up on Harry, but they're discovering other fantasy writers too, like Emily Rodda's Deltora Quest, and books by Kate Forsyth.

Forsyth sees the fantasy boom as a victory for children's literature. Young readers were turning away from didactic social realism stories about "my father beating me up, teenage abortion, first sex" to works of magic and humour because they sought, firstly, to be entertained.

Forsyth, 35, has just released her seventh fantasy title and will sit on a panel at the Sydney Writers' Festival discussing the creative legacy of The Lord of The Rings. She is passionate about the need for books that offer children something other than a "desperately dreary" viewpoint of life, and is thrilled about the renaissance of authors like Enid Blyton, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

§ Salon April 26, 2002
Ursula K. Le Guin's The Birthday of the World and Other Stories (HarperCollins) is an April pick, reviewed by Suzy Hansen.

The people, places and emotions in Le Guin's stories are typically strange, but her careful, sudden turns toward the familiar -- emotionally, psychologically -- seem like revelations of what's really important or fascinating about human life.

Back in March, Alan Cheuse reviewed the book in San Francisco Chronicle.

LeGuin is not only one of our country's most interesting and useful writers but she is also one of our most readable. ... From the first story onward, the book sizzles with intelligence, deep anthropology and sex.
And Tasha Robinson covered it in The Onion A.V. Club.
All eight of the collection's stories touch in some way on gender, sex, societal mores regarding both, and the social and emotional isolation fostered by the differences between the sexes. That may sound both pretentious and portentous, but Le Guin's subtle characterization, narrative skills, and ingenious premises combine to produce seamless, involving, believable stories that transcend the usual clichés of fantasy or sociological allegory. ... Once again, Le Guin's powerful work illustrates that fantasy need not be escapist, that gender studies need not be dry or strident, and that entertainment need not be mindless.
Last week, Le Guin's book was briefly noted by The New Yorker [May 6, not online], with a familiar almost-too-good-for-SF sentiment...
Le Guin made her name as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, but—like John le Carré's spy novels, or Larry McMurtry's Westerns—her work transcends the usual limitations of the genre...

§ January April 2002
A similar thought underlies this review by David Dalgleish of John Crowley's The Translator (Morrow).

Crowley's greatness was evident in his first novels, but they were marketed as genre science fiction and published in mass market paperback format. His writing has thus inevitably and unjustly remained in the borderlands of "respectable" literature...

§ Book May/June 2002
This Other Worlds piece by Chris Barsanti of David Brin's Kiln People, part review and part author profile, is a web exclusive; the print magazine does not cover SF.

While [Brin] believes that, given the chance to ditto themselves, "millions would seize the convenience, barely giving it another thought," there are plenty who wouldn't. "If you're a self-distrusting type, you might get no cooperation from your dittos. Technology tends to exaggerate what we already are, embellishing diversity, not diminishing it." Would he ditto himself? "Sure. If only to learn the reach of my own wisdom."

April Field Inspections

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