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Tuesday 25 June 2002

§ Entertainment Weekly June 208/July 5, 2002
The magazine's annual It List of "the 100 most creative people in entertainment" (only a few individual selectees are online) includes a section on Books, with 9 writers named including Philip Pullman ("IT kids' best nightmare") and Jasper Fforde ("IT fantasy author"). Some of their responses:

Unlikely Influence The Australian soap opera Neighbours. "I watch it every day during lunch. You can learn a lot from stuff that isn't very good." Dream Collaborators "I would love to write a comic book," says Pullman, who wishes Art Spiegelman or Scott McCloud would handle the art chores.

Inspirations Vivaldi and the Bee Gees. Worst Advice "If you want to get published, look at the best-seller list and write what sells."
Other picks: "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" as IT Script; "The Matrix Reloaded" as IT Sequel, and The Ladies of "Farscape" as IT Sci-Fi Babes.

§ San Francisco Chronicle June 23, 2002
Michael Berry's SF column covers new books by China Miéville, Douglas Adams, and Robert J. Sawyer.

"Hominids" shuttles smoothly between its two main plots, building toward a suspenseful climax. What's most intriguing is how Sawyer, author of "Calculating God" and "Factoring Humanity," doesn't allow his Neanderthal characters to fit expected stereotypes. In many ways, they are technologically superior to present-day humankind, even while their society is more in tune with natural rhythms than ours could ever be. A meticulously conceived piece of anthropological science fiction, "Hominids" is the first volume in a planned trilogy. It hints at a whole host of fascinating implications yet to be explored.

§ Salon June 20, 2002
Suzy Hanson reviews Jeffrey Ford's The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque (Morrow), about an artist hired to paint a woman he's not allowed to see.

Ford's curious union of fantasy, science, mysticism and art is set in a Victorian Gotham that recalls an Edith Wharton novel, only with furtive, menacing shadows lurking behind the hansom cabs. ... [A mystery concerning] plague-stricken victims and its connection to Mrs. Charbuque unfolds with suspense (not surprisingly, there's a rather angry Mr. Charbuque on the loose), but it's Ford's quirky characters, rather than the twists and turns of plot, that are the book's treasures.

Monday 17 June 2002

§ The New York Times Book Review June 16, 2002
Gerald Jonas's SF column covers books by Rudy Rucker and Greg Egan, with a brief mention of Liz Williams. Rucker's Spaceland (Tor) is in part an homage to Edwin Abbott's Flatland..

Abbott's world of Flatland included a mild satire on the rigidities of the Victorian class system. ''Spaceland'' makes mild fun of self-important dot-commers and their venture-capitalist backers. But it is Rucker's determination to one-up the dimensional explorations of ''Flatland'' that gives ''Spaceland'' an appeal beyond its creaky plot and sophomoric humor.
Jonas is baffled by the high-density cosmological speculation in Egan's Schild's Ladder (Eos).
I have no idea why Egan found it necessary to stuff his narrative with detailed disquisitions on Quantum Graph Theory -- which, he notes in an afterword, is fictitious, although drawn from some papers on one of the many current attempts to come up with a testable ''theory of everything.'' Egan's strong point is not in explaining arcane scientific concepts, whether fictitious or factual. [...] What Egan does do well is dramatize the interplay between intellect and emotion in the advance of science.

§ Los Angeles Times Book Review June 16, 2002
In a rare genre book review in LAT, Michael Harris finds things to admire about China Mieville's The Scar (Ballantine), yet feels obliged to explain the trade-offs that inherently compromise fantasy fiction.

Surely Mieville is right to fantasize; he has a gift for it and a polished style. [...]

Still, the trade-offs are inevitable. Imagining the world anew, as Mieville does, requires copious description, and fantasy novels tend to be long. Characterization is scant, even in the case of Mieville, who is interested in his characters and tries to make of the austere, often unfriendly Bellis an admirable truth-seeker. Our sense of character is grounded in our own experience, in the real world; the more a fantasy diverges from that, the simpler its characters have to be.

Mieville's characters are more complex than, say, George Lucas' because "The Scar," sacrificing the mythic power of purer fantasy, diverges less than it seems to. It's really a World War II or Cold War thriller in disguise. We feel we know Bellis and Tanner, little people manipulated by Armada's and New Crobuzon's sinister leaders, peeling back layers of political intrigue and betrayal. They are secondary to the action, as thriller characters always are, but rooted in a familiar and credible world.

§ Washington Post Book World June 16, 2002
Elizabeth Ward reviews Familiar and Haunting: Collected Stories (Greenwillow) by Philippa Pearce, who's best known for her 1958 YA novel Tom's Midnight Garden.

Many fantasy writers, and not just those who write for children, don't quite trust the notion that natural and supernatural are closely allied. Anxiously, they drag out props and costumes and exotic settings to work the atmosphere up to a sufficiently fantastic pitch. Their characters flaunt Celtic or Old English names, dispatch dragons or dark lords and sally forth on eccentric quests.

Pearce eschews all that. In one of the stories in this excellent collection, a visitor must explain to a puzzled school janitor why he has been asked to meet with the local vicar. In fact, there is evidence that the Devil himself has the village headmaster in his thrall and may even have killed the visitor's brother. But in a sentence that is pure Pearce, the visitor matter-of-factly explains, "Mr. Widdington mentioned Mr. Bryce's immortal soul."

§ Washington Post Book World June 9, 2002
Last week Paul Di Filippo led his SF column with Rucker's Spaceland, dubbing Rucker the leading Clown Prince among current SF writers.

As in his previous novel, The Hacker and the Ants (1994), Rucker gets off a lot of good shots at the peculiar dotcom-nerd mentality of his California environs. And the romantic mishaps among Joe and his crowd are touchingly real. But Rucker reserves his most brilliant sallies for depicting the strangenesses associated with higher dimensions. Until you've witnessed a person with a third eye swallowed by a "hypercuttlefish," you have not experienced true cognitive estrangement.
Di Filippo also covers Paul McAuley's latest novel, collections by Robert Silverberg and Ian Watson, and a "Doctor Who" novel by Lloyd Rose.

§ Also in this Book World, Alice K. Turner reviews a book on demons, and Michael Swanwick reviews a new biography of Mervyn Peake.

§ Guardian Unlimited June 15, 2002
Continuing the humorist theme, Michael Moorcock dubs Steve Aylett the best of the new fantasy absurdists, as in his new novel The Velocity Gospel (Gollancz), an "even funnier sequel" to Only an Alligator, which was "the first in a new fantasy trilogy featuring the city of Accomplice, whose map includes the Church of Automata, the Ultimatum Restaurant and the Juice Museum..."

...Aylett's language is often the substance, the narrative. You are lost unless you accept the logic of his characters, the sardonic rhythms of his prose. And as with [Ronald] Firbank, you tend to begin an Aylett feeling that you've been dropped into the annual party at the loony bin, but after a few pages his weirdly angled vision takes you over.
Also here, Jon Courtenay Grimwood provides brief reviews of new books by Brian Aldiss, Connie Willis, and Richard Calder.

§ Independent Enjoyment 03 June 2002
Kim Newman reviews The Scar.

Like Miéville's first two novels, The Scar is a feat of the imagination, a rich reclamation of the pleasures of every genre. It's also a caution against imagination, a sobering look at the chaos left in the wake of every mad visionary.

§ June 10, 2002
Nicola Griffith interviewed by Gavin J. Grant.

Tuesday 4 June 2002

§ The New York Times Book Review June 2, 2002
The Book Review's Summer Reading issue features best-of-the-year-so-far lists in fiction and nonfiction; SF selections are on this page (scroll to the bottom):

  • John Clute, Appleseed (Tor) ["playful but daunting far-future novel "]
  • Nalo Hopkinson, Skin Folk (Warner Aspect) ["ranges from erotic to enraged"]
  • Dennis Danvers, The Watch (HarperCollins Eos) ["a thoughtful time-travel romp "]
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt (Bantam) ["a thoughtful, magisterial alternate history"]

§ The weekend's book reviews at Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle focus on children's and YA books. In the Post's Book world, Robert Aubry Davis profiles Lemony Snicket; while Elizabeth Ward reviews YA books by Angela Carter, David Clement-Davies, Andrew Clements, and Ben Jeapes. A list of books to get your boys excited about reading includes the usual suspects by Louis Sachar, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lemony Snicket, and others.

In San Francisco, Michael Berry reviews YA fantasy novels by Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Eoin Colfer. Gaiman's forthcoming Coraline

is by turns creepy and funny, bittersweet and playful. Gaiman expertly walks the tightrope between fantasy and realism. McKean's drawings succinctly capture the whimsical and disturbing aspects of the tale. As with [Pratchett's] "The Amazing Maurice," there's a little lesson regarding the true nature of bravery, but it doesn't get in the way of the fluid storytelling. "Coraline" is a book that can be read quickly and enjoyed deeply, one likely to lure many readers back for a second or third go-round.

§ Entertainment Weekly June 7, 2002
Inprint but not yet online is ET's review of "two popular kid-approved books with adult-crossover appeal": Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography (HarperCollins) and Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident (Talk Miramax). They're graded B and A- respectively. An earlier profile of Lemony Snicket is online, here.

§ June 3, 2002
Jeffrey Ford, whose new novel The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque (William Morrow) is due this month, is interviewed by Gavin J. Grant.

The central conceit of The Portrait (where the Piambo must paint a portrait of Mrs. Charbuque without seeing her) is wonderful...
The concept for the novel came from my teaching of Early American Literature. [...] In the text book I use for the course, The Norton Anthology of Early American Literature, the biographical piece on [Emily] Dickinson stated that her friend Mabel Loomis Todd had known Emily all her life, but only saw her when she was laid out in her coffin. Or at least, for years, that's what I thought it stated. This was really where the idea for the book came from, this statement. This year, after writing The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, ... I went back to the Norton Anthology to look for that line about the coffin, etc., and it wasn't there. I must have just made the entire thing up in my head. My wife can tell you that isn't surprising. The fact that it was the impetus for the novel is a little bizarre, though.

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