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Tuesday 30 July 2002

§ Bookmarks Summer 2002
The preview issue of this new magazine, designed for "media-savvy Gen-Xers who haven't really read a book since college but are eager to reconnect with literature, though uncertain how to do it" according to the Los Angeles Times article (no longer online) noted earlier this month, includes a feature in which Connie Willis names her 10 favorite SF stories. Since the preview issue is sold out, we'll reproduce the list (sans commentary) here:

  • "A Little Something for Us Tempunauts", Philip K. Dick (1974)
  • "The Big Pat Boom", Damon Knight (1963)
  • "Vintage Season", C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner (1946)
  • "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts", Shirley Jackson (1954)
  • "Flowers for Algernon", Daniel Keyes (1959)
  • "Songs of War", Kit Reed (1974)
  • "Light of Other Days", Bob Shaw (1966)
  • "Computers Don't Argue", Gordon R. Dickson (1965)
  • "The Man Who Lost the Sea", Theodore Sturgeon (1956)
  • "Lot", Ward Moore (1953)
(Willis's selections are thoughtfully amended with references to where each story is most recently available.) The bulk of the magazine consists of several dozen reviews, or review summaries, of current books, each with a description and extracts from various published reviews, with starred equivalents indicated for each extract and each book overall, finishing with a few words of "critical summary". See this example of the review for Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. The other SF selections in this issue are Le Guin's The Birthday of the World and Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt (3 1/2 stars each), while King's Everything's Eventual is covered in the literary fiction section. The format provides a handy way to keep tabs on what's new and notable (even, or especially, for books one has no intention of reading), though with a bimonthly schedule the magazine may not be of much use to committed genre readers.

§ New York Times Book Review July 28, 2002
Gerald Jonas's column covers Kathleen Ann Goonan's Light Music (Eos), John C. Wright's The Golden Age (Tor), and Robert Silverberg's The Longest Way Home (Eos). Wright's first novel, set in the far future, concerns a 3000-year-old man trying to find out why he agreed to have 250 years of his memories deleted.

Answering that question provides much of the narrative thrust of this unusual first novel, which is otherwise concerned with such philosophical conundrums as: can the pursuit of happiness make you unhappy? Is there life after the end of history? Is more ever less?

Once Phaethon realizes what he has lost and sets out to retrieve it, Wright's intention becomes clear: to enliven a satirical novel of ideas with interludes of action reminiscent of pulp fiction.

§ Publishers Weekly
Recent starred reviews of SF/Fantasy books -- at least one every issue -- include:

  • July 22 — John Barnes's The Sky So Big and Black (Tor): "a sharp novel that is not about who or what readers will think it is and that comes with a perfect, unexpected ending"
  • July 15 — Peter David's The Woad to Wuin: Sir Apropos of Nothing, Book Two (Pocket): "The wisecracking wordplay that fans have come to expect skips smoothly off the page, lifting this satirical fantasy into a class all its own."
  • July 15 — Online from this issue is an interview with Kevin J. Anderson
  • July 8 — Carol Emshwiller's The Mount (Small Beer Press): "...picks up human history several generations after a successful Hoot invasion has turned most of humanity into 'mounts,' bred for speed and beauty and trained with whips and savage bits to do their masters' will. ...Brilliantly conceived and painfully acute..."
  • July 1 — S.M. Stirling's T2: Rising Storm (HarperEntertainment): Anyone who liked the Terminator movies will love this book."
  • July 1 — Kevin J. Anderson's Hidden Empire: The Sage of Seven Suns Book 1 (Warner Aspect): a "stellar launch of a new series... [a] fascinating future epic not to be missed"
  • June 24 — Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others (Tor): "Here's the first must-read SF book of the year."
  • June 24 — Two children's fiction titles: Neil Gaiman's Coraline (HarperCollins), in a starred and boxed review; and Michael Chabon's Summerland.
  • June 17 — Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction: Nineteenth Annual Collection (St. Martin's)
  • June 10 — L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s Archform: Beauty (Tor): "Best known for his fantasy fiction, Modesitt has outdone himself in this highly original SF novel, using future technology to satirize and amplify the gulf that separates science from art."
  • June 3 — Stephen King's From a Buick 8 (Scribner), Steven Barnes's Charisma (Tor), and Charles Sheffield's The Amazing Dr. Darwin (Baen) all receive starred reviews

Thursday 25 July 2002

§ Washington Post Book World July 21, 2002
Jeff VanderMeer reviews China Miéville's The Scar, admiring parts but with significant reservations overall.

China Miéville's The Scar, set in the same imaginary world milieu as his last novel, Perdido Street Station, suffers from structural deficiencies, awkward writing and a reliance on inert description. Although the robust plot and the author's devotion to his main characters eventually save the novel, some readers will wonder whether the investment is worth the effort. To reach the often awe-inspiring scenes found in the latter half of The Scar, one must, as with much of H.P. Lovecraft and William Hope Hodgson's work, muddle through a number of poor decisions on the author's part.

§ Village Voice July 15th, 2002
Carol Cooper, under the heading "Spaceballs", reviews two books about SF by women: Justine Larbalestier's The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction (Wesleyan) and Judith Merril and Emily Pohl-Weary's Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril (Between the Lines).

The books dovetail in tone and content, providing full and lively accounts of what the SF community was like from the '30s on. Merril's memoirs are, of course, more anecdotal and intimate, but Larbalestier, who spent several years interviewing aging legends, peppers her more formal analysis with plenty of feisty reminiscence and poignant commentary.

Friday 19 July 2002

§ New York Times July 19, 2002
An "Editorial Observer" item by Brent Staples — right underneath the usual unsigned editorials — is titled This Generation Needs a Paranoid's Paranoid, and subtitled The 21st century discovers the world of Philip K. Dick.

The engine that makes Mr. Dick's stories go is a pervasive and finely articulated paranoia about government, technology, personal relationships - and the nature of reality itself. His books are often based on the eerie premise that workaday reality is actually a projection, produced by drug-induced hallucinations or manipulated by omnipresent and sinister powers-that-be. It's a generous, all-encompassing paranoia for a post-"X-Files" America in which institutions like the C.I.A. and F.B.I. seem too inept to oppose the kind of threat we feel around us. In Philip Dick's world, reality itself can be the culprit, and his current popularity suggests a willingness by readers to embrace the premise that nothing is ever what it seems to be - and that free will matters little as we make our way through life.
Noting the many films, including two recent ones, developed from PKD's works, and noting "Hollywood is crazy for Mr. Dick's plots, but much less fond of his bleak conclusions", the essay concludes
The deepening interest in Mr. Dick makes it inevitable that there will be a movie about his life - pitchmen are probably describing it as "A Beautiful Mind on Speed." He expected posthumous fame and was suspicious of it. In one of his novels a character named Philip Dick is imprisoned by a sinister government agency and told that his books will be written and published under his name even in the event of his death. Philip K. Dick craved literary recognition. But had fame arrived in his lifetime, one gets the feeling that he would have seen it, as he saw just about everything, as part of some sinister plot.

§ July 19, 2002
Esther Friesner is auditioning for a new TV show, "Meow TV", designed for cats.

Esther Friesner fluffed the pink boa draped across her neck, adjusted her Cat Woman ears, thanked her cats for their support and summoned forth her best inner feline.

"Meow, meow, meow, meow," she sang, her voice pitched high in imitation of a commercial for cat food. "I want turkey, salmon and chicken, oceanfish flavors keep me lickin'."

§ USA Today July 19, 2002
A prominent, positive review by Kelly DiNardo of Neil Gaiman's Coraline:

Gaiman skillfully tells this spine-chilling tale from Coraline's perspective. This sensible girl never questions what the "other" mother is or why it has chosen to torment her. She doesn't get distracted by the sinister situation. Coraline simply accepts what is happening and deals with it.

Stories aimed at young readers are often straightforward and innocuous, but you don't have to be a kid to appreciate the spell Gaiman casts in the suspenseful Coraline. Walk through the door and you'll believe in love, magic and the power of good over evil.
For the latest about Coraline and additional review links, see Neil Gaiman's Journal. Meanwhile, Gaiman wrote a tribute to Terry Pratchett upon the latter's Carnegie Medal win, published in, of all places, The Financial Times -- but the link has already disappeared into subscriber-only territory.

§ Guardian July 17, 2002
Philip Pullman again, railing against a letter-writer's charge that it was "insulting" to describe Terry Pratchett's readers as mainly teenagers.

§ January July 2002
David Dalgleish reviews China Miéville's The Scar:

...[I]t is safe to say that The Scar does not unfold in the customary manner of high fantasy. Traditionally, the goal of the fantasy quest is to restore the world to what it once was, before the encroachment of evil. The goal is stasis, nostalgia: everything in its proper place. In Miéville's world, nothing has a proper place and nothing can be restored to what it once was. The wounds of time may heal, but they leave permanent traces. The title of the novel refers to a geographical location, but there are references to scarring throughout and scars come to represent the price or manifestation of change. The Scar is in part about the pain, and the inevitability, of change, whether good or ill, desired or not. It rebukes the idea that the world can be restored to innocence, or, for that matter, that it was ever innocent at all.
Also, a good notice from Robert Lightbody for the second "Artemis Fowl" novel, The Arctic Incident.

Tuesday 16 July 2002

§ Village Voice July 10-16, 2002
Nick Mamatas surveys the state of horror fiction, post 9/11, discussing Neil Gaiman's Coraline, Leisure Books editor Don D'Auria, and writers Jemiah Jefferson and Brian Keene.

Too often, the category Gaiman sometimes calls home has itself been cheap and lazy, but it is also expansive, a genre named after its effect on readers rather than its content. Poe fits in alongside medical thrillers. Postmodern puzzle books with creepy elements like Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves make the cut, as do Dennis Cooper's bloody, transgressive sex fantasies. Vampire romances, crime fiction with high body counts, and Stephen King's post-Bag of Bones "mainstream" novels all inspire both fascination and fear, the central elements of the horror reader's experience. But missing in action for the past decade were horror novels proud to have the word Horror stamped on the spine.

Gaiman is among those poised to bring horror back. ...

§ January July 2002
Jeremy Smith interviews Kim Stanley Robinson under the heading "The Ambiguous Utopian", with discussion of Robinson's latest novel The Years of Rice and Salt and a defense of utopian themes... (bracketed words in original):

"The idea that [utopias] would be 'boring' to live in and are boring to read about [are] disguised political attacks on behalf of the status quo," he says. "These days [utopian stories] are all about the struggle of getting to a juster society, and then keeping it there, or fending off counter-attacks, or making further progress. Utopia, in other words, is just a name for a positive dynamic in history; history will never stop happening; and so to call for utopia is to call for an increase in justice in the world, and a different economic system that is based on justice and ecological sustainability. This is exactly the subject matter on which science fiction is by definition focused -- science fiction being a matter of imagining fictional histories for the future, some better, some worse, all different -- all therefore challenging the current power system and its attempt to portray itself as inevitable and eternal."
Jeremy Smith also reviewed Robinson's novel in Bay Guardian Lit, May 2002, and he wrote about Libertarians in Space for on May 20, discussing L. Neil Smith and Ken MacLeod in the context of "libertarias"...
As the right has advanced, left-wing utopias and the hopes they represent have receded. Conversely, libertarian novelists have turned to imagining what writer Ken MacLeod has called "libertarias," utopias that allow individuals to freely pursue their self-interest without the interference of a state. Unlike most classic utopias – from Plato's Atlantis to Ursula K. Le Guin's Anarres – libertarias seek Darwinian competition instead of peace and harmony. The result may not be a "good" society in the conventional sense, but it is one that allows "man to be true to his nature as a predator," as one writer puts it.
An earlier piece by Smith for the Bay Guardian, syndicated by AlterNet, covered three books about robots, including David Brin's Kiln People.

Tuesday 9 July 2002

§ Independent 07 July 2002
Philip Pullman makes the news again, bashing not C.S. Lewis but publishers' obsession with Harry Potter clones.

Pullman said: "Everybody now wants another Harry Potter, but how many people six years ago said, 'Where's the first Harry Potter? We want a Harry Potter'? None. The next big thing, whatever it is, no one can actually guess at.

"It's getting slightly hysterical. It's getting to the [point] where, with part of the children's market, it's huge advance publicity and it's film rights and goodness knows what. But only one book in 100 that's talked up like this will be a success."

§ San Francisco Chronicle July 7, 2002
Patricia Duncker's The Deadly Space Between (Ecco) is a literary novel drawing on themes from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Freud's Wolf Man, Melville, and others, according to the review by Laura Fraser.

§ Also noted...

Tuesday 2 July 2002

§ Washington Post Book World June 30, 2002
A science fiction column by Foundation editor Farah Mendlesohn considers books by Alexander C. Irvine, Jeff VanderMeer, Michael Swanwick, Ted Chiang, and the VanderMeer & Aguirre anthology Leviathan Three. About Irvine's first novel, A Scattering of Jades (Tor):

..we are in the presence of a very talented writer. ... Irvine's prose is rich and evocative, his plot tightly structured and beautifully paced. The denouement, when it arrives, offers no easy answers; each of the principals leaves the scene damaged. Most impressive is Irvine's interweaving of two seemingly unrelated histories and myth structures without straining the credibility of either.

§ The New York Times Book Review June 30, 2002
A brief review (scroll to bottom) by Jemima Hunt of Lucius Shepard's Valentine (Four Walls Eight Windows):

While proving himself expert at conjuring up a mood of sticky heat and desperate longing, Shepard fails to explain what compels Russell to suffer Kay's rejection time and again. Although perhaps being ''thickheaded from sex, dumb with love'' is explanation enough.

§ January June 2002
Though apparently hard to find, E.T. Ellison's The Luck of Madonna 13 (Wynderry Press) is worth tracking down, according to Lincoln Cho's review.

E.T. Ellison has brought us a fully realized future world with humor and more than a little understanding of human nature. His characters are superbly executed. His plot winds up and unwinds in completely believable ways. And, most important in a work that is intended to be the first installment in an ongoing saga, The Luck of Madonna 13 manages to satisfy and leave you wanting more.

§ Book July/August 2002
Aside from yet another background summary of Philip K. Dick and the movies made from his works, this issue has a Coolest Books feature with guidance for what to read, whom to quote, etc., depending on your particular style of cool. To be "Visionary Cool" (scroll down) read Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Isaac Asimov, and, for extra credit, Pat Cadigan.

§ The Sunshine Project 1 July
This website of "research and facts about biological weapons and biotechnology" posts a press release, Pentagon Program Promotes Psychopharmacological Warfare, that compares actual research to passages from Stanislaw Lem's 1971 novel The Futurological Congress. (Link via Robot Wisdom.)

§ Tech Central Station 6/27/02
An essay by Philip Shropshire, Mars Needs Liberals, challenges liberal opposition to space exploration, with references to Kim Stanley Robinson, Greg Egan, and Total Recall.

June Field Inspections

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