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Tuesday 24 September 2002

§ Stephen King
Reviews of Stephen King's new novel From a Buick 8 (Scribner) come amidst new reports that King is ready to retire, or at least stop publishing; the news makes the cover of the Sept. 27 Entertainment Weekly and is echoed in this Bangor News report.

As for the new novel, about a haunted car that hails from some other dimension, Janet Maslin's New York Times review finds that King

continues to redefine his definition of horror more interestingly as he grows older.
"The world rarely finishes its conversations," says the character who articulates the deepest fear found here. This is the horror: that you never know. In other words, there is something more disturbing than getting to the bottom of the Buick's mystery: discovering that it can never be fathomed, and that the world's chains of coincidence can never truly be understood.
Andrew O'Hehir's Salon review admires many things about the book, including the story's avoidance of tidy explanations, and even makes casting suggestions for the inevitable movie; but at the end he has a quibble or two.
King is, to some degree, trying simultaneously to invade and to subvert the terrain of original New England horror-meister H.P. Lovecraft, the most lurid of his predecessors in the American Gothic tradition. ... [It] plays brilliantly as black comedy and as fable. It never, however, feels hair-raisingly real...
Salon's Laura Miller also discussed the book in an essay about post 9/11 fiction.

Other reviews include Erica Noonan's in Boston Globe, and Dorman T. Shindler's review in the Denver Post. Shindler doesn't think the book works, its plot too chaotic.

§ Denver Post Sunday, September 22, 2002
An sf column by Fred Cleaver covers books by Jack McDevitt, Alan Dean Foster, Nancy Kress, and Douglas Clegg.

§ Michael Chabon
Michael Chabon's YA fantasy novel Summerland is also getting wide coverage, often in conjunction with articles about the new respectability of young adult fiction.

Janet Maslin, in her Sept. 16 New York Times review, finds the 500-page book overburdened by explanations in its first half.

Once Mr. Chabon has finally laid out the rules of the road in "Summerland," the latter part of the novel begins picking up steam. [...] But in fact "Summerland" places too much emphasis on novelty to achieve that kind of overarching coherence.
David Kipen's San Francisco Chronicle review is more enthusiastic.
Chabon sacrifices some of his usual sesquipedalian vocabulary for the sake of his younger readers, but, wisely, not all of it. He knows that kids can grow impatient with a book in which every last word is familiar. As a result, his characters "nock" arrows instead of sighting them, and when the old reliable "pitcher's mound" starts to sound overused, Chabon mixes in the occasional welcome "tumulus." He also gives adults plenty to chaw on, salting in conscious allusions to Scandinavian mythology, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Cheever and that feared old cleanup man, Homer; possibly not-so-conscious allusions to "The Truman Show," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Tex Avery cartoons and "Charlie Brown's All-Stars"; and a faint echo of Yiddish that could go either way.

§ Salon Sept. 21, 2002
Charles Taylor's essay, Kids Lit Grows Up, discusses the current batch of YA novels by Chabon, Neil Gaiman, Carl Hiaasen, and Isabel Allende.

There are plenty of reasons for writing a kids book right now, some of them obvious, like the financial rewards and the current critical attention paid to children's literature. Other reasons -- the satisfaction the writers get from giving back the kind of pleasure they experienced as children, for instance -- are more personal and intangible. But there's one other reason that not even writers themselves may be aware of: Writing for kids allows them to fulfill the great primal satisfactions novels can give us, while it demands that they work at the absolute peak of the craft. It's a win-win situation: Readers are reminded of why they read in the first place, and writers of why they ever wanted to write.

Wednesday 11 September 2002

§ The New York Review of Books September 26, 2002
Margaret Atwood, who's taken pains to distance her [Arthur C. Clarke Award winning] novel The Handmaid's Tale from the sordid genre of science fiction, reviews Le Guin's The Birthday of the World, immediately stumbling upon that same problem...

The Birthday of the World is Ursula K. Le Guin's tenth collection of stories. In it she demonstrates once again why she is the reigning queen of...but immediately we come to a difficulty, for what is the fitting name of her kingdom? ... "Science fiction" is the box in which her work is usually placed, but it's an awkward box: it bulges with discards from elsewhere.
Atwood spends several hundred words reviewing the early history of the genre ("It's too bad that one term—"science fiction"—has served for so many variants, and too bad also that this term has acquired a dubious if not downright sluttish reputation."), mentioning Shelley, Verne, Wells, Lewis, etc., with only Bradbury, Vonnegut, and Hoban given as relatively current examples, before turning to a generally sympathetic survey of Le Guin's career and new book. Yet the final impression is that Atwood finds her work palatable because, in the final analysis, it's not really fantastic...
Whatever else she may do— wherever her curious intelligence may take her, whatever twists and knots of motive and plot and genitalia she may invent—she never loses touch with her reverence for the immense what is. All her stories are, as she has said, metaphors for the one human story; all her fantastic planets are this one, however disguised.

§ The Times Literary Supplement 9/6/02
Iain Banks's new novel in the UK, Dead Air (Little, Brown), is a non-genre book about a left-wing radio shock-jock in London named Ken Nott, that begins on the afternoon of September 11, 2001, in London, with the chirping of mobile phones. Colin Greenland reviews the book for TLS:

Banks, with his customary zest for gadgetry, integrates the mobile phone into his plot at every conceivable juncture, along with its companion appliance, the answering machine. The climax comes when Nott is obliged to break into the house of his mistress's husband, a multi-millionaire crime lord, in order to delete the unwise message he left for her the previous night.
§ In an Independent interview with Lesley McDowell, Banks explains that he wrote the book in just six weeks, though it was already being planned when 11 September happened, and that the book was driven by his anger with George W. Bush and religious zealots...

§ A longer interview in The Guardian covers similar ground...

It's an angry book, he says. "I think that seeps out of it. Ken was always going to have words to say about George W.'s non-election to the post of most powerful idiot on the planet, but September 11 made it more germane." If Complicity - Banks's 1993 novel about a morally righteous serial killer - was his livid comment on Thatcherism and the '80s zeitgeist, then Dead Air transmits a similar ferocity a decade on. Most people become more conservative as they get older, he notes, while he sees himself turning into a left-wing curmudgeon.

§ And another long interview appeared Sunday in The Scotsman.

§ Christopher Taylor, reviewing in The Telegraph, doesn't think the novel works, quite:

Banks's rush to comment on the events of September 11 derails Dead Air as a novel. But much ink has been wasted in haste since those events and, compared to some, Banks hasn't done too badly.

§ Independent Enjoyment 04 September 2002
Nicholas Tucker reviews Neil Gaiman's Coraline, and, perhaps reacting to the cover blurbs, is not impressed.

However, while there are surface similarities in plot, Gaiman is never any match for [Lewis] Carroll as a writer. His sentences lack the verbal fizz of his extraordinary 19th-century rival; nor are there the depths and teasing ambiguities that have attracted scholars and students to Carroll over the years. In fact, Coraline would probably work just as well were it to have the graphic-novel treatment for which Gaiman is famous.

§ Booklist August 2002
This list of Top 10 Horror Novels includes books by Neil Gaiman, Michel Faber, Ismail Kadare, and others, as well as Jeff VanderMeer and Forrest Aguirre's anthology Leviathan 3.

§ Sydney Morning Herald August 31 2002
Weird fiction like that by China Miéville is saving fantasy from elves and dragons, says Keith Austin, in a piece that turns into a telephone interview with Miéville.

Thursday 5 September 2002

§ BBC News Friday, 30 August, 2002
Maggie Shiels files a report from San Jose, California.

Outsiders might expect Worldcon to be all about walking around with pointy Spock ears and worshipping the likes of Leonard Nimoy - but organisers say it is a world away from that.

Spokesman Bart Kemper says: "The real stars here are the fans. We come from all over the world and we take five days out of our life to be here.

"The writers are also up there because they are the ones that create the world we love. This is about a shared interest. It's really just a big family."

§ New York Times Book Review September 1, 2002
Gerald Jonas's science fiction column covers Kelley Eskridge's first novel Solitaire (Eos) --

Rarely have I read a novel that so triumphs over unpersuasive plotting...
-- Stanley Schmidt's Argonaut (Tor), and Going for Infinity (Tor), a collection by Poul Anderson, who died last year...
A major figure in modern science fiction, he successfully combined up-to-date science with a relish for archaism. This odd mix is hardly uncommon in a genre that regularly depicts galactic empires organized along feudal lines, with barons and emperors battling over hereditary titles to entire solar systems. Anderson was perhaps unique in bringing equal concern for accuracy to his medievalism and his science. At the same time, he was well aware that there was something inherently silly about the whole premise, as demonstrated by several stories ...

§ August 29, 2002
Ted Chiang is interviewed by Gavin J. Grant...

Do you enjoy pop-culture science fiction, like "Minority Report"?
I do, although I see it as very different from written science fiction. Most movies -- SF or not -- don't stand up to close inspection in terms of logical consistency, and it's probably not fair to expect them to. I think the real strength of movies is how they use images and sound in the service of storytelling, and seeing a movie in which all those elements work together is a wonderful experience. "Minority Report" was entertaining, but even aside from its logical shortcomings, I thought there were problems in its tone; there were inappropriate attempts at humor, as if Spielberg thought he were directing an Indiana Jones movie, and the ending was a typical attempt to graft a happy ending where one didn't belong.

August Field Inspections

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