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Thursday 17 October 2002

§ New York Times Book Review September 13, 2002
Gerald Jonas's October SF column explains how many SF and fantasy novels are sequels or parts of series...

Today, when novels dominate the genre, writers recycle backgrounds in book after book. Publishers sometimes proclaim this fact on the cover, hoping to lure readers who remember earlier volumes fondly. ... Devotees of science fiction are accustomed to approaching every story as if it were a sequel; indeed, the ability to tolerate, and even enjoy, this feeling is what distinguishes the true fan.
Considering such exigencies, Jonas reviews Stephen Chambers's Hope's War (Tor), sequel to Hope's End...
Chambers goes to great lengths to fill in the necessary background. Unfortunately, this leaves much of the book reading like a synopsis.
and Nancy Kress's Probability Space (Tor), third in a trilogy:
She is so deft in supplying background information that I had no trouble understanding the characters and the desperate situation they find themselves in.
Also reviewed, Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn (Riverhead), a tale set in an imaginary medieval Japan by a pseudonymous British writer living in Australia.

§ New York Times Magazine September 13, 2002
This week's NYT Magazine visits Clive Barker in his three Beverly Hills houses -- one for writing, one for painting, one for living in. The article discusses Disney's plans for developing a franchise based on Abarat, Barker's personal style --

When you're talking to Barker -- and sometimes, when you're reading him -- he can be a bit high-flown. He's aware of this, but he can't seem to help it. He talks about himself in the third person. (''There are dark thoughts in Clive's head, and there are light things.'') He likes to refer to his work as ''Blakean.'' Barker wonders why his books are often dismissed by critics, and this showiness is part of the explanation. Unlike, say, Stephen King, Barker isn't an earthy, come-as-you-are prose writer. He'd rather use an overripe word like ''befouled'' than a simple one like ''dirty.'' Barker has been called the ''Andrew Lloyd Webber of fantasy''; he may also be the genre's rave-era Liberace.
-- and the inspiration he received from seeing Psycho at age 14.
He stuck around for a second showing. This time he became obsessed with the reactions of four girls sitting in front of him. ''Hitchcock had these girls just wrapped around his finger,'' Barker says. ''I remember thinking: I so much want to do that.''

§ January October 2002
Michael Marshall is interviewed, and Gabe Chouinard reviews, or rhapsodizes over, Jonathan Carroll's White Apples (Tor).

Oh, the sheer joy in finding a poignant, engrossing novel... the incomparable soaring of the heart that accompanies an all-night reading session, when it's quiet and still and the rustle of the pages are like a whisper of desire, beckoning you onward into the wee hours of the morning. A sensual pleasure for a reader.

Lots of coverage for Umberto Eco's 12th century fantasia Baudolino: reviews in Washington Post, in New York Times, and in The Independent, as well as an article in Book Magazine about the author:

One might think that American audiences might not be ready for a novel so caught up in the particularities of medieval European history and literature, filled with what Eco describes as "inside jokes for three people." But those who have underestimated the ability of the author's humor and irreverence to overcome the obscurity of his subject matter have been proven wrong before.

"It is a myth of publishers that people want to read easy things," Eco says. "The most interesting letters I received about The Name of the Rose were from people in the Midwest that maybe didn't understand exactly, but wanted to understand more and who were excited by this picture of a world which was not their own. Every European goes on the streets and sees medieval churches. Not if you live in Indianapolis. The most exciting letters I received were from people in places like that. There are more people than you think who want to have a challenging experience, in which they are obliged to reflect about the past."

Wednesday 9 October 2002

§ Washington Post Book World October 6, 2002
Neil Gaiman reviews Michael Chabon, beginning with thoughts about genre categorization...

Fiction seems capable of existing in only one ghetto at a time, so if your book is in what used to be known, rudely, as the kiddylit ghetto, then it is children's fiction, no matter what else it might be (fantasy, historical, horror, sf, humor, romance and so on). As a result of the enormous success of authors like J.K. Rowling and Pullman, adults in the millions have now read and enjoyed fantasy novels without ever having had to browse the fantasy shelves. For the most part, after all, the crossover books tell tales in which the joy of story is also the joy of the fantastic without apology, a freedom of children's literature that can be lost at adulthood, where metaphor becomes literal and genre restrictions apply.
About this book in particular:
It's a thick book, but it could comfortably have been thicker: I wanted the better set pieces to go on longer, and to get more of a sense of what made the other members of Ethan's baseball team tick. ... I wanted more. [...]

Whether this is enough, as the marketing material that accompanies the book trumpets, to make it "clearly and indisputably a classic" is much harder to judge, and one that time and popular taste will decide, not I. But it's a rollicking and fine tale, well told and with moments of real magic, peril, adventure, terror and triumph, not to mention what is, I am certain, the most delightful sound of a window breaking in all of fiction.

§ Rain Taxi Fall 2002
Alan DeNiro reviews Nelson Bond's The Far Side of Nowhere (Arkham House).

In reviewing a book of this kind, however, one must ask: What can be taken from these words when they are stripped away from the confines of nostalgia? What is the lasting effect of these stories when some of the elements of plot, theme, and diction are dated? [...]

What's interesting in Bond's work is how he took the paraliterary machinations of early science fiction — space travel, time travel, aliens, and so on — and wedded them to quintessentially American modes of fiction, hearkening back to Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe, as well as the folklore and tall tales that have percolated throughout the years. This combination, coupled with a sprightly style, would for sixty-odd years and counting provide a crucial counterpoint to the more technocratic and clinical leanings of the field.
Also, a review of Michael Chabon's Summerland.

Wednesday 2 October 2002

§ Washington Post Book World September 22, 2002
Gregory Feeley reviews books by Neil Gaiman, Kelley Eskridge, and James Patrick Kelly, and the original anthology Polyphony. On Gaiman's Coraline:

If a deconstructive critic were to study Coraline (not that we allow that sort into our genre clubhouse), he would be intrigued by the succession of asymmetrical mirror-images and inner vacancies that haunts Gaiman's seemingly straightforward text.
He calls Eskridge's Solitaire "Very much a first novel in its weaknesses but impressive in its strengths", praises the Maureen McHugh and Leslie What stories in Polyphony, and takes a contrarian view of the strength of Kelly's fiction — not characterization, but ontological anxiety.

§ Los Angeles Times September 29, 2002 [requires registration]
Adam Bresnick's review of Michael Chabon's Summerland is headlined "Take That, Harry Potter!".

Kids are in many ways a better literary audience than adults. For most grown-ups, literature merely affords a momentary respite from the rigors of the world, whereas children positively revel in the plasticity of the imagination as they plunge into the fantasy worlds of fiction. ...
After a lengthy plot summary, Bresnick explains why he's unmoved.
Too many times the novel appears fascinated by its own wild inventions in an almost self-satisfied way, and while Chabon does work hard to tell his tale, by winking so often at his reader in a knowing sort of way, he drains his book of energy, producing an oddly bloodless book that lacks both the dark pathos of drama and the explosive laughter of comedy.


I found the book dull, despite its pyrotechnical invention. Then again, I must admit that I find baseball unusually dull too, so perhaps my judgment is not to be trusted.
In the same Book Review, Michael Harris reviews Stephen King's From a Buick 8.
His latest novel, "From a Buick 8," is stylistically assured, effortlessly suspenseful, with characters as well-rounded as almost any "literary" novel can offer. That it has spooky stuff in it is a bonus or a distraction, depending on one's point of view.

§ New York Times Book Review September 29, 2002
Salon's Laura Miller reviews King's novel.

King isn't a subtle writer, and in case you miss the dozen or so times that someone proclaims that there are no answers or explanations -- either to the mysteries of the Buick or to the random tragedies of ordinary existence for which it stands -- he comes in at the end with an author's note to tell you the book's about ''the essentially indecipherable quality of life's events.''

§ San Francisco Chronicle September 29, 2002
And Michael Berry reviews Stephen King, along with Jonathan Carroll, and Alexander C. Irvine.

Despite some intriguing fillips, "From a Buick 8" seems like too much of a retread, as if King's literary gears aren't fully engaged by the material.


Last year's "The Wooden Sea" finally brought the Vienna-based author the popular and critical attention he has so long deserved. "White Apples" is an interesting follow-up but not a wholly successful one. .


Filled with deliciously creepy bits of supernatural business and fascinating historical detail, "A Scattering of Jades" makes good on most of what it promises. Irvine acquits himself admirably in his debut.

§ Sydney Morning Herald September 28, 2002
Raymond E. Feist is interviewed, in conjunction with his new novel Talon of the Silver Hawk.

Writers who talk about "quality", says Feist, make him nervous. His job is to get people to lose themselves in the fantasy worlds he creates: "I take the writing process seriously. I take my craft seriously and I respect my readership, but I don't take myself seriously. I'm an entertainer.

"I had an author say to me once that he knew his stuff was difficult to read but it was worth it once you get done with it. And I'm going, 'Oh, is there a quiz when this is done?' If I want brain strain I'll go take advanced calculus, thank you. I'm here for the fun."

September Field Inspections

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