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Wednesday 30 April 2003

§ Washington Post Sunday, April 27, 2003
Thomas M. Disch reviews Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel Oryx and Crake (Doubleday, May 6), which

can hold its own against any of the 20th century's most potent dystopias -- Brave New World, 1984, The Space Merchants -- with regard to both dramatic impact and fertility of invention..

The book

showcases a nightmare version of the present era of globalization on a globe coming apart at its ecological seams, with temperatures rising, species vanishing into extinction, cities sinking into the ocean, and a conscienceless technological elite trying to engineer the survival of their own eroding advantages. It is a scathing (because bang-on) portrait of the way we live now.


The peculiar excellence of Oryx and Crake lies in how she fills out those large spans of time between our Now and the dystopian Future that are usually left conveniently blank. We never get to know how England's rule passed from Churchill to Big Brother or how Huxley's Americans decided to be bred in test tubes. Atwood fills in some of her historic blanks with a plausible patchwork of vignettes, none of them nailed down with an actual date, but the lot of them adding up to a virtual reality whose smell could make the strongest stomachs quite queasy by the time all the jokes have led us to the brink of humanity's sure extinction.

§ San Francisco Chronicle Sunday, April 27, 2003
David Kipen reviews Atwood.

Atwood's been down this dystopian road before. But where "The Handmaid's Tale" blamed a horrific future on metastatic fundamentalist Christianity, "Oryx and Crake" fingers genetic engineering and rampant, all-devouring consumerism. What saves Atwood's nightmare vision from didacticism is her gift for the arresting detail, the little rockslides that augur the avalanche: "Boil-water and don't-travel advisories were issued in the first week, handshaking was discouraged. In the same week there was a run on latex gloves and nose-cone filters. About as effective, thought Jimmy, as oranges stuck with cloves during the Black Death."

§ The Independent 26 April 2003
Lisa Appignanesi reviews Atwood.

Oryx and Crake is Atwood at her best - dark, dry, scabrously witty, yet moving and studded with flashes of pure poetry. Her gloriously inventive brave new world is all the more chilling because of the mirror it holds up to our own. Citizens, be warned.

§ The Guardian Saturday April 26, 2003
Robert Potts' profile of Atwood begins by defining terms.

Margaret Atwood's latest novel, Oryx and Crake, is not, she insists, "science fiction" but "speculative fiction". It is a distinction she has also made about her earlier dystopian book, The Handmaid's Tale (1985), currently being staged as an opera in London.

"Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen," she explains. Her work is always researched: Oryx and Crake, a novel blending a biological apocalypse with a genetically engineered genesis, acknowledges a number of personal debts in terms of research and background, but also scrupulously offers a list of documentary sources at a web address.

§ Maclean's April 28, 2003
Fellow Canadian Robert J. Sawyer takes issue with Atwood's premise:

In Atwood's view, every problem we face now is going to get worse, not better.

I disagree. Human ingenuity will give all of us a wonderful future.

He concludes,

Atwood has a nostalgia for a simpler past. But our past included slavery, 50-per-cent infant mortality, abject poverty, epidemics and ignorance. Today is better than yesterday; tomorrow will be even better still. If, as we look into the future, we can't precisely see the wonders yet to come, it's only because there's so much glare from the bright tomorrows ahead.

§ Waterstone's Books Quarterly
But is Atwood's new novel science fiction? David Langford, in his latest Infinite Matrix Runcible Ansible, quotes Patrick Gale's review (not online):

Patrick Gale's review of the new Margaret Atwood admires her 'gleeful inventiveness' in imagining unheard-of wonders like 'rats genetically spliced to snakes' or 'pain-free chickens developed to produce only multiple breasts', yet deftly avoids calling this sc**nce f*ct**n..

§ The Guardian Saturday April 26, 2003
Toby Litt catches up with William Gibson's latest. Quoting a description of an attaché full of cash, he concludes

One could hardly find a more 1980s image, and Gibson's entire aesthetic is still definitely stuck in that decade. He loves shiny things, matt black things, things that open with a whirr and a click, things that sense human presence and react. The conclusion of Pattern Recognition reenacts the ultimate fantasy ending of 1980s movies - the heroine has lucked out without selling out, has kept her integrity but still ended up filthy rich. As a gesture towards the changed mood of the new millennium, Gibson has Cayce guiltily give the money away. Her gesture doesn't convince; Gibson's soul, sadly, isn't in it.

§ Publishers Weekly April 14, 2003
Starred reviews in recent issues include one for Ian R. MacLeod's The Light Ages, due May 6 from Ace. The review is on the Amazon site:

With its strong character development and gritty, alternate London, this book won't attract fans of Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind, but should hold great appeal to readers who love the more sophisticated fantasy of Michael Swanwick, John Crowley or even China Mieville.

Also in this issue, a star for Jane Yolen's YA novel Sword of the Rightful King: A Novel of King Arthur (Harcourt, May).

In Yolen's spellbinding twist on the Round Table legend, Morgause feels that her 17-year-old son Gawaine belongs on the throne of England. ... Yolen has explored Arthurian legend before, but her latest foray is a standout in this enormous canon.

And a star for The Field Guide, first book in an ages 6-10 series, The Spiderwick Chronicles, by Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black (Simon & Schuster, May), about three siblings who discover a handbook to the faerie realm.

§ Publishers Weekly March 31, 2003
PW gave starred reviews to several other YA books recently, including (in the March 31 issue), the third novel in Eoin Colfer's series, Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code (Hyperion/Miramax, May).

Once again, Colfer serves up a high-intensity plot involving cryogenics and a mobster mentality as the action hurtles toward the climactic break-in at Chicago's Spiro Needle...

In the March 24 issue, a star for Hilari Bell's The Goblin Wood (Eos, April).

Genre fans will relish the combination of a resourceful, determined heroine, densely packed action and thought-provoking themes. Ages 10-up.

And in the March 10 issue, a star for Diana Wynne Jones's The Merlin Conspiracy (Greenwillow, April).

Whimsy, invention and the chilling sense of a world (multiple worlds, actually) gone topsy-turvy characterize this grandly outsize fantasy...

Tuesday 15 April 2003

§ Washington Post Sunday, April 13, 2003
James Hynes reviews the Michael Chabon-edited McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales (Vintage), beginning with the editor's manifesto, in which Chabon

bemoans the cultural dominance of the sort of "contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory" short story ground out like sausages in MFA programs and written under the zodiac of Chekhov, Joyce and Raymond Carver. Looking back to the stories he loved as a kid, Chabon makes a convincing argument for the epiphany-free stories of every description that regularly appeared in magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, and "even The New Yorker," horror stories, spy stories, romance stories -- "Stories, in other words, with plots."

Hynes, however, likes the stories by the literary contributors better than those by genre writers; his favorite is by Rick Moody, and after that, one by Dave Eggers, which

ends, not with risen corpses, monster sharks or the end of the world, but with -- and here's the thrilling part -- an epiphany.

§ Village Voice April 4th, 2003
Mark Holcomb reviews Chabon's Thrilling Tales.

Ironically, the best entries share the same contemporary preoccupation with narrative and temporal displacement that dominate films like Memento, Donnie Darko, and Spider. Fantasy stalwart Michael Moorcock's "The Case of the Nazi Canary," a 1930s murder mystery in which a certain Teutonic megalomaniac makes a career-killing blunder, and Chabon's own "The Martian Agent," which takes place in a 19th-century U.S. that never seceded from British rule, make inventive use of alternate histories. Stephen King's "The Tale of Gray Dick," Nick Hornby's "Otherwise Pandemonium," and Carol Emshwiller's poignant "The General" mine similar territory.

Holcomb also likes Rick Moody's "The Albertine Notes",

a novel-worthy reflection on collective grief and remembrance that deftly weaves MMToTT's retroactivity with more immediate, all too familiar concerns. Set in New York City after the unexplained nuclear destruction of Lower Manhattan, "Albertine" posits a near future in which a memory-enhancing drug's access to the past offers more incentive to live than the bleak despair of the present. ..

§ San Francisco Chronicle Sunday, April 6, 2003
David Kipen considers thrilling tales.

Published under Dave Eggers' local banner and smartly co-opted by Vintage Books, "McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales" reads like a night around the campfire at the starriest writers' workshop ever convened. Authors highbrow and low- take turns trying to spook us and to top each other. If some of the writers evince a certain rustiness as they attempt the short form that probably first drew them to their profession, others take to it like salmon returning to natal streams. Whether they spawn a counterrevolution or just the promised sequel, it's an auspicious and tonic experiment.

§ Washington Post Sunday, March 30, 2003
Gregory Feeley compares and contrasts two new anthologies:

"Thou know'st we work by wit and not by witchcraft," says Iago in "Othello," suggesting a fundamental disparity between the two concepts. This would imply that the stories in Witpunk: Stories with Attitude, edited by Marty Halpern and Claude Lalumiere (Four Walls Eight Windows; paperback, $17) and those in Mojo: Conjure Stories, edited by Nalo Hopkinson (Warner Aspect; paperback, $13.95), are profoundly at odds with each other, and indeed it would be difficult to imagine a story appearing in both anthologies.

Also reviewed: collections from M. John Harrison and Howard Waldrop: Things That Never Happen (Night Shade), and Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations (Golden Gryphon).

§ Guardian Saturday April 12, 2003
Colin Greenland reviews Richard Morgan's Broken Angels (Gollancz), sequel to the author's first novel, neo-cyberpunk Altered Carbon.

Morgan's vision and craft owe as much to cinema as to literature. Alongside Gibson and James Ellroy, he acknowledges the influence of Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Oliver Stone and Takeshi Kitano, director of Violent Cop. Producer Joel Silver clearly concurs, having paid a sum reported as anything from £350,000 to three times that for the movie option on Altered Carbon. Broken Angels, the second Kovacs adventure, is quite as cinematic as the first, with hard-bitten space marines and rogue nanotech booby-traps that morph to protect themselves against whatever is thrown at them.

§ San Francisco Chronicle Sunday, March 23, 2003
Michael Berry reviewed Morgan's first novel Altered Carbon (US edition Del Rey) last month.

Morgan writes with a tough-minded brio, paying equal attention to the procedural and speculative aspects of his hybrid plot and tipping his hat to both Raymond Chandler and Philip K. Dick. There's plenty of bloodshed and nastily flippant talk, but the science-fiction elements are well integrated into the thriller plot. Morgan allows the story to be a lot more complicated than it really needs to be, but that's not uncommon among mystery writers or first novelists, and the high-octane virtues of "Altered Carbon" outweigh its flaws.

He also covers Nancy Kress's Crossfire (Tor) and Jim Knipfel's The Buzzing (Vintage).

§ USA Today 3/24/2003
Mike Snider's review of Morgan's first novel also cites influences. Richard K. Morgan has created a world as cinema-rich as those of Philip K. Dick, whose stories were reborn as movies including Total Recall and Minority Report, and William Gibson's books-turned-to-movies Neuromancer and Johnny Mnemonic. [...] Altered Carbon plays out like a film in your head. The landscape and vision are gritty and vivid, recalling Blade Runner, another film that was inspired by a Dick story.

§ Washington Post Sunday, April 6, 2003
Former theater critic Lloyd Rose reviews Jasper Fforde's Lost in a Good Book (Viking).

In the long and fabulous tradition of British nonsense, Jasper Fforde, though only on his second book, has already earned a place of honor. His delightfully skewed alternate UK is much the same as the one we know, except for time travel, intra-book visitation, Wales's status as an independent communist state, dodos and the unsettling possibility of death by linoleum. If the names Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and even "Doctor Who" come to mind, you're not far off, but Fforde has a distinctive literary wit all his own.

Also, John Freeman reviews Jim Knipfel's The Buzzing (Vintage).

Jim Knipfel's first novel has its finger on the pulse of America's palpitating heart. True to the times, it sports more conspiracy plots than an Oliver Stone movie, more doom and destruction than a CNN broadcast. To read it is to enter the mind of a wickedly unstable man who is trying desperately to make sense of it all.

§ Robot Fist 19/03/03
Among numerous reviews (most of which cite Adams' whooshing deadlines quote) of M.J. Simpson's Douglas Adams biography Hitchiker (Hodder & Stoughton), this one by Alistair Kennedy comments about Simpson's book itself, not just summarizing highlights of Adams' life.

Starting with Adams' schooldays and university career, Simpson takes the reader through every stage in Adams' life with a meticulous style that strives for completism without being boring. Almost every aspect of Adams' career is documented in this weighty tome, and Simpson's conversational narrative style carries the reader along smoothly from point to point.

In contrast, Susan Mansfield's review wishes there were more.

One might desire more analysis of the contradictions of Adams: his hatred of the physical act of writing; his impact despite producing only a handful of books, none of them works of literary genius; his contradictory attitude to his fame; his vacillating moods and relationships; the problem of his unproductive later years. However, for anyone who loves his work, this book is an indispensable read.

Other reviews: Evening Standard; Telegraph; Time Europe.

§ National Review January 3, 2003
Jonah Goldberg likes The Two Towers and takes exception to attacks on Tolkien as racist.

Sigh. Okay, yes, it's true. Many of the Orcs (and the super-Orcs) are dark-skinned and have slant-eyes. They are also - how shall I put this? - Orcs!

And in Starship Troopers, despite the Nazi-flavoring, giant bugs are just giant bugs. Goldberg discusses metaphors and how Tolkien uses them.

The battle lines could not be clearer: Good vs. Evil. But even faced with this obvious fact, Tolkien demonstrates that man is weak. Men make excuses and refuse to look at the reality of a situation. They rationalize, they say "not me," or "this will pass." Hobbits, Elves, Ents, and Dwarves do the same thing too, but these noble creatures, alas, are as unreal as the Orcs; in a sense they too are simply extended metaphors illuminating different aspects of man's nature. Evil knows its intentions and has the will to see them achieved. Good is plagued by doubt.

§ Independent 05 April 2003
Diana Wynne Jones is interviewed.

Everyone born on planet Earth must know by now that J K Rowling is Britain's most famous fantasy writer. But when it comes to choosing the most consistently creative author writing fantasy stories for children during the past 30 years, the answer for most critics will almost certainly be Diana Wynne Jones...

§ Publishers Weekly 3/17/2003
Jacqueline Carey is interviewed, alongside a starred review (not online) for Kushiel's Avatar (Tor):

Effortlessly rich in adventurous incident, with a huge cast of well-defined characters, this poignant and robust story will appeal to both fantasy lovers and fans of erotic romance.

Also starred: Elizabeth Knox's Daylight (Ballantine).

§ Publishers Weekly 3/24/2003
Laurell K. Hamilton gets the interview/starred review treatment, for Cerulean Sins (Berkley):

[T]he author is back on track with the best Blake yet.

§ Publishers Weekly 3/31/2003, 4/7/2003
No interviews, but John Varley's Red Thunder (Ace) gets the star in the 3/31 issue -- this one you can read on the Amazon page. And in the 4/7 issue, a star for Ramsey Campbell's PS Publishing collection Told by the Dead, due in May.

In this stunning new collection, Campbell builds on his reputation as an inimitable stylist who uses the nuances of language as much as horrific imagery to tell his disturbing tales.

Field Inspections archive:
Mar 2003 | Feb 2003 | Jan 2003 | Dec 2002 | Nov | Oct | Sep

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