First Impressions

Some Saturday-morning reviews for you, from Vector 245.

Neil Barron’s Anatomy of Wonder, reviewed by Steve Jeffrey:

This is the fifth, and judging by Barron’s valedictory Preface, possibly the final edition of Anatomy of Wonder. It has been substantially updated, revised and enlarged from its 1995 predecessor and now weighs in at over twice the length of its original incarnation in 1976. The first and third editions of this Guide were previously reviewed in Vector by Brian Stableford (Nov 1976), and Paul Kincaid (April 1988) who are both contributors to this volume, alongside an impressive list of critics, reviewers, academics and commentators.

J. Shaun Lyon’s Back to the Vortex, reviewed by Martin McGrath:

Back to the Vortex is a perfect example of a book designed to serve a market that cares how many times someone says the word “fantastic” in the new series of Doctor Who or the number of people who die in each episode. As such, the author, J. Shaun Lyon, should be congratulated. I can’t imagine a more comprehensive volume. But it is not without flaws.

And Holly Phillips’ In the Palace of Repose, reviewed by me:

It is perhaps only in the sf field that a debut short story collection consisting mostly of original stories might be greeted with suspicion. Where, we wonder (I wonder, before I catch myself doing it) are the publication credits? Why were these stories not published in the magazines? What’s wrong with them? And yet to think along such lines is, increasingly, to miss out: here is a debut collection where the majority of the stories are making their first appearance, but which without a doubt marks the arrival of an interesting new voice.

We plan to put a few reviews online from each issue, so watch this space for more.

7 thoughts on “First Impressions

  1. If I may nitpick … The publication and price data which is Vector has been removed from the web versions. I think this is a mistake, especially in Steve Jeffrey’s review, where he makes regular reference to the high price of the work.

    (Also, would it be possible to get something like the BSFA website’s Amazon link, which, IIRC, meant that the BSFA made a bit of extra dosh if people ordered through it?)

  2. Frustratingly, my SFS review of the Barron isn’t yet online, so I can’t link to it. But, in short, I found it significantly less useful than Steve Jeffrey did: the latest stratum of additions isn’t dreadfully accurate – which, in the context of a bibliographic work such as this isn’t a merely pedantic point – and the coverage of non-written sf is laughably slim. The narrative stuff from Levy, Wolfe et al is pretty good, although with Stableford you can see him skewing towards the stuff he wants to talk about rather than a “consensus” version of sf’s prehistory.

  3. Tony: to take the second point first, there are links there; the first mention of the title of the book in the review is linked to Amazon, with the bsfa affiliate links (as I’ve also been doing with all the links from this blog). The way the website works, we can’t use the images as links, unfortunately.

    About the price/publication data – fair point. I left it out because (a) there isn’t an obvious database field for it to go in (I could use ‘author details’, since we don’t use that for the review, but it would be at the bottom of the page, I think; or I could just stick it at the top of the main text field) and (b) I was assuming people could get that info from Amazon. But I think it should probably be included.

    Graham: wait, there’s a consensus view of sf’s prehistory? :)

  4. Oddly enough, I read Holly Phillips’ “Summer Ice” for the first time yesterday, in Fantasy Magazine. I took a slightly different read on it (perhaps because of a different context?): it did remind me of Pacific Edge, but I read it more as referring to the mainstream than to fantasy, as a slice-of-life story set in the future instead of the present. So I took the indications of dissatisfation and fear as being personal rather than global; the world depicted still seems to me an optimistic one, with the darkness adhering to Manon’s homesickness and artist’s block, and falling away when she is able to reach out to others (speak to her waiter/counterman at the art exhibit; dredge up the resolve to speak to the artist who invited her).

  5. OK, bibliographic data has been restored.

    Mely: Oh, that’s fascinating. It’s definitely the sort of story where I can see the context affecting how it’s read. It’s also the story that’s most clearly stayed with me from the collection. I think it contains hints of genre protocols for both sf and fantasy, so yes, if you read it in the context of more obviously fantastic stories I can see how that side of the story would be minimized. Similarly, I suppose having read several other stories in the collection which do seem to be about the state of the world (or a world), I was sensitised to read it that way, rather than as an individual malaise.

  6. Graham: wait, there’s a consensus view of sf’s prehistory? :)

    And :p to you too.

    Quote from the SFS piece: ‘Stableford…notes in passing that “Modern historians often attribute the origin of British scientific romance to the works of Mary Shelley, although the Gothic trappings of Frankenstein (1818) place it within the tradition of anti-science fiction and The Last Man (1826) is a magnification of her mourning.” (10). The modern historians, of course, are deriving their argument from Brian Aldiss’s Billion Year Spree (1973), unacknowledged here. If Stableford wishes to register his disagreement with Aldiss’s theory and instead put forward his own, that’s fine. Indeed, his contribution convincingly lays out a wide range of proto-sf before Shelley. But given the importance of Aldiss’s arguments in the history of ideas about sf – and particularly his thesis that sf arose from the Gothic rather than being in opposition to it – it seems unhelpful for the neutral reader to be presented with such a cursory summary of them.’

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