“Perfect Paul”

Sweets from a Stranger coverA comedy. “Just take it from me,” the narrator says, “that Paul was perfect” (68). And he is, nauseatingly so; and so we cheer when he dies in a bike accident on page two.

The bulk of the story is therefore concerned with Paul’s afterlife. Too perfect for Up There, he gets sent to Uppermost, where he spends his time hobnobbing with historical greats (Einstein, Churchill, Chaplin, Shakespeare, and so on), and then showing them up with his perfection. Trouble comes to paradise when Paul takes it into his head to redesign the Pearly Gates: the Council of the Great Architect are unmoved. In fact, they consider Paul a potential menace, and sentence him to be returend to life as a middle-aged school teacher, with no memory of his time in heaven. This is, perhaps, intended as the worst punishment a child reader could imagine. Who wants to be perfect, the story asks, if this is what it gets you?

Mischeivous fluff. Why Fisk scrubs most specifically Christian terminology (heaven, hell), but keeps phrases strongly associated with Christianity (Pearly Gates) I don’t know. But the story is worth it for moments like this, in which Sir Christopher Wren, who turns out to be an aging hippy, offers his opinion of Paul and his plans for the Gates:

“Frankly,” Wren confided to his old friend and associate Hawksmoor, “this kid Paul bugs me. Domes I dig. Cupolas — right on. But pre-cast concrete, modular construction … that Paul’s too far out for me, man.” (79)

“Mind-Milk”

Sweets from a Stranger coverMore aliens from a dying race, seeking servants! This time, all three hundred million of them are already on Earth (this makes sense by the end of the story), with two of them, Van3 and Masr8, charged with spying on the dreams of children to see what stuff humanity is made of. Only children will do, apparently. “The human mind stops early. Once the early conditioning process is done, the adult human merely lives out its set pattern” (51).

They spy on Sandra, dreaming of stardom as the lead singer in what appears to be a glam-rock band; on a boy dreaming of glory on the football pitch; they skip over a girl dreaming of saving lives as a nurse, and settle for the bulk of a story on 11-year-old Mick Rivers, imaginging himself grown-up as a soldier. There follow some pages of gung-ho blood-and-guts boy’s-own war adventures, during which Lieutenant Mick (unknowing) appears to be making his way back along the psychic link to become a real threat to the aliens. Masr8 gets nervous; Van3 is oblivious: “Oh, but this is the cream! I must have it all” (63). All ends well.

Aside from being another tale in which the experiences of the children it is ostensibly about are framed, commented on by other intelligences, what stands out about the story, reading it in 2010, are the gender dynamics. There are almost always both boys and girls in Fisk’s stories, and in most cases both contribute to solving the plot (which means, given Fisk’s preference for omniscient narrative voice, we generally get the thoughts of both, even if, as noted earlier, the protagonist is almost always a boy, and almost always contributes more). But when it’s deemed relevant, as it apparently is in “Mind-Milk”, boys are given clearly boy roles, and girls are given clearly girl roles. It’s hard to imagine Mick being Mary.

And there’s one other thing. As part of his fantasy, while injured Mick imagines his girlfriend, Val. “She has beautiful, soft, slender arms, brown from the sun. I wish I could feel them round my neck, cool and healing” (63-4). And after the fantasy:

“He’s nice. I’ll marry him when I’m big,” said four-year-old Val. There were big gaps in the garden fence, so her wide eyes could follow every movement of the boy next door, Mick Rivers. She watched him silently, her soft arms cradling the neck of her teddy bear.

Mick Rivers deliberately ignored her. Stupid kid, always spying on him. Girls! “Boring, boring,” he chanted to himself, under his breath. (66-7)

This is, clearly, played for laughs: the young girl idolising her older neighbour, the neighbour’s denial of interest when we know his subconcious knows better. But when you stop to think about it, it’s a very odd dynamic, is it not? On the one hand, you have that “spying”, which creates an uncomfortable parallel between Val, waiting to marry Mick, and the aliens, who had wanted to enslave him. This could conceivably be part of the joke, since we know Mick likes Val deep down, after all, but that just leads you to think (or at least, me to think): Val is four. Nor is she the only very young girl to seek or receive the attention of older boys in Fisk’s fiction. Beth in Grinny is the subject of adoration by a neighbour from down the street (this works substantially better in the sequel, You Remember Me!, when Beth is somewhat older and much more of the story is from her point of view); the youngest character in Trillions is a precocious girl already aware of her feminine wiles, and not afraid to use them to wrap a military officer around her finger.

Can the Vals of Fisk’s fiction be read as an indictment of the effect of growing up in a highly gendered society, of expectations of roles shaping behaviour even from a very early age? Yes; but if it matters to you, even setting against these characters Fisk’s practical girls, like Mee in Antigrav, or Abigail in Robot Revolt, I’d have a hard time arguing it’s deliberate.

“Space Invaders”

Sweets from a Stranger coverNo prizes for guessing what this one’s about. Jason is addicted to the games at his local arcade, to the point of stealing from his mother and bunking off school to play them more. He’s good, too, and the games — which are of course self-aware — appreciate his skills. They chat like proto-Minds, their transcripts presented with Fiskian translations. They are confident in their superiority (“players are only players. They are not real like us”) but not un-affectionate:

KRAG: Jason has no more SwitchOns [tokens or money] left. Without SwitchOns he cannot play me. So I am sorry. Did Jason win against you, Space Invaders?

SPACE INVADERS: Positive Positive Positive Positive Negative Negative Positive [he won five games out of seven]. Very Full Mode [excellent play].

KRAG: That is InCircuitmost [unusually good play]. He also won against me. and no Fouls or Tilts [Jason did not cheat].

SATURN: Jason is my friend because he uses me InCircuitly.

SPACE: My friend too. But now he is not our friend because he has no more SwitchOns. So. Now I must play this Thermionic. (He plays a young man and beats him.) (37)

Indeed, when Jason hits a losing streak, one of the machines finds a soft spot and lets him win. Surely, the machine thinks this guarantees his return. But it does not.

Obvious nostalgia value aside — marvel at these amazing games, with their “hologram images, 3D displays, supertuners, feedbacks, multilevel extrapolators”! — this one is still rather charming. Jason gets away with his crimes, and may be learning better. Nobody is hurt. Except the machines, of course.

“The Thieves of Galac”

Sweets from a Stranger coverNicholas Fisk’s aliens, it seems, are always fallen. The Trillions are the technological remnant of a vanished civilization; Grinny is seeking a new home because her species used up their old one, as is Talis; and in “The Thieves of Galac”, decadent aliens have ceded control of their empire to servant machines. “We are decadent”, says the President of the Galacs, just in case there’s any confusion. I’m planning to read one more of Fisk’s novels — A Hole in the Head — in part because it’s more recent than anything else I’ve read by him (1991), and in part because, at least according to The Encyclopedia of SF, it is “a harrowing tale of the Earth at the brink of ecological catastrophe”. Earth is so often a site of sanctuary for aliens that I’m interested to see how Fisk handles humans using up their world.

Anyway. We don’t start with the Galacs. We start with Tal, 11, and his sister Mala, 13 (Fisk is always scrupulous about telling us how old his characters are). They live a somewhat desperate life on an Earth being mined by the Sentinel machines of the Galacs: “dull metallic spheres the size of footballs” that squawk instructions, and seem to have like stealing broken things. Mal laments that they’re stuck on Earth when they could have got out; their father insists the Earth is their home.

And then, with marvellous abruptness — “Light years away, in the artificial, mobile world they had made for themselves” — we’re whisked away to the Galac council, who lament their decadence until the President offers this inspiring rejoinder:

“Of course!” he cried. “We will bring them back! Use them again! The old ways! Don’t you see? We created the world in the old ways, the simple ways! We used the skills of our hands — the old tools and equipment and sciences! And we are the people we were then! Older, I grant you, too old, perhaps; even our memories fail us. But on Earth, they still use the old ways, the pioneer ways. If such savages can do it, surely we can build anew — using the old ways!” (27-8)

Practical knowledge is always valued in Fisk’s work. The first third of Antigrav (1978), in which three children discover a stone with antigrav properties, is given over to experimenting, working out how much weight the stone can lift, what factors affect that weight, which direction it pulls in, what can be done with differently balanced weights hanging off it, and so on and so forth. So the Galacs, inspired by primitive Earth, set about learning how to do things for themselves again, and in the process Earth is somewhat repaired. Then, on the Galac world, the Sentinels revolt, until the President switches them all off with the push of a single button.

It’s a very peculiar piece, this: lots of different bits stuck together at odd angles, not at all as neatly shaped as “Sweets from a Stranger”. There’s no moral here, except perhaps the properly science-fictional one that sometimes the real story is happening elsewhere, and any effects on humanity are just by-products.

“Sweets from a Stranger”

Sweets from a Stranger coverSo how about those discussion questions? I’m going to take the suggested starting points first, then come back to the main question.

Write a short summary of the story

Girl meets alien; alien tricks girl; girl fails to trick aliens.

Note down what you think the sci-fi elements in the story are

In order: an alien; space travel (imagined technology); another planet; aliens. A nice bag of tropes. Is it a story that could not have happened without its speculative content? I think so; the intended real-world reference is explicit, but without the sf I don’t see how you’d get the reversal of Tina’s position to be so effective.

Draw character profiles of Tina and Talis

Tina: relatively unusually for Fisk, a girl-protagonist. That’s her all solarized on the cover, I think. Less unusually, she’s sharp — knows what story she’s in, at the start; isn’t fazed by the change in scenery; comes up with a proactive plan — but overconfident. “Tina, knowing she was behaving foolishly, went closer to the car.”

Talis: deceptive in appearance and in manner, but not about his true purpose. Everything we seem to learn about him in the first half of the story — his haplessness, his friendliness (his loneliness) — must be a lie for the second half to stick.

Compare the story to other science fiction stories, novels or movies you know

I think that if I worked out what it reminds me of, I would be closer to getting under the skin of the story than I am. It feels old. It feels very different to contemporary YA sf (strictly speaking, it is written for a younger audience). There’s something of Wyndham in the tone; that city of soaring glass towers is how I remember the end of The Chrysalids. There’s something of early-nineties BBC children’s drama (Dark Season, or the adaptation of Archer’s Goon) in the intrusion of core sf tropes into utterly normal British (English) (middle-class) suburbia. I recognise this world.

Therefore (and finally): Do you consider “Sweets from a Stranger” a science fiction story to be taken seriously?

Odd question, isn’t it? A very teacher-ish question. We must be serious. The story certainly wants to be taken seriously; any story so straightforwardly moralistic must want to be taken seriously. I think what allows me to take it seriously is its playfulness: Tina’s knowingness; the matter-of-factness of the journey, or of Tina’s initial escape attempt; the teasing suggestion that it might not give you the moral you’re expecting all along. The last line is perfectly judged, I think.

Reading Nicholas Fisk

Sweets from a Stranger coverOver the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of books by Nicholas Fisk. It’s one of those projects I’ve always meant to get around to; with Trillions and A Rag, A Bone and a Hank of Hair Fisk was one of my formative sf reading experiences. I’ve always wanted to go back and see how he holds up, and perhaps write an essay about his work. What I hadn’t appreciated, until quite recently, is just how prolific Fisk is. I’ve read nine of his books now, and that only really scratches the surface.

Anyway, book number ten is a short story collection, the only one by Fisk I’ve come across: Sweets from a Stranger, first published in 1982. I’ve decided to blog it story by story this week, as a start on getting my thoughts on his work into some kind of shape.

First up: the title story. There seems to be precious little about any of Fisk’s work online, but “Sweets from a Stranger” has obviously been taught at some point, since googling it brings up this pdf of the full text, which comes complete with questions for discussion. My thoughts later today, when I’m confident I’ve arrived at answers at least as good as the ones a ten year old would come up with.

Draft Hugo Ballot

A little later than advertised, here’s my working draft Hugo ballot. As with Joe Sherry’s draft, at this stage I plan to definitely nominate anything marked with asterisks (***), and am considering the other items listed. I’ll post some thoughts on each category as a comment to this post [ta-da!], and I’ll be posting further comments and probably updating the post as I read more; recommendations welcome, although I’m probably not going to get through many more eligible novels.

Best Novel (“A science fiction or fantasy story of 40,000 words or more that appeared for the first time in 2009.”)

***The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books)
***The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham (Doubleday)
***Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson (HarperVoyager)
***In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield (Del Rey/Jonathan Cape)
Flood by Stephen Baxter (Roc)
UFO in Her Eyes by Xiaolu Guo (Chatto & Windus)
The Ask & The Answer by Patrick Ness (Candlewick/Walker)
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (Nan A Talese/Canongate)

Best Novella (A science fiction or fantasy story between 17,500 and 40,000 words that appeared for the first time in 2009.)

***”Vishnu at the Cat Circus” by Ian McDonald (in Cyberabad Days, Pyr/Gollancz)
Starfall by Stephen Baxter (PS Publishing)
“Earth II” by Stephen Baxter (Asimov’s, July 2009)
The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough (PS Publishing)
“Sublimation Angels” by Jason Sanford (Interzone)

Best Novelette (A science fiction or fantasy story between 7,500 and 17,500 words that appeared for the first time in 2009.)

***”Sinner, Baker, Fabulist Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster (Interzone 220)
***”A Journal of Certain Events of Scientific Interest from the First Survey Voyage of the Southern Waters by HMS Ocelot, As Observed by Professor Thaddeus Boswell, DPhil, MSc; or, A Lullaby” by Helen Keeble (Strange Horizons, 1 and 8 June)
***”Eros, Philia, Agape” by Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com, March)
***”The Island” by Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2, ed. Dozois/Strahan)
“Problems of Light and Dark” by Deborah Biancotti (A Book of Endings)
“It Takes Two” by Nicola Griffith (Eclipse Three, ed. Jonathan Strahan)
“Seventh Fall” by Alex Irvine (Subterranean)
“Black Swan” by Bruce Sterling (Interzone 221)

Best Short Story (A science fiction or fantasy story of less than 7,500 words that appeared for the first time in 2009.)

“Microcosmos” by Nina Allan (Interzone 222)
“Turning the Apples” by Tina Connolly (Strange Horizons, 30 March)
“All the Anne Franks” by Erik Hoel (Strange Horizons, 23 November)
“Useless Things” by Maureen F McHugh (Eclipse Three);
“Unexpected Outcomes” by Tim Pratt (Interzone 222)

Best Related Work (Any work related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom appearing for the first time during 2009 or which has been substantially modified during 2009, and which is either non-fiction or, if fictional, is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text, and which is not eligible in any other category.)

***Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction ed. Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint (Routledge)
***The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction by Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr (Wesleyan, 2008 with extended eligibility)
***Imagination/Space: Essays and Talks on Fiction, Feminism, Technology and Politics by Gwyneth Jones (Aqueduct)
Canary Fever: Reviews by John Clute (Beccon)
On Joanna Russ ed. Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan)

Best Graphic Story (Any science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form appearing for the first time in 2009.)

***Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Oni Press)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (Any theatrical feature or other production, with a complete running time of more than 90 minutes, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during 2009.)

***Moon
***Up
***Where the Wild Things Are
Monsters vs Aliens
The Road
Torchwood: Children of Earth
The Time-Traveler’s Wife

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (Any television program or other production, with a complete running time of 90 minutes or less, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during 2009.)

***”Season Two, Episode One”, Ashes to Ashes
***”Epitaph One”, Dollhouse
***”Born to Run”, The Sarah Connor Chronicles
“Pilot”, Caprica
“The State of the Art” by Iain M Banks, adapted by Paul Cornell (Radio 4, 5 March 2009)

Best Editor, Short Form (The editor of at least four (4) anthologies, collections or magazine issues (or their equivalent in other media) primarily devoted to science fiction and/or fantasy, at least one of which was published in 2009.)

***Susan Marie Groppi, Strange Horizons
***Jonathan Strahan, various anthologies
Scott H Andrews, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Andy Cox et al, Interzone
Sheila Williams, Asimov’s

Best Editor, Long Form (The editor of at least four (4) novel-length works primarily devoted to science fiction and/or fantasy published in 2009 that do not qualify as works under Best Editor, Short Form.)

L Timmel Duchamp
Jo Fletcher
Jeremy Lassen
Betsy Mitchell
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Simon Spanton
Juliet Ulman

Best Professional Artist (An illustrator whose work has appeared in a professional publication in the field of science fiction or fantasy during 2009. If possible, please cite an example of the nominee’s work. Failure to provide such references will not invalidate a nomination.)

***Raphael Lacoste (The Windup Girl, The Caryatids)
***Adam Tredowski (Interzone covers)
Stephan Martiniere (Desolation Road)

Best Semiprozine (Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy which by the close of 2009 has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in 2009, and which in 2009 met at least two (2) of the following criteria: Had an average press run of at least 1,000 copies per issue; Paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication; Provided at least half the income of any one person; Had at least 15% of its total space occupied by advertising; Announced itself to be a “semiprozine”.)

***The Internet Review of Science Fiction
Ansible
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Clarkesworld
Futurismic
Interzone
Locus
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The SF Site

Best Fanzine (Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of 2009 has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which does not qualify as a semiprozine.)

***Banana Wings
***Asking the Wrong Questions
Coffee and Ink
Everything is Nice
Journey Planet
Punkadiddle

Best Fan Writer (Any person whose writing has appeared in semiprozines or fanzines or in generally available electronic media during 2009.)

Claire Brialey
Karen Burnham
Paul Kincaid
Martin Lewis
James Davis Nicoll
Abigail Nussbaum
Mark Plummer
Adam Roberts
Micole S

Best Fan Artist (An artist or cartoonist whose work has appeared through publication in semiprozines or fanzines or through other public display during 2009.)

Kate Beaton

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo) (A writer whose first work of science fiction or fantasy appeared during 2008 or 2009 in a professional publication. For Campbell Award purposes a professional publication is one for which more than a nominal amount was paid, any publication that had an average press run of at least 10,000 copies, or any other that the Award sponsors may designate.)

Jedidiah Berry
Lauren Beukes
Kristin Cashore
Patrick Ness
Ali Shaw
Kari Sperring [eligibility expired]

A Rag, A Bone, and a Hank of Links

The Returners

The Returners coverThe Returners – Gemma Malley’s third young adult science fiction novel, and the first to stand alone — tells a tense, uneasy story. It may open with a too-familiar earnestness — “What is important,” Will Hodges insists, almost as soon as we meet him, “is that you never know. You never know when everything is going to change” (3) — and, indeed, it may be the case that, by the end of the novel, there has been a little more change for the better than can be entirely believed. But it would be a mistake to make up your mind about this story too quickly, I think; the revolution is at least more internal than external, and there are moments worth experiencing during which it does not seem like a foregone conclusion.

We are in the near future: to be precise, the main action of the novel takes place in suburban England between 4th May and 18th July, 2016. Malley’s extrapolation to this point is minimal. By far the most obvious shaping conceit of The Returners is that The Recession Never Ended, with the consequence that Britain is sliding ever faster down a right-wing nationalist slope. The “National Party” is gaining in power and influence, promising a government that will “work to make Britain great again”, instead of letting the country “get walked over by anyone and everyone” (26). A friend of Will’s father, a policeman-turned-politician called Patrick, takes them to rallies with queasily familiar chants: England for the English! British Jobs for British Workers! If Will’s mother was still alive, it is suggested, things may not have got this bad for this family. But she has been dead for some years, and in her absence neither Will, nor his father — a lawyer whose high-paying private-sector job was a casualty of the economic climate, and who now works for the Crown Prosecution Service – have been immune to the temptations of Patrick’s slogans. Simmering anger, rooted in fear and confusion, is a constant of their lives; and if their resentment is not exactly handled with the subtlety of, say, Ian R MacLeod’s The Summer Isles (2005), it is still grimly recognisable. Enter the plot: a Chinese youth called Yan, once Will’s friend, is arrested for stabbing a white pensioner, and Will’s father is assigned as prosecutor in what is, it becomes quite obvious, a frame job, designed to inflame racial tensions and build support for National Party policies.

While we’re worrying about all this foreground – and, to be honest, whether we can take an entire novel of a narrator as obnoxiously insecure as Will – Malley is establishing a quite peculiar background, one that makes The Returners even more claustrophobic. There’s something funny about Will’s memory. He remembers his mother, dead, “her long hair splayed out over the water like a painting” (5) – like a cliché – but not the circumstances surrounding that death. He remembers whole conversations word for word, and others not at all. He hates history lessons, not least because they give him migraines, and remind him of the terrible dreams – dreams of people suffering and dying – that he doesn’t understand. And then there are the freaks, the strangely familiar people who stare at him in the street: “haunted, sad-looking eyes boring into you, eyes that you recognise; that recognise you, except you don’t really recognise them because you don’t know them, you know you don’t – you’ve been through every person you’ve ever met in your life and they are none of them” (15).

How does all this start to come together? With the hollow-eyed freaks catching up with Will:

“Not reincarnation. Not like other people think of it,” she says. Her voice is soft but insistent. “We actually come back, Will. We’ve existed throughout time. We experience the worst that humankind is capable of; we absorb the pain, contain the horrors. We remember, Will. We are humanity’s conscience.” (134)

Will is, it seems, one of them, and in fact something unprecedented: a Returner who doesn’t remember. Hence the dreams, of Native American massacres, of slave ships, of concentration camps and of Rwanda. He was there, he is told, for all of it. He will be there for it, this time: a gathering of Returners means that suffering is on the way. Hence the visceral reaction against history; as he later puts it, “What’s the point of remembering if it just happens again and again?” (177)

So here, we think, is the twist. Now we will see Will learn about the other side of the coin. The sudden inversion of Will’s privilege seems a bit easy, perhaps, but it’s a worthy story, isn’t it? If there are no characters of colour actually on stage, as such (we have barely seen Yan, and the ethnicity of the Returners is carefully unspecified), Will’s attitudes are worth exploring, aren’t they? And if there’s something disquieting about the notion that humanity was somehow protected from the worst of the Holocaust (and the rest), well, perhaps that’s an unfortunate but unintended consequence.

We should give Malley more credit. The Returners, of course, have not told Will the whole truth, and when they do it becomes clear that we are meant to be asking all the questions listed above, and others. And if the novel’s final third is on one level a conventional broadside against the sort of lazy hands-off fatalism the Returners advocate – they insist that events are “All pre-determined, all set out like milestones on a journey we haven’t met yet” (176-7), and that “We cannot change them. Only humans can change themselves” (178) – it also becomes a rather more nuanced examination of inherited or inculcated responsibility, one that confronts the role of those who held the whip, rather than fetishises those who suffered under it. It remains a white story — a final, cathartic, plot-resolving confrontation aside — and, perhaps just as significantly, a masculine story. But it is also a story that refuses easy sympathy without refusing all sympathy, and one that presents a convincingly scary portrait of the ease with which prejudice can take root and grow, complete with two or three scenes whose intensity I suspect will stay with me for some time. The very end, as I already suggested, perhaps does take Will (and his world) too far for me: “Argue”, he tells the Returners. Argue with those “who think that foreigners are to blame for all our problems, or people who believed different things, or people who eat different food or watch different television programmes. Tell them they’re wrong. Make them see it. Force them to see it” (249). It sounds strange to hear the words in his mouth, after everything he has said and done by this point. But I wonder whether, for a few people, it might be what works.

Recommended?

I’m not sure whether it’s my preferences changing, or my awareness of the field broadening, or both or something else, but as time goes on I find the Locus Recommended Reading List overlaps less and less with my taste in sf and fantasy. It feels faintly absurd, having this reaction, because the list is so bloated as to make inclusion almost meaningless — there are comfortably more books on the list than I read in a year, and that’s before you start on the short fiction categories. This also means that there’s a fair number of things I like listed; yet I look at it, and think: from Interzone, you recommend “Monetized“, and not “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest…“? You recommend Ken Scholes’ A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon“, but not Helen Keeble’s “A Lullaby“? As a science fiction novel, you recommend Steal Across the Sky but not UFO in Her Eyes? In the fantasy novel category, it’s marvellous to see In Great Waters, but where on earth is The Other Lands? This is not frustrating simply because unenlightened fools disagree with me. It’s frustrating because the size of the Recommended Reading List is an indication of one of its goals — basically, canon-formation — and because that goal is not challenged elsewhere in the sf community as much as I would like. If the Locus list was more focused, or if there were other lists the same size treated as equivalent authorities, I wouldn’t be so bothered. But I know that when I want to know what was big ten years ago, the first thing I do is Google the Locus list for that year, because it aims to include everything of significance. And more and more I want to know what they missed.