Future Classics: #10

Strictly speaking, #10 equal, since we start with one of two ties.

Bold as Love by Gwyneth Jones (2001)

Bold as Love cover

Jones’ Arthur C Clarke Award-winning novel, and the series it inaugurates, is probably one of the landmark generic hybrids of the past decade, being both near-future science fiction and Arthurian fantasy. As Francis Spufford put it:

The salient oddity of Bold as Love is that its achievement is rooted not in the festival scene of 2001, but in the world of 1971. It substantiates the dreams not of present-day apocalypse-minded teenagers, but of their counterparts 30 years ago, who read Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novels and relished the fantasy of the Rolling Stones playing gigs in the rubble of liberated cities. Jimi Hendrix played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock; Jones has an equally sexy guitar hero put the reverb into “I Vow to Thee, My Country”. This book reopens the door to a particular stylised world next to our own, where the slender-hipped male heroes of pop culture are freed from time and place to do cool, violent deeds. It’s a rock’n’roll world, but it’s English. It’s a world where the young Mick Jagger is always to be found jamming in the Hundred Acre Wood, his gun lying on the grass beside him among the forget-me-nots.

Other reviews: Chris Butler at Infinity Plus, Cheryl Morgan in Emerald City, David Soyka for SF Site and Kathleen Bartholomew in Green Man Review. See also Sheryl Vint’s take on the concluding volume, Rainbow Bridge, for a sense of how it all pans out, and a 2003 interview with Jones. Oh, and the Bold as Love website, where you can download the full text of the first four volumes of the series.

City of Pearl by Karen Traviss (2004)

City of Pearl cover

Another series-initiating book, this time the well-received six-volume Wess’Har War series. Stuart Carter reviewed it with the sequel, Crossing the Line:

Another glorious aspect of these two books is that they’re almost the antithesis of everything Trek: humans haring round the universe imposing their morality and point-of-view upon anyone who can listen, and always, eventually, turning out to be right, or at least admirable. And if we’re not even admirable then at least we have bigger guns than everyone else to console ourselves with. In Karen Traviss’s universe we’re seen as being far from admirable and even further from right, and it looks like being a very hard, possibly even fatal, lesson for us to learn. A warning to the unthinking patriots amongst you: you may find these books somewhat unpalatable.

I’ve followed quite a tortuous route to discovering Karen Traviss’s novels: she’s English, I’m English, and yet neither of these books has a UK publisher, so I’ve had to get them from the US, a fact that both perplexes and saddens me since both City Of Pearl and Crossing the Line would seem to be a very English type of SF, and English SF at its very best, too. If you want to read something that will leave you thinking, perhaps if you’re a fan of Ursula K. Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson or, more generally, of intricately gloomy English science fiction, then this series is one you want to read — I promise.

Other reviews: Christ Butler at Infinity Plus, Cheryl Morgan in Emerald City (hang on, I’m getting deja vu), and Russ Allbery. See also 2006 interviews with Traviss at Infinity Plus and in Strange Horizons.

Ranking calculated from 101 responses to a poll run during October, November and December 2010.

12 thoughts on “Future Classics: #10

  1. I had it in my head that Bold As Love was slightly earlier hence missing it off my list. The series as a whole is a great achievement and Jones lack of major success shames British SF. Bold As Love is no future classic, its already a classic in my eyes.
    That Spufford review manages to be both accurate and to miss the point. Yes, it harks back to 1971 but it also evokes a contemporary political world a la Cool Britannia. The timeless or eternal fantasy Arthurian motif is thus matched by a sense of the universal in the realist elements.
    Jones is also one of very few authors in any genre to get the feel and experience of rock music in her works, and to convincingly demonstrate an awareness of a cultural spectrum that Spufford seems to lack. The onlyy other SFF author who regularly achieves this is the similarly neglected Lewis Shiner.

  2. I love Bold as Love so much! It’s such a powerful novel with so many layers of Things To Say as well as some truly compelling characters who are not always likeable, but utterly fascinating.

    It is a book that completely redefined the concept of science fiction for me.

  3. Interesting that we start with two series-initiating books (and I’m prepared to bet that these aren’t the only two) – shows what we need is a critical mode of recognition for series. I actually enjoyed Castles Made of Sand more than Bold as Love – but then it needs that first book to come out of: the two together are more than the two books and the same applies to the series as a whole. Of course, it’s not that the series hasn’t made an impact – Bold as Love is afterall the one that did win the Clarke and there are, for example (not that I am suggesting this is the most important thing), academic essays about it and the series in general.

  4. what we need is a critical mode of recognition for series.

    Yes. One way of doing this is through review-essays on the occasion of a concluding volume, which is something I want to try to do more of. Another, inevitably, would be some kind of award — but it’s hard to see how the reading load wouldn’t be prohibitive.

  5. Literary journals are fond of publishing essays that look not just at single books but at an author’s entire output. I don’t think that it’s too much of a stretch to imagine extended reviews that look at entire series.

    Conversely I don’t think an award is really all that practical or even desirable. There are now so many awards in this field that most of them lack meaning.

  6. The Clarke Award judges in 90? decided to consider Dan Simmons Hyperion/Fall of Hyperion as one, putting off considering the first part until the next year when both parts were deemed eligible. The 92 panel declined to do similar with Robinson’s Mars books. In theory this could be done for any series but I would be reluctant with the longer timescale involved and where the series isn’t so clearly one long work divided up.

  7. I’m not quite as down on the idea of an award as Jonathan, but I’d certainly be against mixing up series and novels within a single award.

  8. I’ve done reviews of quite a few series on Tor.com, sometimes one post on a whole series and sometimes a post on each book plus one considering the series as a whole.

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