Miscellany

I’ve posted my additional thoughts about “Divining Light“; thanks to everyone else who read the story and commented. Hopefully discussion will continue …


What’s interesting to me about Clute’s review of Half a Crown, and the reason it has made sure what was already pretty likely beforehand, that I will read the Small Change trilogy, is that it seems to me to contain or imply an interesting set of ideas about what dystopian fiction is and does, and how it works. For starters, there’s the implied question of whether you can write a dystopia with a happy, or even relatively happy, ending. A friend of mine observed recently (in a separate discussion) that there’s a reason most dystopias end with a boot stamping on the face of humanity, forever; it’s because dystopias are almost always intended to warn in some way, and if they end with a boot stamping on the face of humanity, for a while, the force of that warning inevitably gets dissipated in some way. Is that the case? How might a story get around it? What might be gained that might compensate for that lack of force, if it does occur? There are also the arguments Clute advances about formula and technique. It’s Clute’s argument (as I read it) that, however effective the narrow perspective is in the first two books, by the time you get to the third book it starts to look like avoidance. This seems plausible; it also seems like something that might vary from reader to reader. (Indeed, based on the fact that Clute’s is the only reaction to Small Change even remotely this negative, it seems that it certainly dose vary from reader to reader.) Why? Similarly, Clute argues that Small Change’s adherence to a formal structure makes its ending — however historically grounded it may be — unconvincing as fiction because it makes the fall of a fascist government look like “a plot twist”; in other words, makes it look in some sense unearned, or trivial, which retroactively diminishes the achievement of the trilogy. This may just be a potential pitfall of fiction that wishes to adhere to a formula, even in homage; or it may be something that particularly afflicts dystopian fiction. I find it more interesting to think about, at any rate, than Benjamin Kunkel’s article about dystopianism. (See also.)


I’m still rather enjoying Isvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr’s The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction. I mentioned the “novum” chapter in this post; the book as a whole is built around discussion of a number of “attractors” that Csicsery-Ronay Jr has identified as characteristic elements of sf, and contains a version of the argument that we are living in inherently science-fictional times that’s a bit more grounded than most I’ve read. Had I been a bit more patient, however, I could have used more of the book with reference to my discussion of Bernadine Evaristo’s Blonde Roots, namely some of the comments made in the discussion on “Future History”. Csicsery-Ronay Jr (yes, I have to check myself every single time I write that name, why do you ask?) is particularly attached to sf as a venue for various kinds of play; so although he identifies several kinds of future history common to sf, including utopian/revolutionary (change brought about by conscious action on the part of humanity) and evolutionary (change brought about as a result of unconscious, adaptive forces), his clear favourite is what he terms “dispersive” histories, in which change is essentially random, or (and this is what made it seem relevant to Blonde Roots) somehow walled off from the real we know.

It is sometimes said that any prophesied future that does not come to pass becomes a divergent reality. […] The more of these a public is exposed to, the less naive they become about projections, and the more comfortable with alternate histories that lack causal connections with the familiar present. Quantity turns to quality: so many predictions have been made, so many fictive prophecies have become uchronias and “fantastic philosophy”, that they rival the number of sincere predictions. Reading sf now incorporates the discounting process of already viewing it as an alternative timeline or retrofuture.
[…]
By disrupting the temporal logic of continuity with the present, alternative histories appear to renounce the ethical seriousness of the revolutionary and evolutionary paradigms. If there is no connection, how can there be responsibility? On the surface, such dispersed worlds lack even the minimal gravity of other kinds of uture history. It makes sense to view this scattering as an example of the flattening of historical consciousness that Jameson considers a defining quality of postmodernism. The sense of the continuity of unidirectional time lived toward death and succeeding generations, which links the experience of individual life with collective history, is replaced by an infinite array. […] The abstract dispersal of realities frees them not only from the burden of an inexorable past, but from the resistance of nature and embodiment altogether. (97-8)

That last sentence, in particular, seems a good way of summing up what I think Evaristo was aiming for — freedom from the burden of an inexorable past — without losing the ability to comment on that past, and on our present.


I’m not happy about this change to the David Gemmell Legend Award rules [pdf]:

After receiving lots of feedback from fans, readers and industry alike, we at the
DGLA have – after much deliberation – come to the decision to make the David
Gemmell Legend Award completely publicly voted.

This means that once the Longlist closes, the top 5 novels will be put forward to the
Shortlist Poll and YOU will be able to have the final say about who should win, by
voting once more on the shortlist! Readers and fans will be involved at every step to
produce our winner.

What was interesting about the Award, to me, was precisely that the final stage was juried; I was looking forward to seeing how the judges evaluated the award’s criteria. While popular vote awards certainly have their place, I can’t muster the enthusiasm for another one right now.

n Things Make a Post

Mike Glyer tagged me for a meme a little while ago. It’s the “which sf novels that have been made into films have you read?” list. Bold if I’ve read it, italicized if I started but didn’t finish.

  • Jurassic Park
  • War of the Worlds
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park
  • I, Robot
  • Contact
  • Congo
  • Cocoon
  • The Stepford Wives
  • The Time Machine
  • Starship Troopers
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • K-PAX
  • 2010
  • The Running Man
  • Sphere
  • The Mothman Prophecies
  • Dreamcatcher
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  • Dune
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau
  • The Body Snatchers
  • The Iron Giant/The Iron Man
  • Battlefield Earth
  • The Incredible Shrinking Woman
  • Fire in the Sky
  • Altered States
  • Timeline
  • The Postman
  • Freejack/Immortality, Inc.
  • Solaris
  • Memoirs of an Invisible Man
  • The Thing/Who Goes There?
  • The Thirteenth Floor
  • Lifeforce/Space Vampires
  • Deadly Friend
  • The Puppet Masters
  • 1984
  • A Scanner Darkly
  • Creator
  • Monkey Shines
  • Solo/Weapon
  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Communion
  • Carnosaur
  • From Beyond
  • Nightflyers
  • Watchers

(I’ve assumed that “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Body Snatchers” both refer to The Body Snatchers, and combined accordingly.)

Just for once, I’m not too bothered about doing badly on one of these lists, since there’s not many books on it I actually want to read and haven’t. (Although, yes, I probably have read more Michael Crichton novels than strictly necessary.) Some of the entries, as noted at SF Signal, look a bit dodgy; the one that jumped out at me was The Thirteenth Floor, although it looks like that may have been based on a comic. I assume films like The Prestige and Children of Men don’t make the grade because they didn’t take enough money. Of course, the adaptation I’m looking forward to most at the moment is Blindness.


F&SF are doing another one of their blogger giveaways, this time of the October/November double issue. Since I don’t have a subscription at the moment (yeah, yeah, I know), I put my name in the hat, and was lucky enough to receive a copy. So far I’ve only read M. Rickert’s story, “Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter’s Personal Account” and, while I’m not as completely bowled over as Chris Barzak, it’s definitely a powerful story.


Other recent reading, and future plans: I’ve finished Benjamin Rosenbaum’s The Ant King and Other Stories, and am working on a review, although depending on how it turns out I’m toying with submitting it to the Virginia Quarterly Review Young Reviewers Contest rather than posting it here. Like Liz, I’ve read Anathem and enjoyed it; I’ve submitted my review to IROSF. I’m currently reading, on the one hand, Kairos by Gwyneth Jones (in advance of her BSFA interview on Wednesday) and, on the other hand, The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson, with the aim of writing a series of posts about various heroric fantasy stories for early next month. It’s the Gollancz Ultimate Fantasy edition, the best thing about which — as with the SF4U titles — is not the pretty cover (although that’s nice) but the fact that the text has been re-set so as to be legible. After that lot’s out of the way, I’ve got a number of review commitments for various places: Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi, Going Under by Justina Robson, Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon, Dogs and Nano Comes to Clifford Falls by Nancy Kress, The Quiet War by Paul McAuley and (if I’m honest, the one I’m most impatient to get to) Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod.


And now, some links:

Things to Come

So. A Clarke judge no longer. More free time. What am I going to do with myself?

Well, first up, Thursday sees the “science fiction as a literary genre” symposium organised by Gresham College, at which I hope to see a fair few of the people reading this. After that comes the BSFA/SFF joint AGM event, on Saturday 7th June, and then at the end of June there’s the SFF Masterclass in SF criticism. So, no Wiscon (or Readercon) for me this year, but I won’t be short of things to do.

In blogging terms, once I’ve caught up on various other (mosty Vector-related) tasks I’d been letting slide a bit, I’m hoping to get a slightly more regular schedule going — say, links on a Monday, a review on a Friday (or possibly vice versa). The Baroque Cycle Reading Group continues (next installment due Friday 16th!), and by the end of the month I hope to be joining Karen in blogging about some of the Masterclass reading. There’ll probably also be more discussions, after the fashion of the Matter roundtable, at some point.

And speaking of reading, here’s my current TBR-imminent:

Image004

From top to bottom:

  • Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos — an impulse buy from a second-hand book stall a while ago. Given that Stand on Zanzibar is on the Masterclass reading list this seems like an appropriate time to try Dos Passos.
  • Speculative Japan, edited by Gene van Troyer and Grania Davis — a review copy for Strange Horizons, which I have very selfishly been sitting on because I want to read it. Now I have time.
  • Hopeful Monsters by Hiromi Goto — one of the stories in this is on the Masterclass reading list; I’ve been meaning to try Goto for a while, so I’m going to take this opportunity to read the rest of the book as well.
  • Intuition by Allegra Goodman — Abigail raved about this a while ago, and Nic bought it for me for Christmas. And it does sound right up my street.
  • Dreamers of the Day by Maria Doria Russell — if the pile was sorted by the order in which I intend to read it, rather than by size, this one would be at the top.
  • The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block — the latest sf/f-ish book from Faber, this one dealing with, as you’d expect, memory; and it’s already had a glowing review from the New York Times.
  • Flood by Stephen Baxter — the big science fiction novel in this month’s reading; I’ll be reviewing it for IROSF.
  • Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson — as noted above.

Plus, almost certainly, the mundane Interzone, when I get my hands on a copy. All of which, hopefully, should keep me out of trouble. What are you reading at the moment?

Super Mario Bros: The Epic

This is one of those things that I assume everyone has seen, but is worth posting because (a) it’s ace and (b) I only realised this evening that I’d never seen the conclusion. It’s a flash animation of Super Mario Brothers, redone as an epic, with appropriate soundtrack, battles, the works. There are some longueurs in the middle, and it has to be said that some of the dialogue could have done with proofreading, but all in all it is, as I said, ace. At least, it is if you have any joy in your soul and/or nostalgia for Super Mario Bros. Without further ado:

I am particularly impressed to find that, despite the two-year gap between parts four and five, the ending was clearly planned from the start.

The Gates Between the Kingdoms are Infinitely Wide and Always Open

At some point today I will try to put together a proper links post, since I have a hugenormous accumulation of links to deal with. But I have to get my head around this first: according to Jason Sanford, who got it from the SFWA Bulletin, Michael Chabon has joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

On the one hand, how cool is that? On the other hand, given SFWA’s recent and rather public string of cock-ups, and the disillusionment that seems to have pervaded large parts of the sf-writing community as a result, it seems downright surreal to see someone joining the organisation out of (I assume, since I can’t imagine that he needs to do it) principle.

Catching Up

Or, well, not really catching up at all. But at least putting something up here, so that you don’t all think I’ve dropped off the edge of the world. So what have I been doing?


Reading: Mostly Clarke Award submissions, of course, about which I cannot speak. (The pile is now down to just over knee-height, or about 66cm, which means I’ve got to read about 8mm of book a day, or near-as-dammit 100 pages.) However, I have managed to fit in a few other things. Notably, like a few others of this parish, at the end of last week I received a proof copy of the new Iain M. Banks novel, Matter, and immediately put all else aside. (Well, I had to get it read before the BSFA meeting interview a week on Wednesday, didn’t I?) Having just finished it, I can say that (1) I will have more to say about it later, and (2) it’s good, possibly very good, and (at least compared to The Algebraist, of which I was not particularly fond) a real return to form. I’ve also, in my lunch hours, been making my way through Jonathan Strahan’s new anthology, Eclipse, about which I may well say more later this week; and I finally got around to reading Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, which is as beautiful and moving as everyone has said it is.


Planning: Once again this has already been reported elsewhere, but the 2008 SFRA conference, which was going to take place in Dublin, has been relocated to Lawrence, Kansas, where it will be held jointly with the 2008 Campbell Conference. This is disappointing, since I’d been looking forward to going, and there’s no way I’m going to get to Kansas at that time of year; it also means that the second SF Foundation Masterclass in criticism is being relocated, although in that case to London, which is actually somewhat more convenient for me than the usual venue (Liverpool). So I still plan to apply for the Masterclass, even if I haven’t got around to it yet.

Somewhat more imminently, I’m moving house! On the 8th of December, to be precise, if all goes according to plan. So at the moment, on top of two hours’ commute a day and those 100 Clarke pages and Strange Horizons work and Vector work, I’m attempting to organise removals and boxes and all the other logistics of moving. So it’s entirely probable that things will stay quiet around here until the New Year — although I have big plans for when I’ve freed up a bit more time, don’t worry.


Watching: Not a huge amount of this going on at the moment. I’m still enjoying Pushing Daisies, which is interesting given that I wasn’t a huge fan of either of Bryan Fuller’s last two series, Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls. The difference that makes Daisies, I think, is the extreme and conscious artificiality of the whole enterprise. The most fantastical thing about it, in many ways, is not Ned’s magical ability, but the technicolour world in which Ned lives. I’m still enjoying Heroes, more than not, anyway; I’m a little bit concerned by the interview Kring gave, because while I agree with some of the things he identifies as flaws, I don’t agree with all of them, I don’t agree with the fixes when I do agree they’re flaws, and there are issues with the portrayal of various characters that he doesn’t touch on at all. This last is understandable, perhaps — saying to Entertainment Weekly, “yeah, we know [plot point or character] came over as [racist|sexist], but we’re going to fix that” strikes me as a good way to commit commercial suicide. But the rest seems to assume that the root problem is not giving the audience what it wants, rather than executing the writers’ vision badly. Case in point: saying that Monica, Maya and Alejandro “shouldn’t have been introduced in separate storylines that felt unnattached to the show”. Yes, they should have been; that’s one of the things that will help to differentiate Heroes, to give it scope and a sense that there’s more to the world than just New York. The flaw is not introducing separate storylines, but introducing separate storylines that the audience didn’t connect with. (Although personally speaking, I thought they were strong.) The same goes for Kring’s comments about pacing: I don’t care whether Heroes tells stories about people discovering their powers or whether it sticks with the people we know. I’d be happy if they dumped the whole cast at the end of a season and started with a clean slate the following year — as long as the stories being told are interesting. (In point of fact, I think Peter and Sylar have both outstayed their welcome; they were both so intimately tied to the season one story arc that they can’t help feeling like spare wheels now.) I do agree with Kring about one thing — no romance — but that’s only because so many shows do revolve around romance that it’s refreshing when one doesn’t.


And some links to finish:

And that’s your lot.

Housekeeping

I apologise for the silence over the past week or so, but unfortunately things aren’t likely to get any livelier around here for a little while yet. There are several reasons: one is that I’m about to start a new job, and I’m expecting the first couple of weeks to be very much a hit-the-ground-running, affair; a second is that said job involves a somewhat longer commute than I have at present, which leaves correspondingly less time in the evenings for things like blogging (I should be moving house in the short-to-medium term, but this in itself is not an un-time-consuming process); and a third is that it’s reached that time of year when pretty much all my reading energies have to go into Clarke books, which I can’t talk about. (More immediately, I’m also off to Truck Festival for the weekend, which was postponed due to floods earlier this year.) There’s a BSFA mailing on the way, and I’ll try to get around to updating the website, and I’m sure I’ll manage to get something up here once a week or so, even if it’s only a link round-up. In the meantime, any of the links in the sidebar to the right should take you to interesting substitute reading material.