Vector #266

3 • Torque Control • editorial by Shana Worthen
4 • A Year in Review: Looking Back at 2010 • essay by Martin Lewis
5 • 2010: Books in Review • essay by Graham Andrews and Lynne Bispham and Mark Connorton and Gary Dalkin and Alan Fraser and Niall Harrison and David Hebblethwaite and Tony Keen and Paul Kincaid and Jonathan McCalmont and Martin McGrath and Anthony Nanson and Martin Potts and Paul Graham Raven and Ian Sales and Jim Steel and Martyn Taylor and Sandra Unnerman and Anne Wilson
15 • 2010: Television in Review • essay by Alison Page
20 • 2010 in Film: Not My Kind of Genre • essay by Jonathan McCalmont
24 • Strip Club: A Fanciful Flight • essay by Terry Martin
26 • The Promises and Pitfalls of a Christian Agenda in Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle • essay by Anthony Nanson
30 • Scholars and Soldiers • [Foundation Favourites • 12] • essay by Andy Sawyer
32 • Alpha Centauri • [Resonances • 61] • essay by Stephen Baxter
34 • Kincaid in Short • [Kincaid in Short] • essay by Paul Kincaid
37 • Review: Finch by Jeff VanderMeer • review by Paul Graham Raven
38 • Review: Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan • review by Jonathan McCalmont
39 • Review: Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks • review by Marcus Flavin
40 • Review: The Technician by Neal Asher • review by Stuart Carter
40 • Review: Version 43 by Philip Palmer • review by David Hebblethwaite
41 • Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu • review by Martin McGrath
41 • Review: Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson • review by Anthony Nanson
42 • Review: Music for Another World by Mark Harding • review by Dave M. Roberts
42 • Review: The Immersion Book of SF by Carmelo Rafala • review by Maureen Kincaid Speller
43 • Review: Zombie: An Anthology of the Undead by Christopher Golden • review by Colin B. Harvey [as by C. B. Harvey]
43 • Review: The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer • review by Niall Harrison
44 • Review: Feed by Mira Grant • review by Alex Williams
44 • Review: Tomes of the Dead: Anno Mortis by Rebecca Levene • review by Shaun Green
45 • Review: Songs of the Dying Earth by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin • review by L. J. Hurst
46 • Review: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks • review by Donna Scott
46 • Review: The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood • review by Anne F. Wilson
47 • Review: Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal by Sherryl Vint • review by Gwyneth Jones


[Mary] Gentle’s prose is sharp, her powers of invention brilliant, her characters real, especially the greasy, obese Casaubon with his pet rat. They are not necessarily likeable. Casaubon is a Lord, and not on Our Side (there’s a neat scene where he’s confronted with the woman who does his laundry who has to live on far less than the cost of one single garment), and when Valentine re-appears a couple of novels down the line she does a dreadful and unforgivable thing. But, in the best tradition of the malcontents in the Jacobean drama, boy, are they vivid! This was a new thing.

For a time I used the word scholarpunk for this fusion of erudition and bad-ass attitude. Fortunately no-one noticed.

Andy Sawyer

Nowhere was this tiredness more evident than in the lugubriously self-indulgent Iron Man 2. Jon Favreau’s Iron Man (2008) was something of an unexpected hit; its combination of clever casting and pseudo-political posturing caught the public’s imagination while its lighter tone and aspirational Californian setting served as a useful counterpoint to the doom and gloom of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). However, the second Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark steps on stage in the sequel, it is obvious that something is terribly wrong. The film’s onanistic triumphalism and bare-faced declaration that social ills are best confronted by private sector moral entrepreneurs feels astonishingly ugly and politically insensitive at a time when private sector entrepreneurs are having their companies propped-up at the expense of the poor and the hungry. The decision to cast Mickey Rourke as a shambling Russian baddy is laughably pretentious in a film that ultimately boils down to a bunch of computer-generated robots punching each other in the face for about an hour.

Jonathan McCalmont

I found a Darwin site where a respondent asked “who else thinks Beatrix Potter may have developed her stories, about animals with increasingly human characteristics, from acquaintance with Darwin’s theory?” The idea that Beatrix Potter had to wait for The Origin Of Species before she thought of writing about reprobate foxes, trusting piglets, thieving magpies and insolent rats may seem ridiculous but this internetgeneration query is revealing. Our animal folklore is no longer refreshed by experience. In my own lifetime, here in the UK, the estrangement that began as soon as agriculture was established, has accelerated almost to vanishing point. We see animals as pets; as entertainment products we consume through the screen (where their fate, nowadays, holds a tragic fascination). We see them, perhaps, as an increasingly problematic food source. We no longer ‘meet their gaze’ as independent neighbours. The neo-Darwinists have even been doing their damnedest to break the link that Charles Darwin forged, when he transformed our deep intuition of continuity with the animal world into ‘scientific fact’.

Gwyneth Jones

And was Karel Čapek really writing about newts?

Gwyneth Jones

On the whole, however, Vint does a good job of disentangling “the animal” from the mix and Animal Alterity is an impressive achievement. A study of this kind isn’t meant to offer solutions and there are none (beyond a rather vague promise that post-humanism will blur the line between human and animal). Instead there’s a mass of evidence identifying sf as a resource: a treasury for Animal Studies academics; a rich means of bringing those moral arguments to life —drawn from an overlooked genre that has (always, already) developed sophisticated ways of thinking about looming problems that have only just occurred to the mainstream.

To the general reader, Animal Alterity offers food for thought and a quirky compendium of offbeat and classic titles. Could a “related book” on this topic become widely popular? I don’t know. In my day, sf fans tended to be petrol-headed meat-munchers, their concern for our stewardship of the ecosphere constrained by a passion for beer, mayhem and go-faster starships. Times have changed. The younger generation may feel very differently: I hope so.

Gwyneth Jones

London Meeting: Colin Harvey

The guest at this year’s final BSFA London meeting is Colin Harvey, author of Winter Song and Damage Time, and editor of the recent anthology Dark Spires. He will be interviewed by Dave Mansfield.

As usual, the meeting will be head in the upstairs room of The Antelope: 22 Eaton Terrace, London, SW1W 8EZ. The closest tube station is Sloane Square, and a map is here.

There will be people in the bar from 6-ish, with the interview starting at 7. The meeting is free, and open to any and all — not just BSFA members — and there will be a raffle with a selection of sf books as prizes.

BSFA Book Club: Winter Song by Colin Harvey

Earlier in the year, Angry Robot very kindly sent a copy of Winter Song to all members of the BSFA. Ah ha, I thought, this represents an opportunity. (I’m not Niall, by the way; I’m Martin Lewis, the new reviews editor for Vector.)

I imagine most people reading this like to talk about books and talking is best when it is a conversation, as was proved by the success of last year’s Torque Control short story club. However, one of the things most reviewers like to see (but rarely get) is engagement with their reviews. The problem is that there are a lot of books out there which means that – unless a book has a real buzz about it – it is unlikely that a lot of people will be reading a particular novel at the same time. Regardless of how you feel about the Harry Potter series, there was something quite exciting about the sheer density of debate every time the latest book came out.

So I thought I would try and take advantage of the unusual situation of a large group of SF fans all having the same book at the same time to try and recreate that sort of debate.

Winter Song is Colin Harvey’s fifth novel – his sixth, Damage Time is out at the end of the month – and Angry Robot have given it an uncompromising tagline: “Rock-hard SF adventure. No one here gets out alive.” They further suggested you file it under [Starship Crash / Abandoned Colonists / Alien Slaughter / Hell Planet] hammering home the impression that this is going to be a very grim story. So what did the reviewers think?

Mark Chitty at Walker Of Worlds:

Winter Song is another title in the strong list Angry Robot Books has released since it’s inception earlier this year. The new imprint has had good reviews for its titles and when I saw this one coming up for an October release I was very interested – any sci-fi set in a future where humanity has expanded across the galaxy is something I want to hear more about. Winter Song was not quite what I expected, but it delivered an entertaining read in an unforgiving environment. Following Karl Allman as he crash lands on a forgotten and primitive colony world where the terraforming looks like it’s going backwards, Winter Song is a novel that has more than a few surprises up its sleeve. I was expecting to walk into this with a more typical human vs alien world theme where there were many strange and wonderful creatures. What I got was a story focused on human characters that developed and grew with each situation they face.

Jared at Pornokitsch

Although Winter Song still isn’t the cutting-edge science fiction that the imprint promises, it is a genuinely solid effort that made my morning commute a lot shorter. Literature, it ain’t – but Winter Song combines good storytelling and strong (but not overwhelming) world-building to make for an entertaining read. It doesn’t push any boundaries – if anything, this is a throwback to the Ace or DAW era. But that’s no bad thing… For a small paperback, this is a book with some big topics. Between the front and the back covers, Karl stumbles across a second tribe of lost colonists, conducts a detailed exploration of space-Viking culture, gets mauled by a wild bestiary of alien critters, hikes across a frozen wilderness and saves the world from magnetic mangling. Makes for a long day. And, in the breaks, Karl explains the rest of the universe to his Girl Friday.

Anthony G Williams on the BSFA Forum:

The first three-quarters of the story is unremittingly grim as Allman first struggles to resolve his inner conflict while working with the settlers and then tracks across a bleak wilderness, at risk from wild animals and trolls and pursued by a posse led by an angry head man. Although the SF background is always there, this part of the story has more of the flavour of a fantasy. The pace and mood change when he arrives at the beacon and discovers what it is, and the tale then becomes a tense SF drama with a spectacular, if open-ended, conclusion. The story is well-enough written, and the complex relationships between Allman, Loki and the settlers sufficiently intriguing, to carry me through a grimness which could otherwise have become tiresome.

James Maxey at Intergalactic Medicine Show:

First, let me get my big gripe out of my system. Winter Song by Colin Harvey has one of the least inviting opening chapters to a novel that I’ve ever encountered… It’s a very busy chapter, tossing out a lot of information about the ship, about Karl’s biological and technological enhancements that make his survival likely, and a brief data dump on the solar system he’s in and the planet he’s going to try to reach. The one thing it utterly lacks is anything more than a hint of who Karl is or any reason anyone should care that any of this is happening to him. I was pretty much ready to give up and move on to the next novel in my stack, but I happened to read on a few pages into the second chapter, and, lo, I was interested… On the whole, a fun read, if you make it past the clunky first chapter.

Shivari on Amazon:

I felt that the early stages where Karl is struggling with psychosis simply weren’t very convincing. It was all rather simplistic, mostly repetitions of references to Oedipus; the sex & mothering theme was a bit too obvious and heavy-handed. I started to get rather irritated by it, and was very happy when Karl reached some kind of stability. The book then presents with another issue of identity, before turning into a rather cliched space-opera. I think it was basically a good idea, but I don’t think that the author quite had the skill to pull it off. He wanted to pack too much in, perhaps?

Keith Harvey at Red Rook Review:

In conclusion, I was duly impressed with Winter Song. The prose is direct, strong, and serviceable; the characters are clearly drawn, the world of Isheimur completely realized, and the narrative convincing and satisfying. Ultimately, I was struck by the complexity of the novel. Its complexity, however, does not arise from the plot; it is rather simple. Instead, it is the magnitude of detail that supports the world-building. Harvey has succeeded in creating a fascinating planet with a unique environment, exotic fauna and flora, a medieval culture with its social constructs, traditions, and structures, and three humanoid species, not to mention several off-world cultures.

Now it’s over to you. If you aren’t a BSFA member but have read the novel please come and join in. If you aren’t a BSFA member, haven’t read it but want to get an idea about the book, Angry Robot have made a series of extracts available on blogs like Grasping For The Wind.

Review of 2009

While I was away this week, BSFA members should have received the latest mailing, including Vector 262:

That Was The Year That Was — guest editorial by Ian Whates
The BSFA Award Shortlists 2009
The Vector Reviewers’ Poll — edited by Kari Sperring
2009 in Film — by Colin Odell and Mitch LeBlanc
Progressive Scan: Genre TV in 2009 — by Abigail Nussbaum
First Impressions — book reviews edited by Kari Sperring
Foundation’s Favourites — Andy Sawyer
Resonances 58 — Stephen Baxter
The New X: 2010 — Graham Sleight

Ian’s editorial covers the printer-related challenges (read: woes) the BSFA faced last year and, as you may be able to gather from (a) the fact that Vector contains the BSFA Award shortlists but not winners and (b) the fact that the mailing also contains a booklet featuring the nominated short fiction, those aren’t over yet. We’re working on it, though.

In the meantime, however: the previous mailing, you may recall, included a copy of Colin Harvey’s novel Winter Song:

Winter Song cover

As mentioned in Vector, Martin Lewis will be running a discussion of this book here, next week — so if you haven’t cracked it open yet, you have this weekend to do so!

“The Killing Streets” by Colin Harvey

IZ225 coverI know Colin (he reviews for Strange Horizons), but this is the first of his fiction I’ve read. It piles novum upon change upon invention, seen through a couple of days in the life of an unemployed man in near-future Bristol. One: Snarks, big subterranean bioweapon beasts, infest the country, drawn to the surface by rhythmic vibrations, such as those produced by walking. Two: jobs are scarce, and/or qualifications have been devalued; even the most menial require good degrees, if not doctorates. Three: there’s a deadly, weaponised disease called Blacktongue, that’s almost always fatal and spreads by touch, on the loose. Four: the surveillance state is worse; the narrator’s wife works at the Department of Work and Pensions, referred to as “the Stasi” by some characters; mobile phones are (it is assumed) routinely used to track citizens’ whereabouts. And so on. This is all so vigorously grim that it can’t really be taken entirely seriously, and I’m not wholly sure it coheres; but it’s fun, and bodes well for the proposed Winter Song reading group.