To be honest, the last ten years have been such a blur I’d barely registered the fact that we have arrived at the threshold of a new decade. But here we are (or not, depending how pedantic you’re feeling – I’m happy to be guided by common usage), and it’s a useful moment for thinking about what I’ve read in that time. Or not, because, along with time passing at a speed that seems indecent, it turns out that this last decade was one in which I either didn’t read much (being a recovering postgraduate will do that to a person) or else a lot of what I did read somehow didn’t find its way into my long-term memory.
Except that, once I looked at a few lists, I realised that, actually, I had read quite a lot during that period but the effort of moving forward had somehow subsumed it into an amorphous space called ‘the recent past’. Also, I am hopeless at remembering dates of publication: last week, last month, last year, some time ago, whenever.
But I can tell you that in 2010 I was very excited about Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House. I was and am a huge admirer of McDonald’s work, and at that point also deeply preoccupied with Orhan Pamuk’s writing (still am), so the Turkish setting intrigued me, as did the presence (or indeed, mostly, absence) of a mellified man, reflecting my interest in the strange, the offbeat, the peculiar. But I also appreciated the novel’s densely layered portrayal of a near-future society with a very complex cultural identity. Looking back I can see now that The Dervish House has set the tone for a lot of my reading since then.
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.
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.
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’.
And was Karel Čapek really writing about newts?
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.