History and In Great Waters

I’ve been meaning to post this all week, but somehow not getting around to it. Anyway: as Martin noted, the most popular fiction books in this year’s Strange Horizons best of the year round-up were, first, The City & The City by China Mieville, second, In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield, and third equal, Ark by Stephen Baxter and Cloud & Ashes by Greer Gilman. (And wouldn’t those four be a good start for a Hugo shortlist?) I’d been meaning to link to Hannah’s appreciative post about In Great Waters anyway, but it picked up this fascinating comment:

I happened to read this just this week because sovay told me to, and it staggered me. It’s set in a period where I do know the history very well, and one of the things that absolutely blew me away was the way it uses the real history to create suspense. After the marriage, I was absolutely terrified for everybody, simply because of the names of the characters, because she’s Anne and he’s Henry and the ramifications of that. Anne and Mary are the Boleyn girls, with Philip changed from brother to uncle, incestuous implications and all. I sat there going oh, God, do not be Anne of the thousand days, it would be so easy, with the most significant man Anne Boleyn was accused of adultery with (other than Philip) cast as Henry’s foster-brother… and I knew what kind of trouble Henry was going to have most violently on coming to the throne, and couldn’t guess how they were going to get out of it. Because of course Samuel is Saint Sir Thomas More, and that was a trainwreck coming.

I can’t recall seeing another novel that has done this particular thing, where it isn’t a one-to-one AU but the resonances of our history shape the tensions of the plot without being either obtrusive or implausible. The expectations that come from knowing what ought to happen to these people make the last half of the book almost unbearably cruel, but then also pull off what I experienced as a genuine eucatastrophe, also an incredibly rare bird.

This book gets my Hugo nomination this year, and I need to write a long review in hopes of drawing the attention of more people towards it, because I’ve seen almost no buzz, which is a damn shame.

The long review has, sadly, not appeared yet, but I’d love to hear more about this side of the book; history is very much not my thing, so my appreciation for In Great Waters — it’s getting my Hugo nomination, too — is independent of any of these resonances.

Also of note: Faren Miller’s Locus review.

While Whitfield’s strong sense of character gives life and complexity even to the schemers, arrogant power-mongers, and borderline maniacs who collectively make life for Henry, Anne and other relative innocents more dangerous than any ocean current swarming with sharks, her two young protagonists stand at the heart of the book. Still it’s not just their tale. She interweaves the story of their trials and maturation into a mixture of real and imagined political and cultural history (both English and in a larger European sphere) that manages to be thoroughly compelling, even without the drama of those later revolutions.

Go on, pick up a copy of In Great Waters. You know you want to.

How To Sell Me A Book

In case anyone was wondering, the answer is to write a review like Matt Denault’s review of Filaria by Brent Hayward, published last year by ChiZine Publications:

At a time when novels that are carbon copies of an author’s previous work and pastiches banged out due to contractual obligations have been short-listed for major genre awards, it is immeasurably refreshing to encounter a book that feels carefully yet ambitiously wrought to maximize the potential of its project. This is not to suggest that Filaria is (or rather, was) award-worthy, but the book is a reminder that this mixture of care and ambition marks a useful baseline for what we expect of fiction. Filaria is not a work that dazzles with new ideas, rather it impresses by deploying a greater set of storytelling techniques than many better-known works, and in so doing renews the sense of wonder associated with familiar concepts of SF and horror. The result is a novel that is entertaining in the commonly understood, page-turning sense, without fatally insulting the intelligence or the aesthetics of a cultivated reader. Filaria is a short book whose movements occur in a tightly enclosed space, that nonetheless manages to capture a great deal of the horror and the hope of human endeavor.

There is a level, I admit, on which the review plays to my ego: here is an interesting, under-appreciated novel, it says, and I think ooh, I want to know about the cool thing. Of such reactions is buzz made. But rather more important factors include the thoroughness of the analysis, the clarity about the reviewer’s own tastes and expectations, the care taken in composition — the review is a good piece of writing in itself, which makes me trust the recommendation that much more — and the modesty and specificity of its claims. It does not say Filaria is a criminally neglected masterwork; it does not say that it is flawless. It says: “Filaria is good because it handles the basics of entertaining storytelling so well, balancing plot, character, setting, prose, and pacing, while encompassing core themes of both SF and horror”; and that what it uses those elements to do is interesting. And so I ordered a copy for myself, and it arrived a couple of days ago.

On Green

Adrienne Martini, in the June 2009 Locus:

Green the book is about Green the girl, a waif who was purchased from her father and carried across the sea, where she is stripped of all that she has known, which includes her language and name. “That is the last of what I remember of that time in my life, before it all changed: a white ox, a wooden bell, and my father forever turning away from me”. The image itself is heartbreaking, but this sentence is also full of an evocative rhythm that infects the rest of Lake’s prose. The words almost have their own energy.
[…]
At its thematic core, Green is about human trafficking and a meditation on how actions always have unintended consequences. Or as Green herself points out, “Freedom has sch strange and unexpected prices”. One such price is Green as a character. Given all that she has endured and how realistically Lake uses her experience to influence her actions, Green is tough to embrace. While readers pull for her success, we pull away from her personality. She’s not, in other words, someone you’d want to have a beer with.

What’s most striking may be the volume of thought that illuminates Green. What could be a straightforward hero’s journey story is made much richer by Lake’s attention to detail, which merges seamlessly into the main action without ever weighing it down. His touch is deft when filling in the texture of Green’s world.

Maureen Kincaid Speller, in Interzone 222:

We might be in familiar territory, with Green perhaps as the unrecognised last scion of a once noble house, being secretly trained to recover her destiny, but Lake doesn’t take the easy road. Instead, the novel focuses as much on Green’s intense desire to preserve her sense of self and find a future of her own choosing, as it does on the story’s broader action. Rather than following a traditional pattern of quest, discovery and resolution, significant parts of the story are driven by Green’s attempts to find her own way, using the distorted set of skills she has acquired, and then twisted by a need for her to respond to the failures of others. People plot but they don’t plan; they achieve goals but don’t consider the consequences of doing so, and Green is wrenched from the path she is attempting to follow, having trained to become a Blade of the Lily Temple, to once again become part of someone else’s scheme. One of the striking features of this novel is its low-key but persistent emphasis on how difficult it is for women to live in this world as individuals.

John Clute at Sci-Fi Wire:

That, on the other hand, Lake’s savagely pollarded heroine never seems to shut her mouth should come as no surprise either, I guess: because it is clearly not part of Lake’s belief system, or of his writerly strategy over the long consolatory pages of Green, to treat the savageries of immurement Green suffers as a child as ultimately deforming. Wolfe, whose example has clearly shaped Green, may be the only contemporary author of American fantastic literature consistently to treat damage as damaging; Lake adheres to a sunnier version of the costs of being born in prison: that spunk will unlock the barred door.
[…]
It’s warmingly clear that Lake expects us to recognize his use of a story model closely identified with the work of Gene Wolfe. It is not a model that Wolfe himself created, of course: first person narratives couched in the form of confessions put on paper for us to read have been common since the 18th century, when they worked to affirm the truth of what was being told. There is no gap between the telling and the tale in Daniel Defoe. Nor did Wolfe create the unreliable narrator, a device of telling that becomes fully self-conscious in Club Stories like Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw” (1898).

Wolfe’s innovation has been to inject a modernist problematic into all those elements that such narratives are ostensibly laid down to make clear: basic data about the narrator’s true identity and parenthood and victims and lovers and true occupation and ultimate destiny are all unreliably conveyed; the engines of transformation that actually render a small child into an armoured and dangerous adult creature can be uncovered only through inference; the motives of the narrator’s parents or owners behind the walls of the house or school or prison or skull are invariably left untold or lied about; and finally, the narrator’s motives for making his story (in Wolfe the narrator is always male) available for us to read are similarly left dark.
[…]
It is here we come to something of a sticking point, which is rage. The young peasant girl Green (she refuses to use the name her owner gives her), who has spent most of her life in a deep Skinner Box being shaped, refuses to accept her destiny. After all her travails, she tells us, “I was still me“, and my heart sank. The person we have thought she was—the aleph self gaining some dark noumenousness from her immurement in the heart of the Wolfean world she had been selected for as an infant—turns out to be a cloak that only half conceals a moderately sophisticated Liberal Humanist teenager from California with anger issues. Made berserk by the thought that she—a simple illiterate peasant lass from a subsistance rice paddy—has been bought and educated by immortals whose nature and purpose on the plate of the world we have not yet learned, Green kills one of her teaching Mistresses, scars her face so she cannot become a concubine, and escapes with Dancing Mistress into the City.

Kyra Smith at Strange Horizons:

Specifically, there are two ways in which we can interpret Green’s sadomasochistic lesbianism. We can see it as the sort of empowering lesbianism practiced by apparently kick-ass fantasy heroines or we can see it as yet further evidence that Green has been completely broken by her time of enslavement. Either reading is discomforting, the former because it strikes me as a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of homosexuality to view it as more legitimising than heterosexuality, and the latter because it implies a direct causal relationship between abuse and ‘aberrant’ sexual behaviour. In both cases, Green’s sexual preferences are reduced to something illustrative rather authentic. The upshot is that there is no sense of emotional reality to her attractions beyond shared orientation and the possibility, perhaps, that the author finds the idea of two girls getting it on a bit hot. Or one girl and a catgirl. I’m not joking.
[…]
The lack of emotional resonance can be partly attributed to the difficulties of first person narration, for Green is relentlessly, tediously first person. Constant allusions to the act of narration itself suck any tension from the story and, because Green lacks any real agency for most of the novel, the result is peculiarly picaresque—a string of semi-arbitrary incidents that may, or may not, connect to other semi-arbitrary incidents. And while attempting to ground big political themes in the personal, by entrenching the reader in a central character, is admirable, the ultimate effect, in this instance, is to simply put all the big, exciting, world changing events at a distance. Green herself is not exactly pleasant company—she’s cold, mistrustful, misanthropic, and self-absorbed to such an extent that the supporting cast are all bland, fuzzy figures in whom it is nearly impossible to invest.
[…]
I think I would have had less of a problem with Green had I been able to shake the suspicion I was meant to think she was awesome. She does kick-ass fantasy heroine things like kill people, sleep around, win fights and be Chosen By The Gods (yes, she’s that too) and her only flaws are the sort of flaws it is acceptable for a strong woman to have—i.e. she is a little bit impulsive, a little bit ruthless and just too gosh darn stubborn sometimes. Because of this, and her general disinclination to give a damn about anyone else, she never felt like a real person to me.

Karen Burnham at SF Signal:

Jay Lake’s Green is a character-driven fantasy with enough action to satisfy the most blood-thirsty of us. The important part is Green, the girl, the heroine, the character we come to love and root for. Fate buffets her, and few heroines really maintain their agency in the face of the forces arrayed against them. But Green manages to struggle through and we get to enjoy watching her do it. Even when the plot fades into the background, it’s enjoyable to watch her learn and grow.

She’s not perfect–she makes a lot of immature fuck-ups and occasionally you just want to smack her–but when you consider her age (the book covers her life from roughly age 3 to perhaps 16) you can understand it. Who among us always made the right call as a young teenager? But here’s the really important part: Green is an amazingly Competent Woman; she can dance, fight, sneak, kill, cook, sew, account, philosophize, and more. She’s also gorgeous, of course. This reminds us all of so many female heroines throughout literature. I’m thinking in the past of Heinlein women and just recently in the character of Jin Li Tam in Ken Schole’s Lamentation. However in Green, Lake takes us through all the steps needed to create that woman. It is a very unpleasant reality.

Terry Weyna at Reading the Leaves:

I greatly enjoyed reading the last two-thirds of the book. Lake writes in Green’s voice to great effect, exploring her confidence and her self-doubt, her determination and her self-pity. The story told in this segment, if seemingly different from the story of Green’s upbringing, is exciting. For me, though, it simply did not work as well as the first segment. I became so invested in seeing Green gain her freedom that once she did, nothing else seemed quite as interesting. It’s an interesting writing problem: how does one achieve such a goal and still make what comes after seem of utmost importance to the reader? Lake does not seem to have figured that out. Again, the rest of the book is enjoyable, but it seems so very different from what went before that it must be noted as a major flaw.

Daniel Hemmens at FerretBrain:

It gets worse, considerably worse, when she returns to her home. Suddenly Copper Downs goes from being not merely more affluent than her homeland but objectively better. Green states, quite clearly, that:

My captors had been right. Rather I should have been on my knees thanking the Factor for what he had taken me from.

Now I know that this is partly Green giving in to despair, but nothing in the text challenges this conclusion. It’s rather an object lesson in the dangers of taking on too many genre stereotypes at once.

Had this been the story of a white man who was taken away from his pseudo-European farming village and conscripted into the armies of the Dark Lord of Evil then I would have been overjoyed to find him returning home to realise that his long lost homeland was a poverty stricken shithole and his father was a bastard who never cared about him. It would challenge the assumptions of a genre that frequently glamourises poverty, and it wouldn’t have any creepy overtones (unless you want to make a big thing about militarism).

Make the white man a south-Asian woman, however, and you start getting into difficulties, because now you’re not saying “being poor sucks” you’re saying “being foreign sucks”. Turn conscription into slavery and you’re not saying “you might be better off in the army than on a farm” you’re saying “you might be better off as a slave in Europe than as a free man in your own country.” Add in the courtesan angle and you’re saying “it is a good thing for south-Asian women to be sold as sex slaves to European men.”

I hope I don’t need to point out that this really isn’t okay.

Links

I’m still in Cologne at the moment, but have some links to keep you amused. One: Paul Witcover’s Locus review of The Secret History of Science Fiction:

Kelly and Kessel have selected stories from inside and outside the genre to demonstrate that, in fact, despite the continued reliance of publishers on such marketing labels as science fiction and fantasy, “the divide between mainstream and science fiction is more apparent than real,” and that “outside of the public eye,” writers on both sides of the supposed divide have been producing work that, on the one hand, has the ambition and sophistication of literary fiction, and, on the other, makes use of the tropes of speculative fiction, though not necessarily labeled as such by writers, critics, or readers. This is the secret history to which the title refers.

It’s a bold assertion, and I have a lot of sympathy for it. In fact, before I read this anthology, I was inclined to agree with it. But as I read these stories, I began to doubt it more and more, and finally I became convinced that Kelly and Kessel are wrong in an centrally important way, and that there really are substantial differences between genre speculative fiction of literary ambition and what is written outside the genre, even if it contains speculative elements. And I think these stories prove it: that is the secret history of The Secret History.

Note that John Kessel turns up to discuss in the comments.

Two: Mark Newton and Dan Abnett discuss tie-in fiction:

I’ve never known tie-in novels receive so much fanfare and review coverage as [Sebastian Faulks’ Bond and Eoin Colfer’s Hitch-Hiker’s]: because that’s the other bizarre thing – franchise fiction tends to be ignored by reviewers, especially in major genre magazines. They treat it as a lesser product, and hate to give it air time. I’ve heard some talk that, because it’s assumed tie-in fiction always involves a one-off payment and no royalties, the author gets little benefit. That’s certainly not the case for several franchises, and Some tie-in books make careers.

Sometimes I find that genre magazines are ignoring the very “brands” that sell hundreds of thousands of copies – brands, therefore, that readers want to know about.

I merely note that I was out at dinner the other night, and my colleagues were discussing Harry Potter and some other franchise I temporarily forget, and expected me to know all about them; when in fact neither interests me in the least. [EDIT: still can’t remember what the other franchise/series discussed was, but I did remember the other thing I wanted to say: Faulks’ and Colfers’ books may have attracted a lot of attention, but not much of it was positive.]

Terry Bisson interviews Kim Stanley Robinson:

There are a lot of problems in writing utopias, but they can be opportunities. The usual objection—that they must be boring—are often political attacks, or ignorant repeating of a line, or another way of saying “No expository lumps please, it has to be about me.” The political attacks are interesting to parse. “Utopia would be boring because there would be no conflicts, history would stop, there would be no great art, no drama, no magnificence.” This is always said by white people with a full belly. My feeling is that if they were hungry and sick and living in a cardboard shack they would be more willing to give utopia a try.

And if we did achieve a just and sustainable world civilization, I’m confident there would still be enough drama, as I tried to show in Pacific Edge. There would still be love lost, there would still be death. That would be enough. The horribleness of unnecessary tragedy may be lessened and the people who like that kind of thing would have to deal with a reduction in their supply of drama.

I really must re-read Pacific Edge soon.

And for good measure, another KSR interview, this one by Alison Flood:

But this rapid change, in turn, leads to another sort of crisis. “Depending what we do in next 20 years, it’s very hard to be plausible, to say this is what’s going to happen. At that point you can’t write science fiction, [so] the genre is in a little bit of a crisis, and all the young people are reading fantasy.” Robinson himself, however, presses on undaunted. He’s considering future novels set around Saturn or Mercury; he’s looking into a book about Herman Melville, who “after his career as a novelist crashed had another career as a customs inspector”; he’s keen to put what he learnt from Galileo – the work ethic, “the tenacity of the man”, into practice.

But he worries about “the crisis for this tiny genre”, recently launching an impassioned defence of science fiction in the New Scientist, where he accused the Man Booker judges of neglecting what he called “the best British literature of our time”. “It’s a different situation than it was when I began, the relation between world and genre. Back then you could read science fiction and get a sense of what the world was going to be – now, I don’t think you can be prophets in the same way,” he says. “If the world is a science fiction novel then what do you read? What can the literature do for you?”

Oh, and Dollhouse has been cancelled, though all 13 ordered episodes will air. Not in the least surprising, and in some ways deserved, though I will still miss it; there are plenty of failures on tv, but very little ambition.

Le Guin on Atwood

I would like to believe that the gambit Ursula Le Guin deploys in her review of The Year of the Flood works:

In her recent, brilliant essay collection, Moving Targets, she says that everything that happens in her novels is possible and may even have already happened, so they can’t be science fiction, which is “fiction in which things happen that are not possible today”. This arbitrarily restrictive definition seems designed to protect her novels from being relegated to a genre still shunned by hidebound readers, reviewers and prize-awarders. She doesn’t want the literary bigots to shove her into the literary ghetto.

Who can blame her? I feel obliged to respect her wish, although it forces me, too, into a false position. I could talk about her new book more freely, more truly, if I could talk about it as what it is, using the lively vocabulary of modern science-fiction criticism, giving it the praise it deserves as a work of unusual cautionary imagination and satirical invention. As it is, I must restrict myself to the vocabulary and expectations suitable to a realistic novel, even if forced by those limitations into a less favourable stance.

Since she ends up calling the book “extraordinary”, however, it seems that it doesn’t count for that much in the end. On the other hand, she calls the book “extraordinary”, which bodes well for me as a reader.

Year of the Floods

Interesting review-feature by Robin McKie in yesterday’s Observer:

Today, in these more strained ecological times, this kind of storytelling has taken on a harder edge and eco-thrillers have become a more robust genre – both on the page and on the screen. Upcoming films such as 2012 and The Book of Eli portray ecological and technological catastrophes like those depicted in The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and I Am Legend (2007). At the same time, plays such as Resilience and On the Beach have explored environmental issues with considerable success, while forthcoming novels from William Boyd, Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan will also pursue ecological themes.

In short, environmental fiction is moving away from its roots in science fiction and is becoming part of mainstream literature – as is revealed by some of the most recent novels to tackle themes of climate change and the like.

I have both Cold Earth and The Rapture on my (unwieldy) TBR pile at the moment, and while McKie’s argument isn’t as rigorously argued as perhaps it might be, I do think he’s on to something. I’ve thought for a while that if I had a spare year or two, a project I would like to tackle is an analysis of the development of treatments of climate change — as distinct from disaster stories — in science fiction, both because I think it’s an interesting marker of how genre sf has engaged (or failed to engage) with the future in which we are actually living, and because I think it’s an interesting marker of the relationship between genre sf and mainstream-published sf, as McKie suggests. It seems to me there is are interestingly intertwined stories to be told there, and that the body of work that would need to be covered is not entirely unmanageable. [EDIT: I completely forgot that we’d discussed some of these issues before.]

Also, from the end of the article:

Solar by Ian McEwan. The idea for Solar (working title, due out in 2010) came to McEwan while stuck on a boat in the Arctic. His subject is climate change, considered through a central character who “steadily gets fatter through the novel” and the innate inability of human nature to counter it

Hmmm.

The 2009 Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist

Forty-six from seventeen publishers have become six from four. There are two previous winners among the nominated authors, and two first-timers (one with their first novel); one woman, and two Americans. One novel also appears on the BSFA Best Novel shortlist. There are, this year, quite a lot of spaceships.

Yes, the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist is upon us! This year’s judges — for the British Science Fiction Association, Chris Hill and Ruth O’Reilly; for the Science Fiction Foundation, Robert Hanks and Rhiannon Lassiter; and for SF Crowsnest.com, Pauline Morgan — have deliberated, and decided.

Paul Billinger, Chair of the judges, reports:

“It was a long and intense meeting to decide this year’s shortlist, with passionate debate from all of the judges. Although at times it seemed almost impossible, they eventually concluded that these six books were the ones that demonstrated to them what was best about the science fiction novels published in 2008.”

And Award Administrator Tom Hunter says:

“Speculation and active debate have always surrounded the announcement of the award shortlist, and earlier this year we took the unprecedented step of releasing the full long list of eligible submitted works from which this final shortlist was decided. Our aim was to highlight the strength and diversity of current science fiction publishing and to show the awesome task that faces our judging panel every year. I think they’ve risen to this challenge admirably and I’m greatly looking forward to the full range of reactions and conversations to come and, of course, to finding out the eventual winner at the end of April.”

That winner will be announced on Wednesday 29th April, at a ceremony held on the opening night of the Sci-Fi London film festival. They will receive £2009, and a commemorative engraved bookend.

Let the debate begin! I’ll be updating this post with links to additional reviews as they appear, but for now, here are the nominees:

Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod (PS Publishing)

Reviewed by Adam Roberts for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Eric Brown for The Guardian
An appreciation by Helena Bowles
Reviewed by Tanya Brown
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite at Follow the Thread
Reviewed by Niall here

The Quiet War by Paul McAuley (Gollancz)

Reviewed by Abigail Nussbaum for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Paul Kincaid for SF Site
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Duncan Lawie for The Zone
Reviewed by Eric Brown for The Guardian
Reviewed by Annalee Newitz at io9
Reviewed by Lisa Tuttle for The Times
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by Niall here

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz)

Reviewed by Dan Hartland for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Rich Horton for SF Site
Reviewed by Paul Kincaid for SF Site
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by Charlie Jane Anders at io9
Reviewed by Lisa Tuttle for The Times
Reviewed by Eric Brown for The Guardian
Reviewed by Jonathan Wright for SFX
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite at Follow the Thread
Reviewed by Niall here

Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Atlantic)

Reviewed by Martin Lewis for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Gary K Wolfe for Locus
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by Abigail Nussbaum at Asking the Wrong Questions
Reviewed by Michael Dirda for the Washington Post
Reviewed by Laura Miller for the LA Times
Reviewed by Tom Shippey for the TLS
Reviewed by Andrew McKie for The Telegraph
Reviewed by Jakob Schmidt for SF Site
Reviewed at The Complete Review
Reviewed by Niall here
Reviewed by Liz here

The Margarets by Sheri S Tepper (Gollancz)

Reviewed by Nic Clarke and Sherryl Vint for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Andrew McKie for The Telegraph
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by Annalee Newitz at io9
Reviewed by David Langford for SFX
Reviewed by Cynthia Ward for Sci-Fi Weekly
Reviewed by Adrienne Martini for Bookslut

Martin Martin’s on the Other Side by Mark Wernham (Jonathan Cape)

Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Jonathan Gibbs for The Independent
Reviewed by Cathi Unsworth for The Guardian
Reviewed by Saxon Bullock for SFX
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite at Follow the Thread
Reviewed by Andrew McKie for The Telegraph

Roundups and miscellany
Edward James
Adam Roberts
Nic Clarke
Niall’s roundup
A poll
The winner

Previous shortlist roundups
2008
2007

Maps and Legends

Maps and Legends coverMy review of Michael Chabon’s non-fiction collection Maps and Legends is up at Fruitless Recursion:

The title of Michael Chabon’s first collection of non-fiction is taken from one of the shortest pieces in the book, a brief essay about growing up in the planned community of Columbia, Maryland in the late sixties and early seventies. There is a literal map described, a partial streetmap that Chabon acquired from the city Exhibit Center, and was fascinated by, for its relation to an incomplete reality. Many of the street names alluded to the work of American writers and poets, but to Chabon they were most notable for referring to places that hadn’t been built yet. “They were like magic spells,” he writes, “each one calibrated to call into being one particular stretch of blacktop, sidewalk, and lawn, and no other” (31). Chabon then describes growing up, and feeling disillusioned about some of the lessons he had taken from life in Columbia, such as the extent to which America is racially integrated. Still and all, he says, he remembers the Exhibit Centre map with fondness, “however provisional” it and Columbia proved to be, and he attributes this fondness in part to the way the map steered him into the literary world. I’m not sure the word “legend” appears anywhere in the essay other than the title, but in that context it seems clear to me that it refers both to the literary legends — the stories — implicit in the map, and the legend of his own youth that Chabon is creating, not least because Maps and Legends, as a book, is divided between those two subjects.

Also in this issue: Paul Kincaid on Mike Ashley’s Gateways to Forever, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro on Gabriel McKee’s The Gospel According to Science Fiction, and Jonathan McCalmont on Studies in Modern Horror, edited by NGChristakos.