This issue of Vector is dedicated, in part, to revisiting the subject of women writers of science fiction. Few female UK-based science fiction authors currently have contracts, but worldwide, there’s a great deal going on, a geographic, cultural, and linguistic diversity which Cheryl Morgan surveys in this issue. I came away from reading it with a massively expanded to-read list, and I hope it inspires you similarly. Tony Keen examines the roles of death and transformation in Justina Robson’s books Natural History (one of the books on last year’s list of the previous decades best science fiction by women) and Living Next Door to the God of Love. In contrast, Niall Harrison examines a very different author, Glasgow-based Julie Bertagna. Her post-apocalyptic trilogy, which begins with Exodus, provides an intriguing comparison with Stephen Baxter’s current series of prehistoric climate change novels which began with Stone Spring.
The second part of Victor Grech’s three-part series on gender in science fiction doesn’t focus on women science fiction authors, but does deal with quite a few of them in the process of discussing the variety of single-gendered world in science fiction. In particular, he examines the in-story reasons, the biological explanations for their existence, and the degrees to which those mechanisms are found in the ecologies of our own world.Shana Worthen
What a welcome sight! The post just arrived, and with it, the latest BSFA mailing. In addition to Vector, there’s an issue of Quantum, the BSFA’s occasional newsletter; and a paper copy of the ballot for the BSFA Awards (also available online).
There’s also a NewCon Press sampler which includes excerpts from The Outcast and the Little One by Andy West and Kim Lakin-Smith’s BSFA best novel-nominated Cyber Circus. Ian Whates assures me that the booklet went to press well before the BSFA Award nominations for best novel were known and announced.
Lest the prompt arrival of the paper copy of the ballot worry anyone, we’re still planning to do a short story booklet of stories nominated for the BSFA award for the best short story of 2011; but the logistics of that take just long enough that it’ll be coming in the mailing after this one.
This issue of Vector is partially a followup to the poll which Niall ran last year, on the best sf novels by women written in the previous decade. It also has Adam Roberts’ reflections on writing music entries for the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, and Andrew M Butler’s review of the three versions of the John Martin: Apocalypse show which recently closed at the Tate Britain. (The review was printed here on Torque Control in late December to make sure it would be read before the show closed!)
Vector 269 is labeled the Spring 2012 issue, which means we seem to have skipped winter entirely, despite what today’s chilly weather seems to imply.
Vector 269 contains…
Women SF Writers: An Endangered Species? – Cheryl Morgan
Death and Transcendence in the “Forged” Novels of Justina Robson – Tony Keen
Telling the World: The Exodus Trilogy by Julie Bertagna – Niall Harrison
Single-Gendered Worlds In Science- Fiction – Better For Whom? – Victor Grech with Clare Thake-Vassallo, and Ivan Callus
On Science Fiction Music – Adam Roberts
John Martin: Apocalypse – A Review – Andrew M Butler
Kincaid in Short – Paul Kincaid
Resonances – Stephen Baxter
Foundation Favourites – Andy Sawyer
Picture This – Terry Martin
The BSFA Review – edited by Martin Lewis
The BSFA is delighted to announce the shortlisted nominees for the 2011 BSFA Awards.
The nominees are:
Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith (Newcon Press)
Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan)
The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)
By Light Alone by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)
Best Short Fiction
The Silver Wind by Nina Allan (Interzone 233, TTA Press)
The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell (Asimov’s, July)
Afterbirth by Kameron Hurley (Kameron Hurley’s own website)
Covehithe by China Mieville (The Guardian)
Of Dawn by Al Robertson (Interzone 235, TTA Press)
Out of This World: Science Fiction but not as we Know it by Mike Ashley (British Library)
The SF Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition ed. John Clute, Peter Nicholls and David Langford (website)
Review of Arslan by M J Engh, Abigail Nussbaum (Asking the Wrong Questions blog)
SF Mistressworks, ed. Ian Sales (website)
Pornokitsch, ed. Jared Shurin and Anne Perry (website)
The Unsilent Library: Essays on the Russell T. Davies Era of the New Doctor Who (Foundation Studies in Science Fiction), ed. Graham Sleight, Tony Keen and Simon Bradshaw (Science Fiction Foundation)
Cover of Ian Whates’s The Noise Revealed by Dominic Harman (Solaris)
Cover and illustrations of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls by Jim Kay (Walker)
Cover of Lavie Tidhar’s Osama by Pedro Marques (PS Publishing)
Cover of Liz Williams’s A Glass of Shadow by Anne Sudworth (Newcon Press)
This year a number of members nominated the British Library’s Out of This World exhibition for the Non-Fiction Award. The Committee has decided that this does not meet the eligiblity criteria for the award. However, in recognition of the support it has received and its success in encouraging people to explore and enjoy science fiction (one of the primary purposes of the BSFA Awards) will be giving it the status of Specially Commended. In addition, the accompanying book by Mike Ashley made the shortlist and can still be voted on, along with the other nominees.
Members of the BSFA and Eastercon will now have the opportunity to vote on the shortlists.
Advance voting forms will be posted out to BSFA members, who will have until 2nd April 2012 to get their nominations in. They can do that by post, email or online form, ranking each of the nominees according to their personal preference: 1 for favourite, 2 for second favourite etc. They don’t have to rank all nominees and they don’t have to vote in every category. The awards ballot is available online here. After 2nd April, the only way to get your voice heard will be to attend the Eastercon and grab a ballot form from your pack or the BSFA desk. Deadline for voting at Eastercon will be 12 noon on the day of the ceremony, the date of which will be confirmed shortly.
Congratulations to the nominees!
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
Saturday morning’s post brought with it Vector 265, at long last. Not just Vector: the mailing includes a booklet in memory of Rob Holstock, edited by Niall Harrison; the BSFA Awards booklet, with all of the shortlisted short stories; and a ballot for voting on the BSFA awards.
Vector 265 is the last one edited by Niall, and it’s a hefty one, a rich tribute to Stephen Baxter, plus book reviews, edited by Martin Lewis. For those of you not currently BSFA members, here is what you’re missing out on:
Table of Contents
“That Cosmological Feeling: An Interview with Stephen Baxter”
“Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Cycle: No Coming Home”, Jonathan McCalmont
“The Settee and the Stars: Stephen Baxter and the Dilemma of Scale”, Gary K Wolfe
“An Atomic Theory of Baxter’s Fiction”, Adam Roberts
“Three Colours NASA: Reflections on Stephen Baxter’s ‘NASA’ trilogy”, Simon Bradshaw
“Putting the Past into the Future: The Time’s Tapestry sequence”, Tony Keen
“Foundation’s Favourite: Stone Spring”, Andy Sawyer
“Baxter’s People”, Niall Harrison
“Giant Killer Rodents in Space Armour, With Guns: the other side of Stephen Baxter”, Graham Sleight
“First Impressions”, Martin Lewis
Book reviews edited by Martin Lewis
Orgasmachine by Ian Watson (Newcon Press, 2010) – reviewed by
Shine, edited by Jetse de Vries (Solaris, 2010) – reviewed by
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz, 2010) –
reviewed by Paul Kincaid
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz, 2010) – reviewed
by Tony Keen
The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod (Orbit, 2010) – reviewed by
The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross (Orbit, 2010) –
reviewed by Martin Potts
Escape From Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (Tor, 2009)
– reviewed by Dave M Roberts
The Turing Test by Chris Beckett and The Last Reef by
Gareth L Powell (Elastic Press, 2008) – reviewed by Dave M Roberts
The Holy Machine (Corvus, 2010) and Marcher (Cosmos
Books, 2008) by Chris Beckett – reviewed by Jim Steel
Inside/Outside – Chris Beckett interviewed by Paul Graham Raven
Major Carnage by Gord Zajac (ChiZine Publications, 2010) –
reviewed by Shaun Green
Nexus: Ascension by Robert Boyczuk (ChiZine Pubications, 2010)
– reviewed by Graham Andrews
The Nemesis List by RJ Frith – reviewed by Ben Jeapes
The Noise Within by Ian Whates (Solaris, 2010) – reviewed by
Brave Story and The Book Of Heroes by Miyuke Miyabe
(Haikasoru, 2007 and 2009) – reviewed by Cherith Baldry
WE by John Dickinson (David Fickling Books, 2010) – reviewed by
I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (Penguin, 2010) – reviewed by CB Harvey
Monsters Of Men by Patrick Ness (Walker Books, 2010) – reviewed
by Anne F Wilson
The Iron Hunt, Darkness Calls and A Wild Light by
Marjorie M Liu (Orbit, 2008-10) – reviewed by Amanda Rutter
The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan (Orbit, 2009) – reviewed by
Shadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov (Simon & Schuster, 2010) –
reviewed by Sandra Unerman
The Office Of Shadow by Mathew Sturges (Pyr, 2010) – reviewed
by AP Canavan
Lord Of The Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier (Orbit, 2010) –
reviewed by Lynne Bispham
BSFA Awards Shortlist 2011
Anyone who joined the BSFA recently may end up with the wrong impression as to how frequently mailings occur, inasmuch as we expect the next one to be sent out within the next month-or-so. It’s all still quarterly, however.
Febraury’s London meeting will feature Matt Brooker (D’Israeli) (Eagle Award-winning artist of Stickleback and Scarlet Traces) will be interviewed by Tony Keen (London meetings organizer).
Date: Wednesday 23rd February 2011
Venue: The Upstairs room at the Antelope Tavern. 22, Eaton Terrace, Belgravia, London, SW1W 8EZ. The nearest tube station is Sloane Square (District/Circle) A map of the location is here.
All are welcome! (No entry fee or tickets. Non-members welcome.) The Interview will commence at 7.00 pm, but the room is open from 6.00 (and fans in the downstairs bar from 5). There will be a raffle (£1 for five tickets), with a selection of sf novels as prizes.
Future London Meetings
23rd March 2011 * – BSFA Awards Meeting
20th April 2011 ** – DAVID WEBER: Interviewer TBC
25th May 2011 – TBC
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz, 2010)
Reviewed by Tony Keen
(This is an expanded version of a review that appeared in Vector #266.)
I am about to board a tram that will take me towards Necatibey Cadessi, where the action of Ian McDonald’s new novel The Dervish House begins. As in the novel, there is a Champions League match in Turkey in a few days, though it is Manchester United versus Bursaspor, not Galatasaray and Arsenal. This information is biographical to me personally, but it may help you understand why this novel connects with me so beautifully.
This summer, posters appeared advertising Dan Brown’s latest novel, showing various situations in which people are so wrapped up in reading Brown’s The Lost Symbol that they are ignorant of the dangers around them. In one, a man is merrily absorbed in his book while his barbecue turns into an inferno. I like to think that he would cast the Brown itself into the flames should some kind person show him a copy of The Dervish House, a novel that presses many of the same buttons as Brown’s book but is the work of an immeasurably more talented writer.
The Dervish House is the third of McDonald’s loose trilogy of ‘post-colonial’ novels, after River of Gods and Brasyl, both of which won the BSFA Award. These three novels (and the short story collection Cyberabad Days) take science fiction outside the normal First World settings of North America, Europe and Japan, and instead explore India, Brazil and, now, Turkey. In a lesser writer’s hands, the danger would be that such accounts could become patronizing. But McDonald knows how to avoid the traps of white colonialism. His interest in settings that would, for most writers, be non-traditional, goes back at least to Sacrifice of Fools, set in the Belfast in which he has lived for most of his life, a background most writers would pass over, or get horribly wrong. In the three recent novels, McDonald has plainly done his research; as a result he paints pictures of the countries that are vibrant and convincing, taking them on their own terms. Apart from the changes that have taken place recently, and further changes that McDonald predicts, The Dervish House showcases a fully-realised Turkey which is fundamentally the nation I remember from my own visits in the nineties and earlier this decade, and indeed, McDonald’s Istanbul is the Istanbul in which I am completing the final version of this review (like the novel, my visit began with a terrorist bomb). But McDonald never paints his pictures through infodump. A McDonald novel contains an enormous amount of information, but none of it is gratuitous.
As with the other two novels, a big science-fictional idea is central to The Dervish House. After exploring artificial intelligence in River of Gods and alternate worlds in Brasyl, McDonald now investigates nanotechnology. In approach, The Dervish House is perhaps most like River of Gods, where nine individuals were followed in order to tell the overall story of the novel’s tenth character, mid-twenty-first century India. Here, six characters’ lives interleave through a week in Istanbul, to tell the story of that city in the twenty-first century. The Queen of Cities, not any of the humans, is the novel’s central character, and it is to Istanbul that McDonald gives the novel’s opening and close.
Part of the story takes in Brown-style semi-mystical objects and secret codes written into the city’s architecture. For many a writer this would be enough for a whole novel; for McDonald it is almost a sub-plot, in a book that also covers terrorist schemes (one of which resembles the McGuffin of the James Bond movie The World is Not Enough), financial swindles, European football and the legacy of the military dictatorship of the Eighties, as well as the previously mentioned nanotechnology.
Yet, for all this richness, arguably The Dervish House is in some ways the least ambitious of the three novels. River of Gods, which is significantly longer, uses multiple narratives, ones that only briefly touch each other, to tell the story of a country, with a potentially world-changing conclusion. Brasyl, which is shorter, follows three narratives – one contemporary, one twenty-five years in the future and one three hundred years in the past – that converge finally in an unexpected but extremely dramatic fashion. The stakes in The Dervish House are far lower; though serious consequences could ensue, they are not on the same level as the potential threats in River of Gods or Brasyl, in each of which there is a serious possibility that the world could end.
The Dervish House recounts a single week in the lives of what are, essentially, a group of neighbours, whose lives are much more closely interconnected than those of the principal characters in River of Gods. The setting for the most part is the single city of Istanbul. There are flashbacks to people’s pasts in the Mediterranean area of Lycia (as someone who wrote a Ph.D. on the Lycian civilization, I can tell you that McDonald gets that right as well) and a brief trip to the north-east of the country, but these are not where the novel’s heart is. Overall, everything seems rather more circumscribed. But I would argue that the novel is not in any way weakened by this narrowing of scale.
It is also the most overtly political of the three novels, and perhaps McDonald’s most political work since 1996’s Sacrifice of Fools. This is partly because it is the least far into the future: 2026, as opposed to 2032 (Brasyl) or 2047 (River of Gods). But it is also because McDonald directly addresses current political issues. Some characters in the novel were born around 1960, and so can remember the 1980 military coup and the ruthless suppression of political dissent that followed. This is something to which the current Turkish population, especially those who were there at the time, have still to fully reconcile themselves, and the military’s role in politics remains something of a concern in modern Turkey, as the recent alleged ‘Sledgehammer’ and ‘Ergenekon’ plots show. McDonald also engages with the idea of Turkish entry into the EU; in The Dervish House Turkey is both in the EU and in the Eurozone (here recent events, specifically the 2010 crisis in the weaker members of the Eurozone such as Greece, Spain and Ireland, have rather overtaken the novel). It is a book from which McDonald’s own political views – liberal, understanding but with a clear moral sense of right and wrong, unmuddied by relativism – emerge more clearly than perhaps in the previous two novels.
Moreover, it is the most carefully constructed of the novels. The interweaving lives, the consequences of one character’s actions upon the others, the unravelling of carefully devised plans due to unexpected factors, all of these are diligently and coherently assembled. One might say that the dénouement is perhaps a little too neat, that everything is wrapped up a little too tidily, and that McDonald is a little too kind to his point-of-view characters in a way that he is not in River of Gods. But I would argue that these are minor quibbles and, for all that The Dervish House is in some aspects on a smaller scale than the earlier novels, it is the best-written of the three.
As I approached the end of The Dervish House, I found my speed of reading slowed down. This was not because I was bored or couldn’t face reading the novel – it is because I was enjoying the novel too much. I didn’t want the book to end and was trying to put off as long as possible the moment where I would have to leave McDonald’s rich world. This is one of the finest novels I’ve read since, oh, the last Ian McDonald novel. Another BSFA Award seems highly probable, and a Clarke nomination in order.
Now for that tram…