|For the Record: Reading List, 2007
||[Dec. 31st, 2007|11:59 pm]
(February 11, 2007: Since it doesn't look as though my stated intention to review each and every book I read this year, I have decided to at least return to my childhood ways and at least keep track of what I've read. This is unlikely to be of interest to anyone but myself, but you're
, March 2007, Dell Magazines, Stanley Schmidt, ed.
- Analog Science Fiction and Fact
An excellent issue. Even Karl Schroeder's Queen of Candesce and its "impossible" setting held my interest.
Pushing Ice, by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz (2005).
An excellent space-opera, gosh-wow sense of wonder well-admixed with human interest, adventure and Reynolds' trade-mark willingness to play with very deep time indeed. Recommended.
The Hard SF Renaissance, David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, eds, OFB (2002).
A superb collection of hard science fiction from the 1990s, one of those anthologizes that can stand alongside the Boucher/McCommas Adventures In Time and Space. If there is any justice, this huge volume will stay in print for decades to come.
Blindsight, by Peter Watts, (Tor, October 2006).
A new writer to me, Watts is another of those hard-SF writers who seem to be revitalizing the core of the field. Blindsight is at once a meditation on the nature - and indeed on the worth - of consciousness, as well as its nature, while also being an exacting examination of the potential changes we will face as cybernetics advances over the next 75 years. In the novel's 350+ pages, it is also an exciting adventure. Highly recommended.
The Comics Journal #280, January 2007, Fantagraphics Books.
An entertaining interview with Frank Thorne is the issue's centerpiece. Having never been particularly interested in or impressed by Thorne's work, I was pleasantly surprised. Portrait of the artist as old, happy pornographer.
Also of note, an interview with Carla Speed McNeil, of whom I had never before heard and whose self-published comic I now intend to check out.
Swag, by Elmore Leonard, Dell Publishing (1988), originally published as Ryan's Rules (1976).
I have no idea whether this book is typical of Elmore Leonard. But if it is, I do not see what all the fuss is about. The story of two losers who embark on a robbery spree, I at no time found the characters engaging nor their adventures compelling. Leonard writes well enough, with a modern sheen on his clearly pulpish origins, but I simply didn't care about what happened and only finished the book because, well, I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Asimov's Science Fiction, February 2007; Dell Magazines; Sheila Williams, ed.
A typically-frustrating issue of Asimov's, featuring well-written but ultimately frustrating fiction.
- Alex Wilson's "Outgoing" is a compelling psychological fiction which ends with the unhappy protagonist discovering a "counter-earth", orbiting the sun exactly opposite to our world, and in so doing, destroying this reader's willing suspension of disbelief;
- Tanith Lee's "Cold Fire" left this reader cold indeed - I didn't finish the story, though it is only 8 pages long;
- Jack Skillingstead's"The Chimera Transit" is another science fiction story without the science. Lonely people hook up before leaving Earth forever, or something like that; the details are already lost to me;
The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, April 2007, Dell Magazines, Stanley Schmidt, ed.
Sixty Days and Counting, by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Green Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Antarctica, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Forty Signs of Rain, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Fifty Degrees Below, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Sixty Days and Counting, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Coalescent, Stephen Baxter
Exultant, Stephen Baxter
Transcendent, Stephen Baxter
Gag Rule, Lewis H. Lapham
There is little here to surprise anyone familiar with Lapham's editorials and articles from Harper's Magazine, but Lamphan manages an historically-minded polemic that will serve to reinforce those whose prejudices already lie with Lapham's outrage over what he sees as his nation's long descent from democratic republic to oligarchic imperium.
Unfortunately, it is a polemic and, lacking footnotes or much else in the way of documentary evidence to support his opinions, it is unlikely to speak to those I imagine Lapham most wants to reach - American citizens who are upset with the course their country is taking, but who are unwilling to face up to the fact their government is a very long way from being of the people or by the people, let alone for the people.
Barney's Version, Mordecai Richler
Richler's final novel is a tour-de-force, possibly his masterpiece.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, May 2007, Dell Magazines, Stanley Schmidt, ed.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, June 2007, Dell Magazines, Stanley Schmidt, ed.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, July/August, 2007, Dell Magazines, Stanley Schmidt, ed.
Asimov's Science Fiction, March 2007; Dell Magazines; Sheila Williams, ed.
Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2007; Dell Magazines; Sheila Williams, ed.
How the Irish Saved Civilization, Anchor Books, 1995; Thomas Cahill
This book got a lot of press when it came out and I vaguelly recall reading it not too many years after it was first published. I stumbled over it the other day while doing some spring cleaning and decided to revisit it.
Cahill is a good writer and a man clearly quite taken with his subject - that Irish monks, heirs to a non-violent Christian [conversion] that left the Pagan Irish culture intact, were in large part responsible for re-introducing literacy and the Greco-Roman classics to Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Like the brillian popularizer of mythology, Joseph Campbell, Cahill is a smooth story-teller, moving from history to myth to educated supposition with ease.
Unfortunately, and unlike Campbell, Cahill mostly eschews footnotes and doesn't seem to know the difference between history and myth. Or if he does, he doesn't bother to let the reader know which is which.
In other words, How the Irish Saved Civilization is a very nice (his)tory that might be true. But, not being a scholar of Irish or European history, Cahill has not provided me with the keys needed to make up my own mind about his thesis.
Titan, Wizard, Demon; John Varley
Joshua Then and Now; McClelland and Stewart, 1980, by Mordecai Richler
Solomon Gursky Was Here; Penguin, 1990, by Mordecai Richler
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz; McClelland and Stewart, 1974 (original: 1959), by Mordecai Richler
Joshua Then and Now; McClelland and Stewart, 1980, by Mordecai Richler
Foundation and Empire; Avon, 1966, by Isaac Asimov
Second Foundation; Avon, 1964, by Isaac Asimov
Red Lightning, Ace, 2007, by John Varley
A sequel to Red Thunder, this is middling-Varley - easy-to-read, good fun, with a surprisingly angry dose of anti-Bushite politics thrown in for good measure.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, September, 2007, Dell Magazines, Stanley Schmidt, ed.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, October, 2007, Dell Magazines, Stanley Schmidt, ed.
The World According to Garp, by John Irving, 1978, Clarke, Irwin & Co.
The first of Irving's 4 good novels, this holds up fairly well. Irving's ability to combine absurdity with pathos results in this reader both laughing out loud and shedding a few tears by book's end. This time around though, I wasn't quite as convinced of the "reality" of things as I was on earlier reads.
The Hotel New Hampshire, by John Irving, 1981, Clarke, Irwin & Co.
Like Garp, this is a rollicking, even more epic novel. Irving's characters are at once stranger and more fully fleshed-out and his explicit references to The Great Gatsby make me want to re-read Fitzgerald, despite the fact that novel never has moved me. (And if you've only seen the god-awful movie, you must read the novel!)
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fourth Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed, 2007, St. Martin's Griffin
Superb. See this for a slightly longer review.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling, 2007, Raincoast
A major disappointment and even a cheat. Don't bother.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1976 (original 1937), George Allen & Unwin
Still a lovely children's fairy story, at once traditional and innovative - the "good guys" are not pure heroes, but rather complex (for a fairy story) characters.
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1979 (original 1954-1956), George Allen & Unwin
Absolutely brilliant - but you all know that, right?
James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, by Julie Phillips, 2006, Picador
This is a superb example of what a biography should be - sympathetic towards, but not protective of, its subject; sociologically-aware, paying a great deal of attention to the subject's times as well as to her personal life; and literarily astute.
Alice Sheldon was born in 1915 to wealthy, somewhat eccentric parents. Her mother was a popular writer, her father a wealthy lawyer cum real estate developer. Theirs was the sort of wealth that doesn't really exist any more - or at least, the world has changed enough that some of what that wealth purchased is no longer available at any price.
At the age of 6, Alice found herself, accompanied by her parents, a few other explorers and about 200 "boys" (African natives hired as porters to transport their belongings) on a half-year safari into what was still largely unexplored (by westerners) African jungle and savanna.
To say she was born into an unusual life is an understatement. And she lived an unusual life right up to the end, when she shot her ailing (though not yet ready to die) husband and then herself in 1987.
Sheldon/Tiptree was a proto-feminist, an artist, who worked a time for the CIA, then got a PhD in psychology, among other things. She was possibly a repressed lesbian and, eventually, a science fiction writer who rocketed (if you'll pardon the pun) to the top of the field within a few years of her first published story, under the name of Tiptree.
Phillips narrates her life methodically; most chapter titles parenthetically list one or two years. Yet her prose is sufficient to make of this chronological telling a story of novelistic power, while at the same time being more than judicious about offering the reader more than the known facts will support; such words as "presumably," "perhaps" or phrases like, "it seems likely" are very few and far between. It helps that Sheldon/Tiptree left behind voluminous notes and correspondence, but that sort of record doesn't stop many biographers from engaging in unwarranted speculation.
Most readers will probably come to the book for the period during which Tiptree was at the top of the SF field - and there is a lots of meat to the period. Though Tiptree was for 10 or so years known only under that name, he/she engaged in a great deal of correspondence with many of the top writers and editors in the field, including such names as Silverberg, Pohl, Russ and le Guin, and Phillips is at once generous yet judicious when quoting excerpts from those letters. She even took part in an early feminist forum, writing as a token (sensitive) male, yet was more than once held up publicly as a writer who had to be a man, because no woman could write the way "he" did.
But any reader with an interest in writing, in feminism or even simply in the history of the 20th century will come away the better for it. Phillips has written an excellent piece of scholarship and biography, told as well or better than most novels out there.
Again, Dangerous Visions, Harlan Ellison, ed, 1972, Doubleday
Reading Phillips' biography of Tiptree, got me thinking about Ellison's mammoth anthology; one of Tiptree's stories, "The Milk of Paradise," closed out the book (and I confess: I don't think it holds up all that well, either as fiction or even as a "dangerous vision").
I first read this book back when I was a very young teenager and it knocked my proverbial socks high into the stands behind the metaphorical net. Not only did it contain a huge amount of fiction from some of science fictions most important writers (many of them very new, then), but it contained lots and lots and lots of Ellison himself. Ellison provided an introduction to the volume as a whole as well as to each story, usually several pages long.
When I was younger I saw Ellison as he wanted me to: as a brash upstart, an honest fighter for Truth and willing to display his own warts in so doing. Now though, he comes across as a bit of a blow-hard, too much showman and not enough substance. But as he himself notes, the introductions come "free" and the reader is, him or her self, free to pass them by and go straight for the fiction.
As for the fiction, much of it holds up very well indeed. From Ursula K. Le Guin's short novel (yes, novel!), The Word for World Is Forest, Joanna Russ' "When It Changed", and two stories by someone called Bernard Wolfe as well as Richard A. Lupoff's truly experimental novelette, "With the Bentfin Boomer Boys on Little Old New Alabama" (later expanded into a novel published with the unfortunate title, Space War Blues), though little here seems "dangerous" in the year 2007, there is a lot of good reading to be had among the volume's 800-plus pages.
On the other hand, writing only a couple of weeks after I closed the book, a lot of the stories are already lost to me; reviewing the table of contents brings back little or nothing of the stories themselves and, when a title does ring a bell, the chime is more of a warning to stay away than a welcoming ring.
All in all, as I understand the book is back it print it is worth getting, but be prepared to skip past perhaps a third of the contents. Historical complete-nik that I am, it pains me to say it, but it might be time someone issued an abridged version, a best-of volume (not that Ellison is at all likely to allow such a thing).
The Book On the Edge of Forever, by Christopher Priest, 1994, Fantagraphics Books
Again, Dangerous Visions was supposed to be followed 6 months after its publication in 1972 by The Last Dangerous Vivions. In his introduction, Ellison advises the Last will be a 3 volume book, and for the next decade or so he periodically announced that it was ready, that it was with the publisher, that it was in production, etc. As of this writing, it still has not appeared.
Having gone through the so-called middle anthology in the serious, I couldn't stop myself from re-visiting The Book On the Edge of a forever. At a mere 66 pages, Priest's examination of the non-appearance of Last
35 years after its first publication, its non-appearance represents a sort of tragedy. Well over 100 stories are stuck in limbo, as Ellison has, apparently, been very good at convincing writers to "trust him one more time" over the years.
Priest himself was solicited for a story and had it accepted. Some time after the book was supposed to appear, he withdrew and for that (according to him) he has been pilloried. Certainly my brief googgling found more than one review which accused him of being vindictive or petty, of wanting to slur Ellison, etc.
In fact, his book has a tone more of sadness than anger and accusations that he is being vindictive sound hollow since (a) his story was bought and (b) he withdrew it and re-sold it elsewhere, so his is not in limbo.
Still, unless you care about science fiction gossip - and pretty dated gossip at that (I don't think Ellison has claimed Last will be out soon recently) - it's a tasty but ultimately thin soup.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, November, 2007, Dell Magazines, Stanley Schmidt, ed.
Cerebus, by Dave Sim, Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1987
The first 25 chapters of Dave Sim's 6,000 page graphic novel, Cerebus the Aardvark hold up much better than I had thought they would.
Starting as a "'funny' animal in a world of humans, Cerebus quickly evolved from its early days as a Conan parody into a far reaching exploration of religion, relationships and politics," to quote from the link above. Sim launched Cerebus as a self-published, black and white comic book in 1977 and continued self-publishing it until its completetion in 2004.
The title character is "a misanthropic, three foot tall talking Aardvark," and yet a formidable warrior in a fantasy world that sometimes seems more Renaissance than barbaric.
In any case, though the first book is episodic in structure, without much sign of the intricate story to come; and though Sim's artwork is relatively primitive (mind you, you can see him developing his chops from issue to issue), but he is already a master of dialogue and dialect, as well as slapstick and comic timing.
The first volume isn't absolutely essential to understanding and appreciating the complexity to come, but it will probably make you laugh and will definitely fill in some future blanks.
By the end of the first volume, a new reader will be curious as to what Sim has in store, and an old reader revisiting the begining will be pleasantly surprised at how good even "primitive" Dave Sim can be.
High Society, by Dave Sim, Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1987
Nevertheless, Church and State marks a quantum leap in Sim's work.No more single episodes, each with a traditional comic-book plot-structure. Instead, Sim starts thinking large.
Cerebus (the character), who has discovered that he is not only an anthropomorphic aardvark in a human world (by which world his appearance is remarkably easily-accepted - sometimes commented upon, but otherwise ignored), but that at least some tribes believe him to be a prophet or even a god of some sort) but that he is also a "person" of some importance.
He finds himself in the city-state of Palnu, run by Lord Julius (imagine Groucho Marx, really running a beauracracy). He finds himself out of his league, manipulated by a mysterious woman whose political agenda remains obscure, even when she states it (she might be lying), as well as by Lord Julius, who sees Cerebus as a pawn to be used in his struggle with the Church of Tarim.
Much of the volume concerns Cerebus' campaign for Prime Minister of the essentially bankrupt city-state of Iest and every time the reader believes the book is going to revert to the bloody Conon-style bloodshed of the first book, Sim throws a curve-ball.
The book is brilliantly funny, with sight gags more and more giving way to dialogue and dialect. The art is also far more sophisticated and more consistent with itself than was the case in the previous volume.
Church and State, by Dave Sim, Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1987
Now in exile, Church and State opens with Cerebus attempting to write his memoirs in a tavern; huge (and I mean huge drunken louts disturb him, resulting in some off-stage mayhem.
But this is not a return to Cerebus the Barbarian. In fact, after a slow (if you are not one who enjoys long scenes of possibly-misleading expository dialogue and conversation), Cerebus once again finds himself Prime Minister, this time very much under the thumb of Weishaupt, a political operator with very big plans indeed. And who is also at logger-heads with the re-united and once again politically-powerful Church of Tarim, which eventually annoints Cerebus Pope.
It is at this point that Cerebus' native intelligence allows him to throw off the yoke, while his barbaric greed threatens to bring about his downfall.
Church and State is confusing, intriguing, still very funny and even includes a 50-foot tall stone monster as a cliff-hanger.
Sim may be at his peak with this book, but I'm going to have to re-read the rest to find out.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December, 2007, Dell Magazines, Stanley Schmidt, ed.
Asimov's Science Fiction, October/November, 2007, Dell Magazines, Sheila Williams, ed.
I don't read Asimov's regularly - too much fantasy for my taste, as I've stated elsewhere - but I usually pick up their double-issues and this time I was very happy to have done so. Perhaps Williams is putting her mark on the magazine, but regardless, this was a strong issue indeed - and Allen M. Steele's Galaxy Blues, a serial, will see me picking up the next three issues for sure - and maybe subscribing if the next issues are even as close to as strong.
The New Space Opera, Eos (2007), Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, eds.
If you like writers like Stephen Baxter, Gregory Benford and Alastair Reynolds (as I do), this collection is for you. High quality fiction, almost all of it, and more than worth the 20 bucks.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Warner Books (1986), by Frank Miller, with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley
For comic geeks of my generation at least, Miller's Dark Knight Returns, along with Alan Moore's Watchmen, should have pretty much put an end to superheroes all together. (Of course, as any one contemplating going to a movie knows all too well, that didn't work out.)
The Dark Knight Returns takes the reader back to the nuclear-war fearing mid-1980s, when it seemed to many of us that a decrepit Soviet Union and a triumphalist United States led by the apparently not-too-bright Ronald Reagan, just might actually do it and let the H-bombs fly.
Miller's Gothan City is a cesspool of corruption, stupidity and fear. Batman himself is 50 years old and has been retired for a decade. One newscast too many leads the old man to don the tights once more, and we're off into Miller's paranoid and cynical world.
I won't go into the plot. Suffice it to say that Miller's pacing is superb, his satire scattershot but often enough satisfying, and the book looks gorgeous. It has, yes, nuclear war and Batman kicking hell out of Superman - what more can a back-sliding comic-geek want?
Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Warner Books (2002), by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
What more can a comic-geek want? The sequel, of course!
Miller returned to Gothan City about 15 years later. Without Janson's subtle inks, the book is brighter, more garish, more ... cartoony ... than its predecessor, but this wa almost certainly by design. If Miller doesn't show signs that he has grown as an artist, he has certainly lost none of his skills and this book must look just as he had wanted it to.
Batman has been underground since the end of the previous book, making plans, while the world (and its superheroes) have been brought under the thumb of a fascist corporate cabal run by (of course) Superman's arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor.
The book is lighter than its predecessor, though its themes are arguably more serious. This time, Miller brings in a who's-who of DC's venerable superheroes (Wonder Woman, Plastic Man, Captain Marvel, not to mention a rematch with Superman) and that in itself makes it hard for a post-adolescent read to take seriously. One masked crazy man, you can accept; disbelief strains at one genuine superhuman, but doesn't necessarily snap. But when you start dealing with a whole league of 'em, it gets harder.
If you don't have a soft spot for such creatures from your childhood, you'll probably want to give it a miss; if you do, it's good fun, but not so memorable as The Dark Knight Returns.
Sturgeon Is Alive and Well ..., G.P. Putnam's Sons (1971), by Theodore Sturgeon
Theodore Sturgeon was one of the few true stylists produced in the early days of the field. Starting out in the pulps, he quickly established himself as one of the few writers that (like Bradbury) a fan could use to introduce SF to mainstream readers without embarassment.
Sturgeon was also well-known to suffer from long boughts of writer's block and, presumably, this book was released following one of those.
Sadly, the book's best story is the novelette, "To Hear and Easel," published more than 15 years before the volume's other stories, most of which - with the exception of the lovely "Slow Sculpture" - are efforts at mainstream, "literary" fiction, but which suffer from Sturgeon's pulp roots.
The Space Opera Renaissance, Orb (2007), David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, eds.
This is an excellent anthology, by and large. Presented as an historical overview of the science fiction sub-genre sometimes known as space opera (in both the good and the bad senses of the term, depending on who is using it and, sometimes, when), the book opens with what is probably the weakest piece, Edmond Hamilton's 1929 story from Weird Tales, "The Star Stealers", which demonstrates just about every weakness of the pulps - essentially no characterization (though it does contain a competent woman among the starship's crew!) and awkward, stilted prose.
Fortunately for the reader, if not the scholar, the editors include only 4 stories from the very early days of the genre and we soon find ourselves in the 1960s, with writers like Cordwainer Smith and, especially, Samuel R. Delany, whose "Empire Star" is at once funny, literarily sophisticated and happy to play with space and time on a cosmic scale.
Other writer's include David Brin, Lois McMaster Bujold, Iain M. Banks, David Weber, Catherine Asaro, Allen Steele, Donald Kingsbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Stephen Baxter, to mention those whose stories most stay with me.
If you like SF, particularly of the kind that thinks big, this is an excellent book.
Watchmen, DC Comics (1987), Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, eds.
After re-reading Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, I had to go back to Moore's re-imagining of super-heroics from the same era.
Where Miller took the super-hero to a satirical extreme, Miller was playing a very different game, the classic science fiction "What if ...?"
In this case, what if a bunch of grown men (and a few women) really had started dressing up in ridiculous outfits in order to fight crime back in the early 1940s? And what if, in the early 1960s, a laboratory accident really did create one (and only one) true super-man?
Miller plays the game straight and his highly-political vision of an alternate history (Richard Nixon is still in power) works as both science fiction and as pretty good adventure, along with news-clippings, biographies and other prose pieces which provide a very believable background.
Still very good stuff.
The Calculus Affair, Methuen (1960), Herge; Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner, translators
This is Herge at his peak. His cast of characteis rs is complete, his slapstick timing superb and his artwork is masterful. If you haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting Tintin (or better still, if you have a child who hasn't), this is an excellent book to start with.
Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine, Number 11, 2007, Karl Johanson, ed.
I picked this magazine up on a whim while browsing at Bakkal-Phoenix. And frankly, I'm almost sorry that I did.
Neo-opsis is a Canadian SF magazine, which is why I picked it up. A large digest-sized publication, it boasts good (almost slick) paper, but that - unfortunately - is the only good thing I can say about it. Well, that and that the cover and interior illustrations are not particularly objectionable.
The fiction ranges from the rank amateur to, well, maybe first-rate amateur.
To tell you the truth, it was a struggle to get through it and I found myself wondering over and over, "What is the point of these "little magazines"?
The Princess at the Window: A New Gender Morality, Penguin (1996), Donna LaFramboise
Every so often, when I meet a younger woman, the subject of feminism comes up. Almost invariably, she will tell me she's not one, which leads me to grill her on her philosophy. And, just as invariably, it turns out that by my definition, she is a feminist after all.
Universal suffrage? Yes. Equal pay for equal work? Yes again. Equality before the law? No "male only" jobs? Yes and yes.
So why has the term become so poisonous to the women who have benefited so much from the women's movement?
Laframboise's decade-old study offers a very convincing argument suggesting that the people - Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon being the most well-known examples - who became the public face of feminism destroyed their own creation.
I sort of fell away from referring to myself as a feminist (preferring the term, humanist, if you push me for an answer) around the time this book was written. I was aware of the Dworkins, not to mention the witch-hunt around alleged rings of "satanic ritual abuse", but I wasn't conscious that the inmates had taken over the institution.
Laframboise makes a strong case that they did, and the result is a generation of young women for whom the word, feminist, is a swear-word.
The Shock Doctrine, Knopf Canada (2007), Naomi Klein
On first reading, I can only say that Klein has written a powerful, frightening and enraging analysis of the real-world results of putting The Chicago School's neo-conservative (or neo-liberal for the historical purists among you) into practice. I'll have more to say when I have read it again, and carefully.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, January/February, 2008, Dell Magazines, Stanley Schmidt, ed.
Asimov's Science Fiction, December, 2007, Dell Magazines, Sheila Williams, ed.
Asimov's Science Fiction, January, 2008, Dell Magazines, Sheila Williams, ed.
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fictio , October/November 2007, Gordon van Gelder, ed.
Mammoth, Ace (2005), John Varley
I suppose it's possible the problem lay with me, but I won't be going in for a second read-through to find out. This is the worst novel Varley has ever published. It feels almost like a really long plot-summary, rather than a genuine novel. Varley almost never shows when he can tell and this reader at least, found it hard-slogging because I not only didn't feel as if I was getting to know his characters, I soon stopped even wanting to. Stay away from this one.
Tintin In the Congo<, 1930, Casterman, by Herge, Leslie Longsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner, translators
Sometimes the past should probably stay in the past - at least for casual readers.
This is the facsimile version of Herge's second Tintin adventure, and a primitive example of an artist learning his craft it is. The individual drawings are crude, the narrative undisciplined and let's not even mention the racism in his depictions of blacks. This is a volume for Tintin completists, or scholars of Belgian popular culture in the early 20th century only.
The Red Sea Sharks, Methuen, 1960, by Herge, Leslie Longsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner, translators
Beautifully-drawn, with a plot whose politics might lead a small child to ask difficult questions, this is an "average" episode of Tintin from Herge at his peak. Marvellous stuff for a kid, and a good way to kill 45 minutes on a Sunday afternoon for an adult.
The Language of the Night, by Ursula K. Le Guin (2nd edition), HarperPerennial, 1989, Susan Wood, ed.
I think I've read this - or rather, the original version - before, but I've lost the book in my travels. I stumbled on it in a used book-store a few weeks back and picked it up on a whim.
The strange thing is, I haven't read much of Le Guin's fiction - and every time I read even a single essay by her, I wonder why that is.
As an essayist, she is insightful, polite yet strongly-opinionated, funny and, in general, a delight to read.
Consciously feminist since the late 1960s, one of the points of interest in this volume is her re-thinking of essays she wrote in the early and mid-70s.
In particular, her essay from 1976, "Is Gender Necessary?", in which she discusses her thoughts on feminism with a particular emphasis on her novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, which is juxtaposed with commentary from 1988.
The Left Hand of Darkness won both the Hugo and Nebula awards as best novel of the year and featured a world whose people were are utterly androgynous. "Instead of our continuous sexuality, [they] have an oestrus period, called kemmer. When they are not in kemmer, they are sexually inactive and impotent; they are also androgynous." Periodically, these people enter kemmer and randomly become male or female. The concept allowed Le Guin to write the line, "The king was pregnant."
And therein lies the nub of her 1988 reconsideration. Throughout The Left Hand of Darkness, her narrator uses the term "he" when speaking of the Gethenians, despite their androgyny. In 1976, Le Guin maintained that, from a writer's point of view, she was comfortable using "he" as an inclusive term, but - come 1988 - she had reversed herself, accepting that the explicit meaning of "he" kicks hell out of any implicit belief she might have had that the term included the female half of the human race.
Lest you think this collection of essays is "only" a feminist self-critique, let me make explicit that it is far more. Le Guin's mind ranges far and wide and her essays are a pleasure - sometimes a most stimulating pleasure - to read.
Dancing on the Edge of the World, by Ursula K. Le Guin, HarperPerennial, 1989
Reading The Language of the Night forced me to pull this volume off my shelf. All the good things I said above apply here as well, and then some. This volume is wider-ranging and encompasses a longer period of time. If it was clear the first time around, you don't need to have read Le Guin's fiction to appreciate her essays. Both volumes are high-recommended.
Meditations on Middle Earth, Karen Haber, ed, St. Martin's Griffin (2001)
One of the reasons I feel such kinship (if that isn't too presumptuous) with Le Guin was her defence of Tolkien in particular and "escapist" fiction in general. And reading the above-listed books reminded me that this one was on my shelf. I had intended only to re-read Le Guin's contribution to this collection of essay's on Tolkien's oeuvre (which - ironically - is not one that interests me too much, being concerned with his use of large-scale rhyths in prose in The Lord of the Rings), but I couldn't stop from leafing back and forth from one essay to the next.
Contributors include Le Guin, Orson Scott Card, Terry Pratcheet, Charles de Ling and George R.R. Martin, to name but a few.
If you have ever found yourself at pains to to defend your love for what Michael Swanwick (rightly) calls "the saddest book in the world", you will love this too-slim volume. You won't agree with everything in it (nor should you; that would be a dull affair indeed), but you will not only come away with some powerful ammunition the next time some pretentious post-modernist yob tries to tell you that you're love a fantasy is childish, but also you will probably come away with a deeper understanding of why it means as much to you as it does.
You'll probably find yourself wanting pay another visit to Middle Earth in the bargain.
Earthclan, by David Brin, Nelson Doubleday, omnibus edition including Startide Rising (1983) and The Uplift War (1987)
My thoughts on these novels are posted here.
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, HarperTrophy (1911, 1997)
Sometimes children are utterly baffling. This novel was one of my favourites as a kid. I think my mum read it to me when I was quite young, and I read it myself when I was eight or nine, I imagine. In any case, it stayed in my mind over the decades since as one of my childhood favourites.
I came across a copy recently, one that included the same cover and interior illustrations as that I had read as a child, and I took it home, curious to find out whether it held up.
Frankly, it was tough going. Not that it is badly-written. Quite the opposite. But I can hardly imagine what it was about it that held my attention as a child.
The story, such as it is, concerns the orphaned Mary Lennox, sent to live with her strange and mostly-absent uncle in England. Mary is an extremely unhappy and unpleasant child and the book details are gradual return to humanity through the offices of the secret garden of the title, the impossibly wonderful (and magical) Dickon who can talk with animals and her uncle's apparently crippled son.
Very little happens, the tone is vaguelly condescending and ... well, let's just say I only managed to finish the damned thing because of my fond memories of it.
Bored of the Rings, by The Harvard Lampoon (Henry N. Beard and Douglas C. Kenney), Signet Books, 1969
Meanwhile, other childhood (albeit much later childhood) pleasures do stand the test of time.
Bored of the Rings is inane, crude and very funny, if you like that sort of thing. Apparently, I do.
As you can imagine, it is a parody of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and, thankfully, at a mere 160 pages, is a great deal shorter.
If the following excerpt makes you laugh, pick it up if you can find it.
Boggies are an unattractive but annoying people whose numbers have decreased rather precipitously since the bottom fell out of the fairy tale market. Slow and sullen, and yet dull, the prefer to lead simple lives of pastoral squalor. The don't like machines more complicated than a garrote, a blackjack, or a luger...They seldom exceed three feet in height, but are fully capable of overpowering creatures half their size then they get the drop on them...
Analog Science Fiction and Fact</em>, March 2008, Dell Magazines, Stanley Schmidt, ed.