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Showing posts from April, 2006

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes

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Julian Barnes' Arthur & George is a novel that sent me scurrying to the thesaurus, searching for just the right adjective to describe it. 'Accomplished' might be a good word--without resorting to flowery and interminable description, Arthur & George is an impressive and convincing recreation of its era. 'Precise' might be another--every word in its place, and each one doing exactly what Barnes intended it to do, no more and no less. And then there are all the adjectives I can't use to describe the book--words like 'grand', 'exciting', 'passionate'. Arthur & George, in other words, is the sort of book I could easily see placing on the shortlist for a major award, in recognition of everything it does right. And just as easily, I can see how it would be the first book to get knocked off the list when the time came to choose the winner, because of all of the things it doesn't try to do at all.

Barnes' novel is a fictionali…

How Is This a Bad Idea? Let Me Count the Ways

SCI FI Announces Caprica:
SCI FI Channel announced the development of Caprica, a spinoff prequel of its hit Battlestar Galactica, in presentations to advertisers in New York on April 26. Caprica would come from Galactica executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, writer Remi Aubuchon (24) and NBC Universal Television Studio.

Caprica would take place more than half a century before the events that play out in Battlestar Galactica. The people of the Twelve Colonies are at peace and living in a society not unlike our own, but where high-technology has changed the lives of virtually everyone for the better.

But a startling breakthrough in robotics is about to occur, one that will bring to life the age-old dream of marrying artificial intelligence with a mechanical body to create the first living robot: a Cylon. Following the lives of two families, the Graystones and the Adamas (the family of William Adama, who will one day become the commander of the Battlestar Galactica), Caprica…

And, to Cap Off an Already Excellent Day...

...John Crowley has joined livejournal. He'd like some friends--why don't you go become one?

Can I Get a 'Hell, Yeah!'

Niall Harrison reports that Geoff Ryman's Air: Or, Have Not Have, AKA one of the finest SF novels published in recent years, has won the Arthur C. Clarke award. This is the book's third major award--it's already swept the Tiptree and the BSFA, with the Nebula yet to come (a sad confluence of events kept it off the Hugo ballot).

Nods Head Vigorously

Via Emerald City, Roz Kavney's five hundred words about M. John Harrison (scroll up for an interesting observation about Osama Bin Laden's lack of historical perspective, which for all its cleverness strikes me as rather missing the point). Kavney succinctly lays out everything that makes Harrison such a challenging, often frustrating but always irresistible author. I almost wish I could quote the whole entry, but here's a good pull-quote:
Science fiction is all about the fulfilment of wishes and Harrison is all about the vanity of human wishing and the shabby consequences of answered prayers. He is one of our most intense moralists because he tells us the truths that we often read sf and fantasy to avoid. Where therre are victories in Harrison's work, they are moral victories and the cost is almost too much to bear. He is a poet of things ending and failing to be reborn.Read the whole thing.

This is Probably a Bad Idea: Your Host Tackles the Veronica Mars Mystery

First of all, I should probably mention that I have the investigative skills of a stunned wombat. Seriously, you wouldn't believe the things that I had to have pointed out to me this season: that Logan deliberately targeted Hannah, that the bomb was stashed in one of the bus passengers' bags. I have absolutely no chance of working out the solution to Veronica Mars' season-long mystery simply by examining the available evidence and deducing a theory of the crime. The thing is, I don't think anyone else has a chance of doing that either, or at least not yet. Veronica Mars is a mystery story, which means that although on a certain level it is an intellectual puzzle, first and foremost it is a drama, and its writers' primary objective is to maintain tension and ensure that the mystery's solution is surprising to its viewers. There is, without a doubt, at least one piece of crucial evidence as yet undiscovered, without which the mystery can't be unraveled. The r…

I Want This Book

Recent Reading Roundup 5

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I'm not ignoring you all--I've just been reading a lot. Here's a small selection:
Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth - Unsworth's novel, about the English slave trade in the mid-18th century, is admirable but strangely unlovable. Unsworth has an excellent ear for period voice and a good eye for details, and Sacred Hunger is a fascinating primer on the economics of the triangle slave trade. Without drowning his readers in detail, as other authors of historical fiction are apt to do, Unsworth carefully instructs us in everything from the proper construction of slave ships to survival tricks in the wilds of Florida. Ultimately, however, Sacred Hunger is a meditation about good and evil, about the economic forces that still shape our lives, and about the nature of slavery. Without ignoring the awfulness of this practice, Unsworth treats slavery as a human invention, and its victims as human beings--who are capable, in their turn, of enslaving others. Where Sacred Hunger fails…

Honestly, Tournament of Books Folks, What Did You Think Was Going to Happen?

Dale Peck judges (or rather, refuses to judge) the current round of The Morning News Tournament of Books:
Regardless, until writers realize the social compact is spiritual and species suicide, a pseudoethical pressure valve that allows Western society to pretend it’s examining its troubled conscience when all it’s doing is assuaging the guilt we feel for exploiting the rest of the world—and destroying it in the process—then the literary novel will remain little more than a series of embarrassing, irrelevant mea culpas. Speaking to the present context, this is my way of saying that I refuse to advance either of these books, even by the flip of a coin; as meaningless as the title “novel of the year” is, neither of these deserves it.

But speaking more generally—hell, you’re all just waiting for the pull quote anyway—books like these make me want to join al Qaeda.Be sure to check out Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner's commentary, which is only about four times as long as Peck's entry…

Sweet Galactica-y Goodness

The always-excellent Dan Hartland has another Battlestar Galacticapiece up at Strange Horizons. It's not exactly a review of the second season--more a meditation about the 'one year later' leap, what it tells us about the writers' attitude towards the show and about Galactica's chances of survival.
The overall impression is not of a show confidently stepping forward towards a grand new format, but rather a series galloping full tilt from a paradigm it's not sure it can write very well anymore, heedless of everything it has set up. Having followed Galactica and expected some follow-through on the old issues, the viewer is instead presented with an episode which pays lip service to addressing them but in fact is merely getting them out of the way. It is a curiously unceremonious narrative, a nervy rather than a gutsy performance.I find it interesting to note the difference between Dan's approach to a second season summary piece and mine. I discussed the seco…

The 2006 Hugo Award: The Novelette Shortlist

It's was bound to happen sooner or later, but I have almost nothing to say about this year's nominees for the novelette Hugo. There's a single stinker in the bunch--and I'm sure it'll surprise no one when I say that it's Michael A. Burstein's "TelePresence", for largely the same reasons that made his nominated short, "Seventy-Five Years", such a waste of space, plus a heavy dollop of technobabble and preachiness (and notice how I'm not even bursting into an incandescent rage over the fact that Burstein has two nominated stories on the ballot--I'm gone numb, folks). As for the rest of the nominees, they're a harmless bunch--pleasant, readable, nice. And absolutely forgettable.

You've got your fan favorites, such as Cory Doctorow, who, in his nominated novelette "I, Robot", revisits the same theme--centralized, code-protected, government-controlled software bad; open-source, distributed, hacker-designed software g…

The 2006 Hugo Award: The Short Story Shortlist

What to say about the short story Hugo ballot? Is it better than last year's monstrosity? On the one hand, yes--I actually care who wins this year, and the shortlist's overall quality has improved. On the other hand, not quite. With the exception of the one truly deserving story on the ballot--oh, why be coy? It's Margo Lanagan's "Singing My Sister Down", which as I have already written is a beautifully written and harrowing story--there isn't another nominee that I wouldn't happily drop for a more deserving piece. While it's true that only two of the five shortlisted pieces are genuinely terrible, that's two too many, and the other nominees are not much more than decent. I don't read a lot of short fiction over the year, but even I know that M. Rickert's "Anyway" should have been on this shortlist, and about half the stories in Joe Hill's collection, 20th Century Ghosts, including the sublime "Best New Horror",…

The 2006 Hugo Award: The Novella Shortlist

There are two good reasons to start a review of this year's Hugo-nominated short fiction with the novella category. The first is that, as I mentioned in the previous entry, it's the only category that is available online in its entirety (taps foot impatiently). The second is that I've already read and reviewed two of the five nominated pieces. I wrote about Kelly Link's "Magic for Beginners" and Robert J. Sawyer's "Identity Theft" when I reviewed the Nebula-nominated novellas, but to recap briefly: Link's story is brilliant, confusing, and gorgeous; Sawyer's is an underwritten mess. The remaining novellas on the Hugo ballot certainly make it a stronger and more impressive shortlist than the Nebula list, although by no means a perfect one.

I resigned myself long ago to being baffled by Connie Willis' appeal. At her best, I think Willis writes cute, enjoyable and eminently readable fluff (To Say Nothing of the Dog, last year's Nebul…

Finally

A mere two weeks after the Hugo nominees were announced, Asimov's has finally gotten its act together and posted online links to its nominated stories. Dare I hope that Fantasy & Science Fiction and Analog might not be far behind?

What this means, though, is that the novella ballot is all online. Expect a review in the near future.

The Horror

I don't tend to read a lot of horror fiction. Partly, I suspect that the reason is momentum. I didn't take much interest in horror as a teenager, beyond the requisite Stephen King novels and a few, largely unsuccessful, forays into Koontz. I never developed a proper grounding in the genre, never learned to understand its rules and to recognize its sub-genres. Seeking out horror fiction that will interest me as an adult is therefore a precarious, hit-and-miss venture. I find myself, as I do when I try to make forays into comic books, forced to rely on the judgement of others, reaching for the super-popular and unable to recognize the subtle clues that, in another, more familiar genre, would indicate to me whether a particular work is right for me.

But a far more important reason for my lack of interest in horror, both as a teenager and nowadays, is the simple fact that books don't scare me. Whether its purpose is to make me gag or to shudder, horror rarely manages to elicit …