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Showing posts from September, 2008

With Anticipation

The credit card bill (if not, just yet, the convention itself) confirms that I am a paid-up member of Anticipation, the 2009 WorldCon. This does not quite mean that I will definitely be in Montréal next August, but that is certainly the plan, finances and life events permitting. Long-time AtWQ readers will perhaps have guessed just what kind of bind this puts me in. It's a little difficult, after all, to decry the degraded, provincialtastes of Hugo voters when you are one of them. Not impossible, obviously, but it would be nice, if and when the time comes to complain loudly about next year's Hugo nominees, to have a list of alternative nominees which I had actually cast my vote for. And since I rarely read stories or books in the year of their publication, I find myself, with less than four months left in the year, somewhat overwhelmed by the wealth of material available.

So, my question to you is, what genre stories have you read since January that you think are award-wor…

James Crumley, 1939-2008

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of one fine spring afternoon.  Trahearne had been on this wandering binge for nearly three weeks, and the big man, dressed in rumpled khakis, looked like an old soldier after a long campaign, sipping slow beers to wash the taste of death out of his mouth.  The dog slumped on the stool beside him like a tired little buddy, only raising its head occasionally for a taste of beer from a dirty ashtray set on the bar.These are the opening sentences of The Last Good Kiss, still the finest mystery novel I've ever read, though ultimately it is far less concerned with solving a mystery than with cataloguing the sadnesses and disappointments of its characters' lives in a way that makes your heart ache for them (which is one of the reasons why the ecstatic praise for Kate Atkinson's…

"Stories for Men" by John Kessel

One of the effects of a magazine-and-award-oriented short story culture is that I often remember stories but not their authors. I admired John Kessel's writing, therefore, long before I knew his name. His two publication in SciFiction, "The Baum Plan for Financial Independence" and "It's All True," both made my best of SciFiction lists for their respectiveyears, and "The Invisible Empire," which I read in Conjunctions 39, has lingered in my mind for several years. Once I put the three stories together with a single author, I knew that I had to give his collection, The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories (available under Creative Commons License here), a look. I wasn't disappointed. Baum Plan is an excellent collection, full of smart, playful stories, which cover every genre, sub-genre, and quasi-genre under the speculative fiction umbrella, but the best of the bunch is undoubtedly the novella "Stories for Men."…

I've Been Here Before, Part 2

(Part 1 is here)
"of course, vengeance takes me all over the world. I was in Brazil yesterday. They love their soccer."
Jane Espenson, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Same Time, Same Place" At a panel at the most recent WorldCon, participants Charles Brown, Karen Burnham, Cheryl Morgan, Graham Sleight and Gary Wolfe were each asked to compose a list of 20 works of science fiction published during the last twenty years which they consider essential. Morgan has a write-up here, and Niall Harrison discusses the results some more here, both noting that the only book to merit a mention all five lists was Ian McDonald's River of Gods. Excellent novel though it is, I don't think River of Gods was singled out for this honor simply because of its quality, but because of the change it seemed to herald in SF's attitude towards non-white, non-Western cultures. Set in Varanasi several decades into the future, River of Gods follows nine characters over a period of several…

I've Been Here Before, Part 1

It's a tricky business, following up a successful, critically lauded, and innovative novel. Tricky for the author, of course, but also for the reader who comes back for that author's next effort. Expectations have to be carefully managed. Going in hoping for a repeat of the author's previous novel is a recipe for disaster, even if--especially if--those expectations are met. Innovation, after all, is rarely as thrilling the second time around. On the other hand, expecting too much change can lead to a jaded attitude that dismisses the very things that made that previous novel worth reading. What we want, in the end, is to recapture the pleasure of reading a truly excellent book, right down to the sensation that here is something new and unexpected. When I approach a novel by an author whose previous work has wowed me, I usually find myself hoping for something just like X, but different. A natural progression of the author's skills, themes, and unique characteristics. S…

Making Sport for My Neighbors

It's always funny to see what does and does not gain traction online. When I posted my review of the October/November issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, I expected that responses to it would revolve mostly around the general negativity of my reaction to the issue. Instead, it was my response to the magazine's nonfiction content, and specifically to Lucius Shepard's review of Iron Man, that's got some folks talking. Early yesterday someone on the Night Shade Books bulletin board, where Shepard is a participant, posted a link to the review, sparking a discussion which has, in turn, led to a, shall we say energetic, post by Shepard on The Inferior 4, the LJ he shares with Elizabeth Hand, Paul Witcover, and Paul Di Fillippo.

I seem to have raised Shepard's ire firstly by calling the Iron Man review mean-spirited, which he has taken as a personal insult. I'm frankly puzzled as to how the trip from point A to point B was achieved, but obviously I'm sorry …

Self-Promotion

My review of Karen Joy Fowler's Wit's End (The Case of the Imaginary Detective in the UK) appears today in Strange Horizons. As you can see on the Strange Horizonsmain page, this week is borderline-genre, weird fiction week in the reviews department. I'm looking forward to Dan Hartland's take on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a novel I adored, on Wednesday, and on Friday David McWilliam will take on Rivka Galchen's Atmospheric Disturbances, which I've been curious about for a while, and hopefully will do a better job than this woeful New York Timesreview.