Showing posts from March, 2008

Reviewing the Reviews

There's been a slew of blog posts just recently discussing what makes a good or bad book review, and obliquely touching on the phenomenon of online book reviewing and the question of professionalism, its meaning and existence, in that field. Niall has a roundup at Torque Control , but the most interesting entries to my mind are these two by Larry at OF Blog of the Fallen , which attempt to dissect reviews he considers poorly written to determine just at which points they fail, and this post by Jeff VanderMeer, in which he spells out some guidelines for writing a good review (or rather, for not writing a bad one). In both cases, I can't help but feel that the writers' personal preferences are being restated as objective truths. Larry thinks reviewers shouldn't reference other works when discussing a novel. I often appreciate a review which places a book in its context or provides me with a frame of reference for it. And, as Cheryl Morgan says , most of the prohi

At Season's End

Strictly speaking, the concept of a television season is obsolete. Between US- and UK-based content producers, cable and network channels, and the belated realization of network executives that the two weeks on/four weeks off model that worked so well for formula television is the kiss of death for serialized shows like Lost and 24 , it's possible to find first-air scripted television pretty much year round. But concentrating strictly on US-based shows (and ignoring Scrubs , which presumably is coming back one of these months, and which I was more or less ready to bid farewell to anyway), right now might be a good time to reflect on the three shows I accumulated this year-- Pushing Daisies , Chuck , and The Sarah Connor Chronicles . Looking back, it strikes me that all three shows have similar strengths and weaknesses--most blatantly, on the latter count, a tendency to sacrifice plot for the sake of character and atmosphere. A few weeks ago, Niall Harrison suggested that The S

Grade A Genre Snobbery Spotted In the Wild

It's Tournament of Books time again. I'm quite fond of this competition, which strikes me as being as sensible a way to award excellence in literature as any other. Plus, with more than a dozen judges each publicly listing the reasons for their selection, one is practically guaranteed good rant fodder. So far, the 2008 tournament hasn't offered anything on the scale of Dale Peck's magnificent refusal-to-judge-while-excoriating-the-entire-Western-literary-scene, but Elizabeth McCracken sure does her best when asked to choose between Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao --which on top of appearing on very nearly every best-of-year list a few months ago recently won the NBCC award for best fiction--and Laura Lippman's mystery novel What the Dead Know . Unsurprisingly, the Díaz carries the day, but amid McCracken's explanation of her reasons for choosing it one finds the following gem: Don’t get me wrong: I like murders in fiction. A lot. And

Some People Obsessively Follow the Oscars...

...and some people obsess over genre literary awards. The shortlist for the 2008 Arthur C. Clarke award has been announced (Niall Harrison, one of the Clarke judges, has a comprehensive list of reviews here ): The H-Bomb Girl by Stephen Baxter The Red Men by Matthew de Abaitua The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod Black Man by Richard Morgan Which just goes to show that you can know and frequently correspond with two of the judges for this award and still have only the faintest hope of guessing the nominees (which is not to say that either of these judges have spoken out of turn--merely that I think I've developed a sense of their taste in books). I'd guessed that both Sarah Hall and Richard Morgan's novels would be nominated, because both have received a great deal of praise in the circles whose tastes the Clarke tends to mirror (not coincidentally, these are the two nominees which I had already bee

Now That Makes a Little More Sense

Israeli film critic Yair Raveh links to this clip off the I Am Legend DVD, of the film's original ending. To be honest, though it's obviously better than the tacked on upbeat ending the theatrical version shipped with, I don't think this ending works perfectly either. There would have had to be changes to the body of the film too, which stressed that the transformed humans were still feeling creatures. There are hints of this in the theatrical version, when the zombie male goes to extreme lengths to rescue the woman Smith's character captures for experimentation, but considering that we're talking about flesh-eating zombies who have all but depopulated the Earth, I think a little more effort, and a corresponding emphasis on the Smith character's monstrousness towards the zombies, were necessary to bring this point home. For all I know, though, that's on the DVD too.


My review of Paolo Bacigalupi's collection, Pump Six , appears today in Strange Horizons . This is, I believe, going to be one of those career-making short story collections, and anyone who cares about short-form SF owes it to themselves to track it down. EDIT: several of the stories in Pump Six are available online. Here are "The Tamarisk Hunter," "The People of Sand and Slag," and my two personal favorites, "The Fluted Girl" and "Yellow Card Man."

Old New York, New Herland: Two Novels

As some of you may have noticed, I am engaged in a concerted effort to read every single thing Edith Wharton ever wrote (well, every piece of fiction--I draw the line at The Decoration of Houses ). Having early on gone through her most famous works--her two masterpieces, The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth , as well as Ethan Frome , a novella inflicted upon unsuspecting high school students all across the U.S. by people who apparently don't feel that being a teenager is quite depressing enough--I spent a portion of the last year making my way through various short stories, novellas, and lesser known short novels. This year, I've begun my efforts with a work that's somewhere in between the two extremes, fame-wise--Wharton's third-most famous full-length novel, The Custom of the Country . Anyone coming to Wharton's lesser known work having read nothing but Innocence , Mirth , and Frome will be in for a bit of a surprise. If those works concentrated on mor