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When the Blue Shift Comes by Robert Silverberg and Alvaro Zinos-Amoro

Gollancz, 2014, 187p

The Member and The Radical cover

“Heigh-ho! It’s time to sing of the ending of time!” is the first sentence of this strange confection. It originated in a failed attempt by Silverberg to write a novel about the end of the universe in “a flamboyant, high-spirited postmodern style, using direct asides to the reader and other little playful … touches.” It comprises two novellas, The Song of Last Things by Silverberg himself and The Last Mandala Sweeps by Alvaro Zinos-Amoro. Sandwiched between them is an introduction to Zinos-Amoro and When the Blue Shift Comes as a whole. In this Silverberg reveals what I had long suspected – that he has more or less given up writing fiction. Only an invitation to a venture where established writers would contribute a novella to a book, to be complemented by another by a protégé, broke this trend. Silverberg didn’t write something new. He dusted off his failed novel.

I have spoken before about Silverberg’s facility with prose and especially first paragraphs. This one continues, “Yes, the death of worlds, the crumbling of the continuum, the great Folding-in of the Gloriously Unfolded.” A lot to live up to you might think.

The story is set in Year 777 of Cycle 888 of the 1,111th Encompassment of the Ninth Mandala. This phrase is repeated so often it becomes engrained in the mind. (Nevertheless, why that “Ninth” is capitalised when the other numbers are not is a mystery.)

Hanosz Prime, ruler of the Parasol system in the Andromeda Nebula is about to undergo his umpteenth regeneration. (While he expects to die at some point, it is a peculiarity of this time that residents of Earth – still human, as is Hanosz, though their physical appearance is not like ours at all and is indeed, mutable – are immortal, provided they don’t spend prolonged periods elsewhere.) A traveller called Zereshk Poloi informs him that the universe is ending. (It turns out that something called a Twisselman hypersingularity – like a black hole but considerably more aggressive and therefore even nastier – is expanding more than exponentially, sucking the Milky Way into itself and threatening the galaxies beyond.)

(The two novellas are full of parenthetical narrator’s inserts like these.)

(Sometimes several follow one upon the other.)

(It gets quite irritating after a while.)

In his prime Silverberg might have been able to bring this sort of thing off with something approaching brio. As it is, and while Zinos-Amaro does bring the project to a more or less coherent conclusion, there is something amiss, the end result is just too silly. It pains me to say this as Silverberg is one of my SF immortals but on this evidence it’s probably as well he has given up the scribbling game. Heigh-ho.

Annoyances corner. We had the Usianism “spit” used as a past tense. It’s so much less pithy and vituperous than “spat.”

Astounding Science Fiction Vol. XIV, No. 3 (British Edition) March 1958

(Cover price 1/9 – an increase of 75% over 69 months.)

Cover of Astounding Science Fiction Mar 1958

This is the issue I bought at an antique fair last year along with the corresponding magazine issue from July 1952. The dimensions had by this time shrunk to 8 x 5½ inch. As well as the fiction there is an editorial, an article, some book reviews and a puff for the next issue. The cover illustration is by Kelly Freas. The seventeen interior illustrations are by Freas and van Dongen. The layout is in single columns.

The Gentle Earth by Christopher Anvil
Invaders from another planet land in the central US as a first step. Their knowledge of conditions on Earth – climatic and social – isn’t adequate. The story is meant to be humorous and is diverting enough but it’s a throwaway.

The Shrines of Earth by Robert Silverberg
Earth is a rural backwater, peopled by flute players. It is under threat from the Hrossai and the locals hatch a plan to inveigle help from former colony worlds to protect the ancient shrines of Earth.

Article: Science Fiction in a Robot’s Eye by Jack Williamson
This comments on a “recent” study of stories from 3 SF magazines over the years 1951-3 where statistical techniques were used for analysis. Bug-eyed monsters were rare, predictive type stories over-represented and minorities treated better than in other magazine fiction of the time.

One Per Cent Inspiration by Edward Wellen
A tale about how a Montana farmer one day in 1998 invented the teleportation drive.
This had one linguistic term I don’t remember seeing before, “stacks of timothy.” Apparently timothy is a kind of grass used for hay.

Citizen of the Galaxy, part 3 of 4 by Robert A Heinlein
Since I’m never likely to come across parts 1, 2 and 4, I didn’t bother with this.

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

A Tale of Adventure. Sceptre, 2007, 204p

Gentlemen of the Road cover

This was a delight. The story of two Jews With Swords (as Chabon’s working title had it) in the region of Khazaria on the Silk Road about 1,000 years ago it is a modern Boy’s Adventure Story. It is a long time since I read one of those but as far as my memory serves Chabon writes this much better than the Victorians did.

The two Jews are both a long way from home. Zelikman is from Regensburg in the Frankish Kingdom, and Amram is an African descendant of Solomon via the Queen of Sheba. Their scamming of other travellers by faking fights in order to profit from the betting thereon is interrupted by their encounter with Filaq, heir to a bekdom which has been usurped. Gentlemen of the Road is an admirably short novel but manages nevertheless to incorporate a lot of action.

The sentence structure can be convoluted, incorporating digressions and sub-clauses, but everything is in its place and contributes to the ongoing story. The inclusion (one per chapter) of full page illustrations of lines from the text gives the book the correct retro feel. How it relates to the work of such as R M Ballantyne and G A Henty I cannot say as my memory of those is hazy, but I doubt they had any sexual content as this does, briefly. What was unlikely in those is a woman having the agency one of the characters in this book exerts, indeed any sort of agency at all.

Chabon’s depiction of the times of the book accords with what I know of that era and place and extends it. I did wonder if the bek and kagan dual ruler set up in Khazaria might have been an inspiration to Robert Silverberg for the Coronal and Pontifex of his Majipoor novels and stories.

The end-papers contain a lovely map of Khazaria and the surrounding lands.

Gentlemen of the Road is a beautiful artefact, outside and in.

Locus Poll

A recent poll in Locus (the main news magazine for those with an interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy) had the following results for SF novels of the 20th century.

Those asterisked I have read. **means I can’t remember if I read it long ago or not.

1* Herbert, Frank : Dune (1965)
2* Card, Orson Scott : Ender’s Game (1985)
3* Asimov, Isaac : The Foundation Trilogy (1953)
4* Simmons, Dan : Hyperion (1989)
5* Le Guin, Ursula K. : The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
6 Adams, Douglas : The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
7* Orwell, George : Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
8* Gibson, William : Neuromancer (1984)
9* Bester, Alfred : The Stars My Destination (1957)
10** Bradbury, Ray : Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
11* Heinlein, Robert A. : Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
12 Heinlein, Robert A. : The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966)
13* Haldeman, Joe : The Forever War (1974)
14* Clarke, Arthur C. : Childhood’s End (1953)
15* Niven, Larry : Ringworld (1970)

People obviously voted for their favourites from their youth and not in terms of literary quality.

The only one of them I would put in a top ten is the Le Guin. My memory of that is that it was one of the best books I have ever read, never mind just SF books. It was a long time ago, though.

And where is Robert Silverberg on the Locus list? Shameful.

Another List

This is a list of top 100 Science Fiction And Fantasy books from the website at NPR BOOKS to which I was directed via Ian Sales‘s blog. I got to it too late to take part in the poll NPR ran where you were to choose your favourite ten.

The usual applies; bold I’ve read, italics means I own but have not yet read it. ???? means I may have read it when I was (very) young but can’t actually remember.

The Acts Of Caine Series, by Matthew Woodring Stover
The Algebraist, by Iain M Banks
Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers

Armor, by John Steakley
The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson
Battlefield Earth, by L Ron Hubbard
Beggars In Spain, by Nancy Kress
The Belgariad, by David Eddings
The Black Company Series, by Glen Cook
The Black Jewels Series, by Anne Bishop
The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Bridge Of Birds, by Barry Hughart
The Callahan’s Series, by Spider Robinson
A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M Miller
The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, by Robert Heinlein
Cat’s Cradle , by Kurt Vonnegut
The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
The Change Series, by SM Stirling
Childhood’s End, by Arthur C Clarke
Children Of God, by Mary Doria Russell
The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R Donaldson
The City And The City, by China Miéville
City And The Stars, by Arthur C Clarke

A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
The Coldfire Trilogy, by CS Friedman
The Commonwealth Saga, by Peter F Hamilton
The Company Wars, by CJ Cherryh
The Conan The Barbarian Series, by Robert Howard
Contact, by Carl Sagan
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
The Culture Series, by Iain M Banks
The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
The Day of Triffids, by John Wyndham
Deathbird Stories, by Harlan Ellison

The Deed of Paksennarion Trilogy, by Elizabeth Moon
The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester
The Deverry Cycle, by Katharine Kerr
Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany
The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
The Difference Engine, by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
The Dispossessed, by Ursula K LeGuin
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick.

Don’t Bite The Sun, by Tanith Lee
Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
Dreamsnake, by Vonda McIntyre
The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert

Earth, by David Brin
Earth Abides, by George R Stewart
The Eisenhorn Omnibus, by Dan Abnett
The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
Eon, by Greg Bear
The Eyes Of The Dragon, by Stephen King
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
The Faded Sun Trilogy, by CJ Cherryh
Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser Series, by Fritz Leiber
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
The Female Man, by Joanna Russ
The Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy, by Guy Gavriel Kay.
A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie
Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
The Foreigner Series, by CJ Cherryh
The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
The Gaea Trilogy, by John Varley
The Gap Series, by Stephen R Donaldson
The Gate To Women’s Country, by Sheri S Tepper
Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway
The Gormenghast Trilogy, by Mervyn Peake (two only, the third is tbr)
Grass, by Sheri S Tepper
Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End of The World, by Haruki Murakami
The Heechee Saga, by Frederik Pohl
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
The Hollows Series, by Kim Harrison
House Of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski
The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov ????
The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
The Incarnations Of Immortality Series, by Piers Anthony
The Inheritance Trilogy, by NK Jemisin
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
Kindred, by Octavia Butler
The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
Kraken, by China Miéville
The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
Last Call, by Tim Powers
The Last Coin, by James P Blaylock
The Last Herald Mage Trilogy, by Mercedes Lackey – never read it.
The Last Unicorn, by Peter S Beagle
The Lathe Of Heaven, by Ursula K LeGuin.
The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K LeGuin

The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by RA Salvatore
The Lensman Series, by EE Smith
The Liaden Universe Series, by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
The Lies Of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lync.
Lilith’s Brood, by Octavia Butler
Little, Big, by John Crowley
The Liveship Traders Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
Lord Of Light, by Roger Zelazny
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by JRR Tolkien (one only)
Lord Valentine’s Castle, by Robert Silverberg
Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K Dick.
The Manifold Trilogy, by Stephen Baxter
The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury ?????
Memory And Dream, by Charles de Lint
Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn Trilogy, by Tad Williams
Mindkiller, by Spider Robinson
The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
Mordant’s Need, by Stephen Donaldson
More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov

The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy, by Robert J Sawyer
Neuromancer, by William Gibson
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
The Newsflesh Trilogy, by Mira Grant
The Night’s Dawn Trilogy, by Peter F Hamilton
Novels Of The Company, by Kage Baker
Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith
The Number Of The Beast, by Robert Heinlein
Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
On Basilisk Station, by David Weber
The Once And Future King, by TH White
Oryx And Crake, by Margaret Atwood
The Otherland Tetralogy, by Tad Williams
The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
Parable Of The Sower, by Octavia Butler
The Passage, by Justin Cronin
Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson
Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville
The Prestige, by Christopher Priest

The Pride Of Chanur, by CJ Cherryh
The Prince Of Nothing Trilogy, by R Scott Bakker
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge
Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C Clarke
Replay, by Ken Grimwood
Revelation Space, by Alistair Reynolds
Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban
The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E Feist
Ringworld, by Larry Niven

The Riverworld Series, by Philip Jose Farmer
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
The Saga Of Pliocene Exile, by Julian May
The Saga Of Recluce, by LE Modesitt Jr
The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
The Sarantine Mosaic Series, by Guy Gavriel Kay
A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K Dick
The Scar, by China Miéville

The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
The Shattered Chain Trilogy, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Silmarillion, by JRR Tolkien
The Sirens Of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
The Snow Queen, by Joan D Vinge
Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury ?????
Song for the Basilisk, by Patricia McKillip
A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
The Space Trilogy, by CS Lewis
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
The Stainless Steel Rat Books, by Harry Harrison
Stand On Zanzibar, by John Brunner
The Stand, by Stephen King
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
Stations Of The Tide, by Michael Swanwick
Steel Beach, by John Varley
Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
The Swordspoint Trilogy, by Ellen Kushner
The Tales of Alvin Maker, by Orson Scott Card.
The Temeraire Series, by Naomi Novik
The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay
Time Enough For Love, by Robert Heinlein
The Time Machine, by HG Wells ?????
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
To Say Nothing Of The Dog, by Connie Willis
The Troy Trilogy, by David Gemmell
Ubik, by Philip K Dick
The Uplift Saga, by David Brin
The Valdemar Series, by Mercedes Lackey
VALIS, by Philip K Dick
Venus On The Half-Shell, by Kilgore Trout/Philip Jose Farmer
The Vlad Taltos Series, by Steven Brust
The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Vurt Trilogy, by Jeff Noon (the first certainly)
The War Of The Worlds, by HG Wells
Watchmen, by Alan Moore
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
Way Station, by Clifford D Simak
We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin

The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger
Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
World War Z, by Max Brooks
The Worm Ouroboros, by ER Eddison
The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon
1632, by Eric Flint
1984, by George Orwell
2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C Clarke

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne ????

Many of these I’ve never heard of. Quite a few do not belong on a modern best of SF and Fantasy list. The Asimovs and the Doc Smith in particular. These were works from the early days and while bathed in the glow of nostalgia do not have the minimum of literary quality I look for when I consider books to be good.

I’m also agnostic about whether some of the recently published books on the list will stand the test of time.

Notable omissions: the books of Michael Coney and Michael Bishop for starters.

Legends; edited by Robert Silverberg

Voyager, 1998, 591p.

This is a collection of fantasy stories set in the various worlds created by “the best known and most accomplished modern creators of fantasy fiction.” There are two cover paintings, the one above is in the normal orientation, one based on that on the right below being upside down on the back cover.

The Little Sisters of Eluria by Stephen King. (Set in the milieu of The Dark Tower.)

A gunslinger staggers into town with his knackered horse, which promptly dies. He gets beaten up by zombies and handed over to a set of nurses who wish to feed on him and is saved only by the medallion he removed from a dead body earlier.
I’ve never read any Stephen King before – horror isn’t much my thing – and after this I doubt I’ll be reading any more. I wasn’t drawn in, nor was I engaged with the main character at all and as a result didn’t much care what happened to him. This story also betrays an inordinate fondness for the word mayhap. Four instances in fifty pages is at least three too many. Arguably four.

The Sea and Little Fishes by Terry Pratchett. (A Discworld story.)

Granny Weatherwax is asked not to compete in this year’s Witch Trials because she always wins. She accedes, graciously, and everyone else is spooked.
I have read some Pratchett previously and this is the mix much as usual, competently written, diverting, but not earth shattering.

Debt of Bones by Terry Goodkind. (The Sword of Truth.)

A young woman petitions The First Wizard for help to rescue her husband and daughter who have been captured by the evil invaders the D’Hara. For reasons of his own the Wizard assents, but not without seeming reluctance. From there the story unfolds as you might expect, though Goodkind throws in the odd twist or two. The resolution depends on the utilisation of magic; which is always bothersome. If anything can be done (no matter the cost in terms of deterioration to the health of the caster of the spells) then nothing is of consequence. In short, where is the real peril? And why was the good magic not used long since to prevent the bad situation occurring? (Except, of course, to provide us with a story.) On a less philosophical note, just before the climax of the story – the obligatory pyrotechnics and illusions – one of the enemy sorceresses, a Mord-Sith – is, unconvincingly I would have thought, fixated on her immediate task and as a result is overcome too easily. But this is required for plot purposes. In addition, the story’s dénouement is not as dark as the setup warrants.
Goodkind is also new to me. While his writing is readable, I wasn’t moved to seek him out further.

Grinning Man by Orson Scott Card. (The Tales of Alvin Maker.)

Alvin Maker and his companion, Arthur Stuart, meet a man who enters grinning contests with bears. (The winner gains power over the other.) They then travel on to a small town where they at first – due to the grinning man’s lies – encounter mistrust but are accommodated by a miller with dodgy business practices which Alvin eventually reveals with the aid of a bear. The bear, with Alvin’s intervention, has taken the grinning man as a kind of slave. This all sounds bizarre but within the tale it has its own logic.
I have read Card before; and was never enthused by him. This is entertaining enough, but slight.

The Seventh Shrine by Robert Silverberg. (Majipoor.)

Lord Valentine, now Pontifex of Majipoor, delighted to escape The Labyrinth to which his position normally confines him, investigates a murder in the former capital of the aboriginal inhabitants of the planet, the shapeshifting Metamorphs. The Metamorph archaeologist Dr Huukaminaan (or Huukaminaam; the two spellings appear annoyingly interchangeable) has been found dismembered in an ancient Metamorph religious site. Lord Valentine eventually solves the puzzle of the untimely death.
Silverberg is one of my favourite authors. His early stuff was standard 1950s SF but since his re-entry into the field in the late 1960s he has been a major figure, even at his worst never less than interesting. (Silverberg’s worst is always technically accomplished and a cut above the best of most writers in the SF and fantasy fields.) The Majipoor tales, which are from relatively late in his career, are entertainment. The Seventh Shrine duly entertains. Not vintage Silverberg though.

Dragonfly by Ursula K Le Guin. (Earthsea)

Dragonfly is the first female ever to be admitted to the establishment on the island of Roke where mages are trained. The reasons for this, her journey to that point, the reluctance of some of the mages to accept her, are rendered with Le Guin’s characteristic sympathy and attention to detail.
Le Guin is my favourite author of SF/fantasy. Her understanding of the human condition is profound. Her characters’ motivations are always clear and understandable. She can even overcome my reluctance to engage with stories which feature dragons.

The Burning Man by Tad Williams. (Memory, Sorrow and Thorn)

A young woman, Breda, whose widowed mother remarried but died a few years later, tries to understand the remoteness at the heart of her stepfather, Sulis, a political refugee from a foreign country, but one who has retained a retinue of armed guards. The burning man of the title is one of the old Powers, summoned by a witch under duress in order to relieve Sulis of his existential angst.
Williams is also new to me. His writing here is impressive, particularly his invocation of the infatuated love affair Breda has with a young soldier, Tellarin. However, he gives his narrator a tendency not so much to foreshadow as to lay out future events. Fair enough, in that she is relating the defining time of her life from the perspective of old age but the habit was a more than a touch relentless and crucially failed to prefigure adequately Tellarin’s core and the choice Breda has to make at the climax.

The Hedge Knight by George R R Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire)

Dunk, squire to Ser Alan of Pennytree, takes over the old man’s possessions when he dies. Despite never having been dubbed he passes himself off as a hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall. He travels to a large tournament where he hopes to succeed in a challenge and thereby make his fortune. Along the way he picks up a stable lad, who seeks training as his squire. So far, so predictable. Martin, however, complicates and recomplicates his narrative – much as he does the larger Song of Ice and Fire cycle – to great effect. This world of aristocratic houses, heraldry, jousting, (some) chivalry and war, while a straight lift from history, seems to be rendered whole. Each walk on character is believable.* For a story this long, though, there are too many names. Too many Sers clump each other on the tournament field before we get to the point.
*Perhaps my familiarity with A Song of Ice and Fire helped.

Runner of Pern by Anne McCaffrey (Pern)

A young graduate carrier of messages between the various outposts of civilisation on Pern (the runner of the title) suffers a mishap in her first great long journey across the world. Her convalescence and medical treatment are described in detail as is her outfitting for the Gather to take place in the Hold where she is rehabilitating. There is little conflict, if any, only misunderstandings (telegraphed at that.) None of the characters are in any way wicked, sinful or bad. Nothing much happens here. Move on.
I read some McCaffrey many years ago, Dragonflight and The Ship Who Sang. This hasn’t encouraged me to enlarge that experience further.

The Wood Boy by Raymond E Feist (The Riftwar Saga)

Topped and tailed by a crude framing device which highlights the unreliable point of view in the main narrative this is the story of a young servant boy who survives the massacre of his household by another of its retainers and tracks the perpetrator (and the young girl who was his co-conspirator) both of whom die in the struggle that ensues when he catches up with them.

New Spring by Robert Jordan (The Wheel Of Time)

A long tale with two main viewpoint characters, Moiraine, one of the Aes Sedai who can channel powers and Lan, the now stateless King of the Malkieri, where a black sisterhood within the Aes Sedai is trying to prevent the coming of age of a boy who can channel. The familiar mayhem and bloodshed ensue. An unusual touch has a coup de grace in a magic duel not delivered by magic.

Feist and Jordan were also new to me but too generic for my tastes.

Overall I found this a bit of a slog. Some of the settings in Legends are arguably SF rather than fantasy ones but there is a tendency to stock mediævality in too many of the outright fantasies which I find both deadening and disheartening. Is the modern world so unappealing that the comfort of a hierarchical social order is a necessary palliative? Can no-one write a fantasy story set in the here and now?

But then, any sufficiently advanced magic would be indistinguishable from technology.

Legends II is on my tbr pile. It may be some while.

Top 50 Gollancz Book Titles

Over at Orion Publishing Group their Gollancz imprint is celebrating 50 years of publishing SF. They’€™re having a vote to see which of their chosen titles is the best. There are two categories, one for SF, one for Fantasy.

I thought I’d do this as an Ian Sales type meme.

The ones in bold I have read.

Gollancz top 25 SF titles:-

A Case of Conscience by James Blish
Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
Brasyl by Ian McDonald
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Dune by Frank Herbert

Fairyland by Paul McAuley
The Female Man by Joanna Russ
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Flood by Stephen Baxter
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes *
Gateway by Frederik Pohl
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon
More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
Pavane by Keith Roberts
Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
Ringworld by Larry Niven
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
Tau Zero by Poul Anderson
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
The Separation by Christopher Priest
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts

* as a short story.

As you can see I’ve read all but five of these.

Gollancz top 25 Fantasy titles:-

Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper
Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
Book of the New Sun (Vol 1&2) (Vol 3&4) by Gene Wolfe
The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg

Conan Volume One by Robert E. Howard
Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
Elric by Michael Moorcock
Eric by Terry Pratchett
Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Little, Big by John Crowley
Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
Memoirs of a Master Forger by William Heaney
Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson
Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack Vance
Viriconium by M. John Harrison
Wolfsangel by M. D. Lachlan

Only seven from the Fantasy list, though.

For what it’s worth I voted for Keith Roberts’s Pavane and Little, Big by John Crowley.

Science Fiction Mistressworks

There’s an interesting conversation going around vis-a-vis Science Fiction so-called Masterworks.

Both Ian Sales and Paul Raven over at Futurismic have commented on the lack of female writers in the Gollancz series. Ian has even gone so far as to produce a meme listing 91 women Science Fictioneers.

There is perhaps a need to boost the recognition of the contribution of women to the genre (The Women Men Don’t See) though I have the impression there are more about than there were but as a contest this isn’t one.

Ursula Le Guin trumps everyone.

Everyone, female or male.

Even Robert Silverberg.

A List Of Science Fiction Masterworks

Over at Ian Sales’s blog he has mentioned a meme that seems to come from the SF and Fantasy Masterworks Reading Project.

There seems to be a few more books on Ian’s list than on the Reading Project’s site, in all nearly a hundred. Some appear twice because there are two lists, one in Roman numerals and the other in Arabic.

I suppose the reason that not many of these are recent publications is that it takes time for a book to be appreciated as a masterwork.

The ones in bold I have read. For those starred (*) I have read the short story from which the novel was developed. Those with double stars I believe I read many moons ago but do not now have a copy. The italicised one is in the TBR pile (and has been for donkey’s ages.)

SF Masterworks Index:-

I – Dune – Frank Herbert
II – The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin
III – The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
IV – The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
V – A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller, Jr.
VI – Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke

VII – The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
VIII – Ringworld – Larry Niven
IX – The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
X – The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

1 – The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
2 – I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
3 – Cities in Flight – James Blish
4 – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
5 – The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
6 – Babel-17 – Samuel R. Delany
7 – Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny
8 – The Fifth Head of Cerberus – Gene Wolfe

9 – Gateway – Frederik Pohl
10 – The Rediscovery of Man – Cordwainer Smith

11 – Last and First Men – Olaf Stapledon
12 – Earth Abides – George R. Stewart
13 – Martian Time-Slip – Philip K. Dick
14 – The Demolished Man – Alfred Bester
15 – Stand on Zanzibar – John Brunner
16 – The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin
17 – The Drowned World – J. G. Ballard
18 – The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut

19 – Emphyrio – Jack Vance
20 – A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick

21 – Star Maker – Olaf Stapledon
22 – Behold the Man – Michael Moorcock
23 – The Book of Skulls – Robert Silverberg
24 – The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells

25 – Flowers for Algernon* – Daniel Keyes
26 – Ubik – Philip K. Dick
27 – Timescape – Gregory Benford
28 – More Than Human – Theodore Sturgeon
29 – Man Plus – Frederik Pohl
30 – A Case of Conscience – James Blish

31 – The Centauri Device – M. John Harrison
32 – Dr. Bloodmoney – Philip K. Dick
33 – Non-Stop – Brian Aldiss
34 – The Fountains of Paradise – Arthur C. Clarke
35 – Pavane – Keith Roberts
36 – Now Wait for Last Year – Philip K. Dick
37 – Nova – Samuel R. Delany
38 – The First Men in the Moon – H. G. Wells
39 – The City and the Stars – Arthur C. Clarke
40 – Blood Music – Greg Bear

41 – Jem – Frederik Pohl
42 – Bring the Jubilee – Ward Moore
43 – VALIS – Philip K. Dick
44 – The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin
45 – The Complete Roderick – John Sladek
46 – Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said – Philip K. Dick
47 – The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells
48 – Grass – Sheri S. Tepper
49 – A Fall of Moondust – Arthur C. Clarke

50 – Eon – Greg Bear

51 – The Shrinking Man – Richard Matheson
52 – The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick
53 – The Dancers at the End of Time – Michael Moorcock
54 – The Space Merchants** – Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth
55 – Time Out of Joint – Philip K. Dick
56 – Downward to the Earth – Robert Silverberg
57 – The Simulacra – Philip K. Dick
58 – The Penultimate Truth – Philip K. Dick
59 – Dying Inside – Robert Silverberg
60 – Ringworld – Larry Niven

61 – The Child Garden* – Geoff Ryman
62 – Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement
63 – A Maze of Death – Philip K. Dick

64 – Tau Zero** – Poul Anderson
65 – Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C. Clarke
66 – Life During Wartime – Lucius Shepard

67 – Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang – Kate Wilhelm
68 – Roadside Picnic – Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
69 – Dark Benediction – Walter M. Miller, Jr.
70 – Mockingbird – Walter Tevis

71 – Dune – Frank Herbert
72 – The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
73 – The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
74 – Inverted World, Christopher Priest
75 – Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
76 – The Island of Dr Moreau, HG Wells
77 – Childhood’s End, Arthur C Clarke
78 – The Time Machine, HG Wells
79 – Dhalgren, Samuel R Delany
80 – Helliconia, Brian Aldiss
81 – Food of the Gods, HG Wells

82 – The Body Snatchers, Jack Finney
83 – The Female Man*, Joanna Russ
84 – Arslan, MJ Engh

Not Fifteen Books

Ian Sales on his blog mentioned a while back a meme that is going about, where you list the fifteen books that influenced or affected you most and have stayed with you. I don’t know if I can come up with fifteen off the top of my head but here are some.

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert
The Man In The Maze by Robert Silverberg
The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin
Winter’s Children and Hello Summer Goodbye both by Michael G Coney
Lanark by Alasdair Gray
The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner by James Hogg
2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke
Pavane by Keith Roberts

The Herbert is there because it was the first Dune book I read (out of the local Public Library, when I devoured any yellow jacketed book in the SF section.) I didn’t know when I picked it up it was a sequel. It still made sense, and is a better novel than Dune anyway. So is Children Of Dune; but the later ones are increasingly forgettable.
The Man In The Maze made me realise what SF could be and do. Silverberg has written books even more impressive but I was on the verge of stopping reading SF till I read this. So Robert Silverberg is to blame for my continuing involvement with the genre.
The Left Hand Of Darkness just blew me away.
All the Michael G Coneys from around that part of his career are superb as I remember. Lump in Mirror Image, Syzygy, Charisma, The Girl With A Symphony In Her Fingers* (aka The Jaws That Bite, The Claws That Catch) and Brontomek! to that list.
Lanark, while being a masterpiece by anyone’s definition also let me know it was actually possible to be Scottish and still get literature of a speculative bent into print.
Confessions Of A Justified Sinner is the prototypic Scottish novel. Jekyll and Hyde, your inspiration was surely here – also, in many senses, my story “Dusk,” despite the fact that stylistically I was more attempting to echo Silverberg. But if you live in Scotland that streak of fatalistic, Calvinistic gloom just gets to you.
2001. Amazingly, I read this before I saw the film. Sense of wonder plus. (At the time.)
Pavane opened up for me the delights of Altered History.

*This, I read only a few years ago, though.

I see the total comes to eight; fourteen if you count all the Coneys. But then I haven’t enumerated all the Silverbergs, nor the Le Guins. And now I think about it there ought to be a Roger Zelazny in there somewhere; any from He Who Shapes, This Immortal, Isle Of The Dead or Doorways In The Sand.

Now, if there were a meme for books that stayed with you for all the wrong reasons…..

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