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SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

This meme started with Judith at Reader in the Wilderness but has now been taken up by Katrina at Pining for the West.

Science Fiction Books Again

This shelf is the last containing SF books I have read. These start at Connie Willis and finish with Roger Zelazny – to whom all bar Silverberg and Le Guin bow down – but also incorporating my copies of the old Spectrum SF magazine (I have six copies of issue 2 because I had a story in it – I also had one in issue 3 but only got four copies of that) and 17 issues of Galaxy Magazine. [Edited to add. I forgot my four copies of the Destinies collections are in there too.]

In there is also my John Wyndham collection.

The 20 books following I had read (from Dumbarton Library it must have been) before I bought copies to keep and have housed them separately from my other SF ever since.

Then you’ll note two copies of a book called A Son of the Rock, plus a Zelazny collaboration.

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (vi)

(This week’s entry for Judith’s meme at Reader in the Wilderness.)

Again these are small-size (original size) SF paperbacks. Again they are housed in the garage and again are double-parked.

It was difficult to get back far enough to fit these all into the photo.

They start at Stanisław Lem and finish at Connie Willis. There’s a whole shelf of Robert Silverberg in here. Other notables: George R R Martin, Ian McDonald, Larry Niven, Christopher Priest, Tim Powers, Kim Stanley Robinson, Bob Shaw, Cordwainer Smith, James Tiptree Jr (aka Alice Sheldon,) Harry Turtledove and Ian Watson.

Science FIction Books

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (iv)

The remainder of my larger SF paperbacks. These are on the lower shelves of the old music cupboard. Looking at these photos two of the books seem to have wriggled away from alphabetical order. (I’ve fixed that now.)

Stanisław Lem, Ken Macleod, Cixin Liu, Graham Dunstan Martin, Ian McDonald:-

Large Paperback Science Fiction

China Miéville, a Tim Powers, Christopher Priest:-

SF Large Paperback Books

Alastair Reynolds, Robert Silverberg, Norman Spinrad:-

Science Fiction Large Paperbacks

Lavie Tidhar, Kurt Vonnegut, Gene Wolfe, Ian Watson, Roger Zelazny, (well half of one is):-

SF Books, Large Paperbacks

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (iii)

Another for Judith Reader in the Wilderness‘s meme.

This week, the remainder of my SF hardbacks. Click pictures to enlarge them.

More Ian McDonald, China Miéville, Christopher Priest, Keith Roberts, Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Silverberg, a book of Art Deco posters which fits in nowhere else.

Science Fiction Hardbacks (iii)

On another shelf entirely, standing next to the above. This contains books by my not so secret SF vice, Harry Turtledove, plus one Gene Wolfe, among others. Above, on its side, is a book containing illustrated Bernie Taupin lyrics for early Elton John songs:-

Science Fiction Hardbacks (iv)

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (ii)

Large SF paperbacks this week for Judith’s meme at Reader in the Wilderness.

I keep these in an old music cupboard I inherited from my great-uncle. I’ve got so many of these they have to be double-parked, so you can’t actually see the first and third shelves shown here when the cupboard is opened. Stacking some on their sides gives me an extra 4 cm of space. Click on the photos to enlarge the pictures.

These include a J G Ballard, Iain M Banks, Chris Beckett, Eric Brown, Ursula Le Guin and Ian McDonald:-

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (i)

Annoyingly, even these large paperbacks do not all come in one size. The upright ones to the right here are smaller than the previous books. More McDonald, Tim Powers, Kim Stanley Robertson, Adam Roberts, Hannu Rajaniemi, a lesser Robert Silverberg, Kurt Vonnegut:-

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (ii)

More Ballard, Banks, Beckett and Brown. Lavie Tidhar, Neil Williamson and another step down in size:-

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (iii)

John Crowley, M John Harrison, Dave Hutchinson, Stanisław Lem:-

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (iv)

Hey! A list!

I’ve just discovered through Ian Sales’s blog that the BBC has produced a list of “100 Books that Shaped our World.” It’s as idiosyncratic as any such list always is.

Ian has started a list of his own (with different criteria) of which you can see the first instalment via the link above. Nina Allan has also published her own list.

I doubt that I could go up to anything like 100 on the books that shaped me and my reading so I’m not even going to try except to say my love of Science Fiction was engendered by reading the SF of Captain W E Johns and Patrick Moore out of the children’s section of Dumbarton Library (in the basement, accessed via an outside door) and, once I’d graduated to the adult floor, the yellow covered Gollancz hardbacks.

Two exceptions.

I was about to give up reading SF when I read Robert Silverberg’s The Man in the Maze. It’s not his best but it’s one from the 1960s, in the “revival” stage of his career after he came back to SF and wrote stories the way they ought to be done – as distinct from the less considered works he’d written in the 1950s. It made me realise that SF could be literature.

So too, in spades, did Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.

Of the BBC’s list the ones I’ve read are in bold (19.) If I’ve read one or part of a series it’s in italics (2.) Some others here are on my tbr pile.

Identity
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Days Without End – Sebastian Barry
Fugitive Pieces – Anne Michaels
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Small Island – Andrea Levy
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
White Teeth – Zadie Smith

Love, Sex & Romance
Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
Forever – Judy Blume
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Riders – Jilly Cooper
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
The Far Pavilions – M. M. Kaye
The Forty Rules of Love – Elif Shafak
The Passion – Jeanette Winterson
The Slaves of Solitude – Patrick Hamilton

Adventure
City of Bohane – Kevin Barry
Eye of the Needle – Ken Follett
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman
Ivanhoe – Walter Scott
Mr Standfast – John Buchan
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
The Jack Aubrey Novels – Patrick O’Brian
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien

Life, Death & Other Worlds
A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin
Astonishing the Gods – Ben Okri
Dune – Frank Herbert
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
The Chronicles of Narnia – C. S. Lewis
The Discworld Series – Terry Pratchett
The Earthsea Trilogy – Ursula K. Le Guin
The Sandman Series – Neil Gaiman
The Road – Cormac McCarthy

Politics, Power & Protest
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Noughts & Crosses – Malorie Blackman
Strumpet City – James Plunkett
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
V for Vendetta – Alan Moore
Unless – Carol Shields

Class & Society
A House for Mr Biswas – V. S. Naipaul
Cannery Row – John Steinbeck
Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee
Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
Poor Cow – Nell Dunn
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – Alan Sillitoe
The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne – Brian Moore
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys

Coming of Age
Emily of New Moon – L. M. Montgomery
Golden Child – Claire Adam
Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood
So Long, See You Tomorrow – William Maxwell
Swami and Friends – R. K. Narayan
The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien
The Harry Potter series – J. K. Rowling
The Outsiders – S. E. Hinton
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ – Sue Townsend
The Twilight Saga – Stephenie Meyer

Family & Friendship
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild
Cloudstreet – Tim Winton
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith

Middlemarch – George Eliot
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin
The Shipping News – E. Annie Proulx
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë
The Witches – Roald Dahl

Crime & Conflict
American Tabloid – James Ellroy
American War – Omar El Akkad
Ice Candy Man – Bapsi Sidhwa
Rebecca -Daphne du Maurier
Regeneration – Pat Barker
The Children of Men – P.D. James
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
The Quiet American – Graham Greene

Rule Breakers
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
Bartleby, the Scrivener – Herman Melville
Habibi – Craig Thompson
How to be Both – Ali Smith
Orlando – Virginia Woolf
Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell

Psmith, Journalist – P. G. Wodehouse
The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name – Audre Lorde

Roads Not Taken edited by Gardner Dozois and Stanley Schmidt

Tales of Alternate History, Del Rey, 1998, 332 p plus iv p What is Alternate History? by Shelly Shapiro.

Roads Not Taken cover

The question in that What is Alternate History? introduction is surely superfluous to anyone with an interest in buying this book.

As someone with an interest in both history and SF I’m obviously a pushover for counterfactual histories like the ones collected here. None of the stories (which are all by men I note) here deal with the big what-ifs like different outcomes to the US Civil War or Second World War but instead examine smaller turning points with subtler ramifications. The quality of the writing is variable but all hold the attention.
Must and Shall1 by Harry Turtledove sees Lincoln shot in a Confederate attack on Washington DC so that many years later the former Confederate States are still ruled by a much resented military occupation and aching to rebel.
An Outpost of the Empire2 is one of Robert Silverberg’s Roma Eterna stories. Here a new Roman pro-consul comes to Venetia – once of the recently defeated Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Greek aristocrat Eudoxia despises him yet has to be accommodating. The plot could be described as Pride and Prejudice in togas even though Silverberg undercuts it with his last sentence.
In We Could Do Worse by Gregory Benford we are under Joe McCarthy’s Presidency as Nixon had delivered the 1950 California Republican Primary delegates to Taft who in turn nominated McCarthy as Vice-President. Taft died. The story illustrates the resulting authoritarianism and bending of rules to ensure McCarthy’s re-election, all in the name of anti-Communism. Sadly this strikes all too resonant a chord now than it would when it was first published in 1989.
Mike Resnick’s Over There3 sees Teddy Roosevelt make a nuisance of himself during the Great War by reconstituting his Rough Riders and taking them over to France where Pershing is under orders to keep him well away from the front.
Ink From the New Moon by A A Attanasio is narrated by a Chinese visitor to the New World – colonised from Asia much earlier than it was by Europeans in our time – and encounters Columbus.
Southpaw by Bruce McAllister follows Fidel Castro after his acceptance of the invitation to become a professional baseball player with the New York Giants. The story concerns his glancing contact with Cuban dissidents.
Greg Costikyan’s The West is Red4 has an impoverished capitalist USA has voting in a Communist President to implement the more efficient economics of centralist planning. Background events in the story bear some resemblance to Boris Yeltsin’s frustration of the old guard’s coup d’état in our world.
The longest story in the book, The Forest of Time5 by Michael J Flynn, examines the fate of a parallel worlds Jumper who is marooned in a North America where the thirteen original colonies never united and focuses on the responses of those who encounter him.
In Aristotle and the Gun6 by L Sprague de Camp a time traveller goes back to try to persuade Aristotle of the benefits of the Scientific Method, with, to him, unexpected results.
How I Lost the Second World War and Helped Turn Back the German Invasion by Gene Wolfe is not as apocalyptic as it sounds. The Second World War is a board game and the German invasion is by the “People’s Car”, a device outperformed due to Churchill’s knowledge of the properties of transistors.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Michaels’ (Michaels’s,) Morrie Harris’ (Morrie Harris’s,) New Orleans’ (New Orleans’s,) “gaping at naked women” (it’s usually gawping at,) Colquit Reynolds’ (Colquit Reynolds’s) 2In the introduction “Shadrack in the Furnace” (Shadrach.) 3”Bullets and cannonballs flew to the right and left” (cannonballs? In World War 1?) 4”would have own the Cold War” (would have won.) 5mowed down (mown.) “The argument in the cell reached a crescendo.” (No. It reached a climax,) Oschenfuss’ (Oschenfuss’s.) 6Nearchos’ (Nearchos’s,) Alexandros’ (Alexandros’s,) Zandras’ (Zandras’s,) Attalos’ (Attalos’s,) Herodotos’ (Herodotos’s.)

Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer

the greatest empire that never was.

Small Beer, 2003, 255 p. Translated from the Spanish Kalpa Imperial by Ursula K Le Guin. First published in two volumes La casa del poder (The House of Power) and El Imperio mas vasto (The Greatest Empire) by Ediciones Minotauro, Buenos Aires, 1983.

 Kalpa Imperial cover

This is not really like anything I’ve ever read before, a sweeping, dazzling, accomplishment of a book, soaring yet at the same time utterly grounded, told in two parts, The House of Power and The Greatest Empire, of five and six sections respectively, a history of an empire “so long that a whole life dedicated to study and research isn’t enough to know it wholly,” a history “strewn with surprise, contradictions, abysses, deaths, resurrections,” of an empire “so vast that a man can’t cross it in his lifetime.” A chronicling of human life, then.

I doubt it has any equivalent but the nearest comparison in SF is probably Robert Silverberg’s Roma Eterna, mainly due to its episodic narrative, but despite its fabular nature (no empire could ever last as long, with so many ruling dynasties, as the one in this book) this is somehow less fanciful and more convincing (and I liked Roma Eterna a lot even though it was late Silverberg where he wasn’t quite as incisive as in his pomp.) Kalpa Imperial nevertheless did somehow at times remind me of translations of Chinese literature but probably only because it deals with emperors and empires and the consequent power struggles.

Despite its subtitle the book does not restrict itself to the emperors or their courts. Life in the empire is presented in an approximation of its diversity but there is no continuity between the sections, no characters carry on from one to the next or later. Instead the picture is built up from what are in effect short stories/novellas set in the same milieu. A binding link in the book, though, is that, like fairy tales, most of the sections begin with the same phrase, in this case, “The storyteller said:” but varied with one, “Yes, said the storyteller:” a, “Vast is the empire, said the storyteller:” with the last section altering the template to, “‘I’m an orphan,” The Cat had said,’”. All these help to solidify the tales, to root the book in a compelling simulation of an actual history as remembered by oral historians. But it is precisely that lack of continuity, that difference between the sections (except for the narrative tone,) that works to make the book feel like a true history.

Throughout the book there are asides on the art of story. “The reason why there are storytellers in the world is to answer those questions we all ask, and not as the teller, but as the reader,” “a storyteller is no more than a free man, and being a free man is a dangerous business,” and, pertinently to any time but certainly apposite now, “who takes any notice of the wise, these days, except storytellers, or poets?” Particularly redolent was the passage which dwelt on the phrase, “not all is said.”

There is a knowing quality to the section which riffs on The Odyssey. A legend is recited containing people named Kirdaglas, Marlenditrij, Betedeivis, Maripícfor, Briyibardó, Jedilamar, Alendelón, Orsonuéls, Clargueibl, Yeimsdín etc, with houses named saloon, rashomon, elañopasadoenmarienbad and charge of the light brigade and which also features sirens called ringostars.

Gorodischer is well-served by her translator. (Though if you’re going to be translated it must be a boon if it is done by one of the best writers around.) But the whole is a marvel of invention, a rich imagining of a world not our own but as near to it as makes no difference.

Pedant’s corner:- “time’s mirror losses all its reflects” (reflections, surely?) Ja’ladahlva (elsewhere Ja’ladahva,) a missing end quotation mark, busses (buses,) “who lived more than twenty kilos away” (kilo is used as an abbreviation for kilogram, not kilometre,) “the girl was very young girl” (a very young girl,) “in the darkness under of the walls” (either under or of, not both,) two of the women were were crawling (only one were needed.) “Five minutes later” (twice in two lines, both beginning a paragraph.) “He knew it” – death – “was waiting for him in the South too, but maybe there it wouldn’t take so long to come” (context suggests “but maybe there it would take longer to come”,) traveller’s tales (travellers’ tales?) “.. he could stay as long as he like before” (liked,) “a gesture that included that included” (one “that included” only,) a missing quote mark at a section beginning with a piece of dialogue – probably house style but it irritates me, Clargueible (previously Clargueibl,) “of the the dead emperor” (only one “the”,) “it it rose up” (only one “it”.)

Blood on the Mink by Robert Silverberg

Titan Hard Case Crime, 2012, 213 p. Content first published in 1959, 1960 and 1962.

 Blood on the Mink cover

The author is my second favourite writer of SF and I read this one for the sake of completeness. Silverberg is not widely known for his crime novels but he knocked a few out in the last dying days of the pulp era when that market for Science Fiction had dried up. Pulp crime was not long in following but that wasn’t Silverberg’s fault. He is incapable of writing anything that is less than readable but this has the vices of its idiom in its lack of ornamentation, of its time in its casual sexism and of its place in an equally casual attitude to the use of guns.

Narrator Nick is a law enforcement agent whose speciality is in subduing his own identity and impersonating less major criminals in order to get to the main players. The plot involves the distributor of very good forgeries of five and ten dollar bills and the discovery and release from bondage of the engraver who made the plates for their manufacture. None of the characters lifts beyond the functional – or typical – but the plot is well-honed and provides the action its intended readership presumably craved.

The two accompanying short stories used to pad out this paperback are from the same era and in similar vein. Dangerous Doll riffs on the counterfeiting game and, as its title suggests, features a femme fatale, while One Night of Violence sees a travelling salesman get caught up in a gangland shootout. In this story I did wonder what on earth the “video set” in a late 1950s hotel lobby might have been.

Pedant’s corner:- bollixed (the British “bollocksed” is much to be preferred,) Klaus’ (Klaus’s, several instances,) Chavez’ (Chavez’s, ditto,) a missing full stop, Kleinjeld (elsewhere always Kleinfeld.)
Plus points for fitted – USian fiction usually has fit as a past tense.

Asimov’s Science Fiction January/February 2017

Dell Magazines

Asimov's Jan-Feb 2017 cover

Sheila Williams’s Editorial hails Asimov’s 40th year of publication, Robert Silverberg’s Reflections solicits two cheers for Piltdown Man, James Patrick Kelly’s On the Net: Ask Me Anything compares various digital assistants, in On Books1 Paul di Filippo reviews eight books (including one I have reviewed for Interzone.) I was under the impression that Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station was a fix-up novel. di Filippo writes about it as if unaware of this.
As to the fiction. In Crimson Birds of Small Miracles2 by Sean Monaghan the father of a daughter with a terminal brain disease takes her and her sister to see Shilinka Switalla’s artwork, a flock of robot birds doing murmurations, as these excursions seem to help her. This story had an illustration of a strange attitude to wealth. The father has a good business, can afford increasingly complex prosthetics for his sick daughter, can take his children to various different planets but reckons he could never be rich in the monetary sense. Yet he quite clearly is.
Tagging Bruno3 by Allen Steele. On Coyote, a moon in the system 47-Uma, a former soldier is roped in to act as guide on a project to tag an indigenous bird-like species (boids) dangerous to humans but under threat of extinction due to human hunting activity. It goes quite well till the expedition encounters a flock which turns the tables on them.
Still Life with Abyss by Jim Grimsley is set in a project researching the only individual in all the multiple universes who has never caused a fork in time.
In Fatherbond by Tom Purdow, new arrivals on a colony planet begin to work against the entity which seeks to restrict their actions. (It’s tempting to read this as a metaphor for the pre-Revolutionary government of North America which forbade expansion westwards, the desire to overthrow which ban -rather than the confected protest about taxation – being the true reason for the War of Independence.)
Winter Timeshare4 by Ray Nayler shows us the annual meeting of two people who inhabit bodies (dubbed blanks) for their one holiday each year which is always in Istanbul, whose surrounding hills are the location for sending volunteers on a one-way trip to space. Despite their purchasing power blanks are resented by the “normal” locals. For a reason not particularly obvious the job of one of our protagonists involves simulating the Peloponnesian War.
Two young girls in the LA area in Lisa Goldstein’s The Catastrophe of Cities investigate strange houses wherein they glimpse oddly shaped people and passageways lead elsewhere. They drift apart on puberty, one seemingly dropping out of existence. In much later life the other seeks her out.
Robert R Chase’s Pieces of Ourselves5 is the tale of a survivor of a terrorist attack on a moon base who may have assimilated character traits as a result of her experience.
Jack Skillingstead’s Destination6 features a man who has not been outside the confines of his gated work community since being plucked from his childhood home after displaying high aptitude being told by his bosses to take part in the game Destination, essentially a mystery tour by taxi. Outside is not what he thought.
The Meiosis of Cells and Exile by Octavia Cade is structured around the life of Soviet biochemist and neuroscientist Lina Stern. On a train to exile in Dzhambul her body buds sequentially (or else she hallucinates) three of her former selves, the Academician, the Child, and the Scientist. Each is equated with a function of the blood-brain barrier.
Starphone by Stephen Baxter is set in a post ocean-rise world where flood refugees are kept inside domes. Some teenagers plan a short escape to test the Fermi Paradox by making an Allen Array with their mobile phones.
In Blow Winds, and Crack Your Cheeks7 by John Alfred Taylor a couple celebrates the last time it will be safe to witness a storm at their island home. The damage it causes is still substantial even though the hurricane’s eye passes thirty miles out from shore.
Robert Reed’s The Speed of Belief8 is a tale of three entities, two immortals with bioceramic brains, one normal human, on their way to a planet where the rivers are sentient. I really couldn’t make much of this. Perhaps I was too tired when I read it.

Pedant’s corner:- 1 again di Filippo uses stefnal for science-fictional – it still looks odd to me, “compare that man to somewhat callow fellow” (to the somewhat callow fellow.) 2a dark red button-front jumper (a dark red cardigan, then?) base reliefs (bas-reliefs, I think,) 378.2 inches (how can you decimalise a non-metric unit?) “a small red crosshairs” (a implies singular, crosshairs is surely plural; there was “a green crosshairs” later,) “Carbon testing of boid skeletons had shown they could live as long as thirty-five years” (leaving aside the question of whether 14C would exist on this world at all, unless the carbon testing is somewhat different from on Earth it could do no such thing; 14C dating only yields the time elapsed since death,) a missing end quote mark, sole causality (casualty.) 4Bosporus (I only ever saw Bosphorus when I was young,) causal (casual was intended.) 5 “started at her intently” (stared.) 6 “an approved media” (it was one of the social media; so medium.) 7grille (grill, used earlier in the story.) 8 “with every sort of creatures” (creature.) “But the dense native air was heavily oxygenated, and the bedrock had been scorched clean of its forests and soil.” (This is stated to have been done by wildfires. The oxygen would have to be remnant then as there will be nothing to replenish it,) “carefully tailored frame: The long body” (no capital at “the”.) “Mere notice what was different” (noticed,) forbad (the usual form is forbade.)

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