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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)

Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville

Macmillan, 2015, 443 p.

 Three Moments of an Explosion cover

This is Miéville’s latest collection of short stories. Like with all such collections the interest varies but the stories are all readable.

The very short Three Moments of an Explosion consists of three fragments all describing explosions, some of which are used for advertisemants.
In Polynia Cold Masses – icebergs – appear in the sky over London (while coral sprouts on the walls of buildings in Brussels.) There’s a Wellsian feel to it but the end result is still distinctly Miévillean.
The Condition of New Death is that all dead bodies orient with their feet pointing directly towards to any observer (including cameras) at all times. Apparently this is linked to a feature of early First-Person Shooters.
The Dowager of Bees is narrated by a card player, inducted one day into the phenomenon of Hidden Suits, where a card (such as the Dowager of Bees) will manifest during a game – and in the rule books – only for both to disappear again once the game ends, with forfeits to be fulfilled. The reader can guess which card the climax will involve but there is still a resolution beyond its appearance.
Narrated by an immigrant shopkeeper on the island where it is set In the Slopes is the story both of two rival archæological digs in the shadow of a volcano which are uncovering evidence of extraterrestrials living alongside humans and of a new resin for preserving the remains.
The Crawl is the text of a trailer for a zombie film.
Watching God is set on a peninsula cut off from its mainland by forest and a ravine. Ships appear from time to time but never come ashore, instead wrecking themselves just out to sea as if forming words with their arrangements.
The title of The 9th Technique refers to a form of torture but the story itself is about the uncanny manifestations attached to the techniques – the cloth from the first waterboarding now having unusual properties – and their value as objects of desire. The 9th technique is confinement with an insect. Viewpoint character Koning acquires it.
The Rope is the World is a history of the girdling of Earth – a thin-spoked wheel – by space elevators and their subsequent inhabitation and decay. Money for old ….
Containing some fables particular to its setting The Buzzard’s Egg is the address of an enslaved member of a defeated city, whose job it is to look after the captured gods of conquered peoples, to one of those gods.
Säcken is a tale of supernatural apparitions arising from an ancient punishment for parricide, the poena cullei, where the criminal was sewn into a bag with a dog, a cockerel, a viper and an ape and then thrown into water.
Syllabus is what it says, an outline for an academic course on the detritus left by time-travellers, the ramifications of the arrival of alien insects for global poilitics and the implications of the privatisation of sickness in the UK.
In Dreaded Outcome a therapist has an unusual proactive role in the restoration of her patients to well-being using what she calls traumatic vector therapy. She also has her own therapist.
After the Festival is a gruesome tale about a new entertainment – the public slaughter of animals and the subsequent wearing of their heads by people chosen from the crowd.
The Dusty Hat starts as a tale of political leftist factionalism but soon veers off into weirdness and a discussion of geological deep time (which gives Miéville the opportunity to make a neat pun with the description glass struggle. He also for some reason finds it necessary to italicise the word stramash.)
Escapee is another text of a film trailer, this time for a horror film.
The Bastard Prompt’s narrator’s girlfriend was a jobbing actor not getting many parts so took a post as a Standardised Patient – helping trainee doctors to recognise diseases from their ‘symptoms’. She’s very good at it but then starts to describe symptoms for diseases that don’t exist – yet.
Rules is a short list of, em, rules for as yet unknown games and also a reflection on imitating an aeroplane with spread arms and making that “now-familiar” noise.
The estate of Estate is a housing one which Dan Loch’s family had to leave one day. When he comes back there is an outbreak of incidents involving drugged deer staggering around with their antlers on fire.
Keep relates the evolution of a new epidemic where, if the afflicted remain too long immobile, trenches appear in a circle around them, and the scientific efforts to discover its origins and possible cure.
A Second Slice Manifesto is that of an art movement which constructs and displays slices through prior paintings; slices which reveal more of the originals than was apparent to the naked eye.
A father and daughter enter a militarily embargoed area around Covehithe. They have come to watch the emergence of a damaged and sunken oil-rig from the sea. It has come to drill down and deposit eggs from which new rigs will grow.
The Junket is narrated by a hard-boiled media journalist describing the controversy around a film (made by Jews) which displays every anti-Semitic trope in the book, and its aftermath.
Four Final Orpheuses gives us four different versions of why Orpheus might have made that turn and fateful look towards Eurydice.
A picture frame turns put to have unusual properties in The Rabbet.
Listen the Birds is another storyboard for a film trailer.
A Mount is a meditation on the ubiquity of porcelain animals and why some seemingly out-of-place people, not their owners, might be fascinated by them.
A sense of understated eeriness hangs over The Design in which a medical student between the wars discovers designs etched into the bones of the cadaver he is dissecting. He concludes that God is a scrimshander.

Pedant’s corner: vortexes (strictly the plural of vortex is vortices,) “a plethora of ceremonies are emerging” (a plethora is singular; a plethora …. is emerging,) indices (yes, it’s an acceptable plural but when it is for book contents it’s usually spelled indexes,) sodium pentothol, (sodium pentothal,) Cheevers’ wife (Cheevers’s,) crevace-spiders (crevice-spiders?) “There were a series of percussions” (there was a series.) “Most of the town were already gathered” (most of the town was gathered.) “None of them leave.” (None of them leaves,) snuck (sneaked.) Pangea (Pangaea, or, even better, Pangæa.) “A line of police block the road” (A line … blocks the road,) “wracks his brain” (racks,) “or that it be not shown” (or that it not be shown,) “Baron von Richtofen” (if it’s that baron, it’s Richthofen,) fit (fitted,) trash (rubbish.)

Interzone 271, Jul-Aug 2017

TTA Press

Interzone 271 cover

Roy Gray takes the Editorial and describes a visit to the summer’s Barbican exhibition, Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction. Jonathan McCalmont discusses China Miéville’s history of the Russian Revolution October, describing it as the book Miéville was born to write. Nina Allan again reflects on SF’s distinction or otherwise as a genre and the necessity to question and reinvent its tropes. Book Zone1 has appreciative reviews of Nina Allan’s The Rift and Emily B Cattaneo’s collection Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories plus author interviews with the pair and also considers novels from Eleanor Lerman, Aliette de Bodard and Taiyo Fuji along with Ex Libris, an anthology of stories set in libraries, not to mention my review of Justina Robson’s The Switch.

In the fiction:-
Julie C Day’s The Rocket Farmer2 has three narrative viewpoints in its 10 pages: the descendant of a long line of Mongolian rocket farmers, her daughter, and one of the rockets. It is the daughter who is the first to truly understand the rockets.
Gods in the Blood (of those who rise)3 by Tim Casson is narrated by a science teacher (who has rather unprofessional biological deterministic views about his charges I must say. But these turn out to be plot related.) The nearby Genomic Innovation Facility is manipulating human epigenetics. All this is tied in with a legend from a Sumerian manuscript.
In If Your Powers Fail You in a City Under Tin4 by Michael Reid a tentacled creature called the God Beast has settled in the sky over the city now called Duolunduo. Some people have developed superpowers as a result.
The titular Chubba Luna5 in Eliot Fintushel’s story is an interplanetary music star in a future where people’s life partners are allotted to them in accord with their biochemistry. This doesn’t turn out any better than choosing them for yourselves.
Chris Barnham’s When I Close My Eyes is a mix of SF and ghost story. It is the tale of the first potholer on Titan, a man who hallucinates his dead wife while encountering extraterrestrial life after being trapped by an ice-fall.
The McGuffin of Cryptic Female Choice6 by Andy Dudak is a spermathecal, a mechanism introduced to the womb by virus which allows women to store various men’s sperm and edit their content to produce a desired genome. The societal backlash is portrayed.

Pedant’s corner:- 1“while allowing they catch up” (allowing them to catch up,) “how do you feel it has effected your life as a writer” (affected,) Goss’ (Goss’s.) 2Written in USian, “so that it spread across the table” (the rest of the story is in present tense, so “spreads”,) practicing (practising.) 3where a bunch of other kids were gathered (a bunch was gathered.) 4Written in USian, ”none of them recognize” (none recognises,) “‘can you come with?’” (with me,) “he shines it on the floor near the figure, trying not to startle them” (not to startle it.) 5Written in USian. 6Written in USian, inside of (inside,) “there used to be hundreds of words for love like Inuit words for snow” (isn’t that snow thing a bit of a myth?)

Asimov’s Aug 2016

Dell Magazines

Asimov's Aug 2016 cover

Sheila Williams’s Editorial1 remembers her introduction to SF via the women superheroes found in comic books and the inspiration she took from them; inspiration she hopes her own daughters will also find. Robert Silverberg’s Reflections2 discusses the software of magic (spells) with regard to ancient Egyptian papyri. Paul Di Filippo’s On Books3 is complimentary about all the books reviewed but especially a reprint of Judith Merril’s critical essays on SF and China Miéville’s This Census Taker (which I reviewed here.)
In the fiction:-
Wakers4 by Sean Monaghan is set on a colonisation starship which has suffered damage to its operating AI and veered off course. Only one crew member at a time is woken to keep things going, passing on the duty at the end of their stint. The latest waker has an idea to change the ship’s fate.
In Toppers5 by Jason Sandford New York has been separated from the rest of the world. Only the tallest skyscrapers provide secure refuges above the mists. Our (unnamed) female protagonist has to walk through the mists to get supplies.
The title of The Mutants Men Don’t See by James Alan Garner of course refers to a celebrated SF story by James Tiptree Jr (Alice Sheldon.) Here a repressed Flash Gene may be activated by some kind of shock during puberty and changes its carrier into a superhero. Menopausal Ellie Lee fears her son will try to force such a change by endangering his life and sets put to protect him. It becomes obvious very early on where this is going. I’m afraid it doesn’t hold a candle to Tiptree.
The “Kit” in Kit: Some Assembly Required6 by Kathe Koja & Carter Scholz is Christopher Marlowe or, rather, a simulacrum of Marlowe in a computer network. Kit achieves sentience. The slightly clichéd identity of his human “creator” is all that lets this tale down. The best story I’ve read in Asimov’s so far.
Patience Lake7 by Matthew Claxton sees a former cyborg soldier, damaged in an attack and surplus to requirements, hitch-hiking to Saskatchewan and taking odd jobs to try to meet his maintenance costs. But his spare parts could make him valuable himself.
In Kairos8 by Sieren Damsgaard Ernst, a research project has come up with a way to stop telomeres unravelling and hence halt ageing. Our narrator is married to the technology’s discoverer and suffers a crisis of conscience, apparently due to the legacy of her previous marriage. The story depicts scientists as blinkered and philistine. Well, not all of them are ignorant of the humanities.
The title of Sandra McDonald’s President John F Kennedy, Astronaut9 is a trifle misleading as the story is more about the search in an ice-cap melted, flooded future world for an obelisk found by said astronaut but whose existence was subsequently concealed.

Pedant’s corner:- 1(she) learned marital arts (that would be a good thing I suppose but I think martial arts was what was meant,) no pinic (no picnic,) 2 H G Wells’ (H G Wells’s,) 3Karel apek (for some reason misses the capital letter of his surname, Čapek,) 4 “A Masters from .. but on the next line her master’s thesis (if one Masters is capitalised I would think the other ought to be,) 5 lays (lies,) 6loathe (loth or loath; loathe is something else entirely,) 7thirty clicks outside (four lines later; “the last few dozen klicks”,) augur (auger –used previously,) 8“none of them know, none of them have any idea” (none knows, none has any idea,) “so he did he” (has one “he” too many,) 9 blond hair (blonde,) gravitation distortion (gravitational,) “where whales still roamed and tropical reefs covered with dazzling life” (were covered?) “to imagine what must have been like” (what it must have been like,) “great-great-great forbearer” (forebear.)

This Census-Taker by China Miéville

Picador, 2016, 150 p.

 This Census Taker cover

This is a novella from Miéville which is unlike anything of his I’ve read before. A boy sees his father kill his mother – or thinks he does. Knowing his father has previously killed animals (and two people) then thrown them into a chasm in a nearby cave the boy flees downhill to the nearby town and blurts out the news. The locals’ investigations lead to no conclusion as his father says his mother has merely gone away and left a note to say so. The frightened boy – the narrator of this tale written down in recollection many years later – is returned to his father’s care.

In this society there had been a series of disruptions, wars, some time in the past. As a result, people are sent to take stock, to count foreigners, of which the boy’s father is one. One such census taker arrives later to find out the truth of the incident. There is not much more to the story than that but a sense of eeriness pervades the book leading to a feeling that more has been revealed than has actually been said, which is a neat trick for a writer to pull off.

In this regard I was reminded of some of the work of Ursula Le Guin, especially her Chronicles of the Western Shore. The rural setting (though the technology here, even if it is remnant technology, is more advanced than in Le Guin’s stories) and the hint of menace in the surroundings – here more pronounced – are common to both. The sense of oddness, too, of dislocation. There were also some echoes of Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water, though I suppose tales of future dystopias will always have elements in common, and, oddly, of Andrew Crumey’s Pfitz.

Pedant’s corner:- no entries. Remarkable in this day and age. (Any day and age?) Congratulations to all concerned.

Socialist Science Fiction

There’s an interseting post over at Ian Sales’s blog where he calls, somewhat mischievously, for nominations for a socialist SF award for which he has come up with the name Sputnik Award. He is looking for works published in 2015 in the first instance (though it strikes me there could be fun looking through the archives to allocate awards retrospectively for previous years.)

Ian did link to a list provided by China Miéville of fifty works of SF/Fantasy every socialist should read. Not all of them are socialist; e.g. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is included on the grounds you should know your enemy.

Now I love a list, so here it is. As usual the works asterisked I have read (in the case of the Gormenghast trilogy two thirds of it and The Iron Heel perhaps as a young lad.)

Iain M. Banks—Use of Weapons* (1990)

Edward Bellamy—Looking Backward, 2000–1887 (1888)

Alexander Bogdanov—The Red Star: A Utopia (1908; trans. 1984)

Emma Bull & Steven Brust—Freedom & Necessity (1997)

Mikhail Bulgakov—The Master and Margarita* (1938; trans. 1967)

Katherine Burdekin (aka “Murray Constantine”)—Swastika Night* (1937)

Octavia Butler—Survivor (1978)

Julio Cortázar—“House Taken Over” (1963?)

Philip K. Dick—A Scanner Darkly* (1977)

Thomas Disch—The Priest (1994)

Gordon Eklund—All Times Possible(1974)

Max Ernst—Une Semaine de Bonté (1934)

Claude Farrère—Useless Hands (1920; trans. 1926)

Anatole France—The White Stone (1905; trans. 1910)

Jane Gaskell—Strange Evil (1957)

Mary Gentle—Rats and Gargoyles* (1990)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman—“The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892)

Lisa Goldstein—The Dream Years (1985)

Stefan Grabiński—The Dark Domain (1918–22; trans. and collected 1993)

George Griffith—The Angel of Revolution (1893)

Imil Habibi—The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist (1974; trans. 1982)

M. John Harrison—Viriconium Nights* (1984)

Ursula K. Le Guin—The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia* (1974)

Jack London—Iron Heel*? (1907)

Ken MacLeod—The Star Fraction* (1996)

Gregory Maguire—Wicked (1995)

J. Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon)—Gay Hunter* (1934, reissued 1989)

Michael Moorcock—Hawkmoon (1967–77, reprinted in one edition 1992)

William Morris—News From Nowhere (1888)

Toni Morrison—Beloved (1987)

Mervyn Peake—The Gormenghast Novels* (1946–59)

Marge Piercy—Woman on the Edge of Time* (1976)

Philip Pullman—Northern Lights* (1995)

Ayn Rand—Atlas Shrugged (1957)

Mack Reynolds—Lagrange Five (1979)

Keith Roberts—Pavane* (1968)

Kim Stanley Robinson—The Mars Trilogy* (1992–96)

Mary Shelley—Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818)

Lucius Shepard—Life During Wartime* (1987)

Norman Spinrad—The Iron Dream* (1972)

Eugene Sue—The Wandering Jew (1845)

Michael Swanwick—The Iron Dragon’s Daughter (1993)

Jonathan Swift—Gulliver’s Travels (1726)

Alexei Tolstoy—Aelita (1922; trans. 1957)

Ian Watson—Slow Birds* (1985)

H.G. Wells—The Island of Dr Moreau* (1896)

E. L. White—“Lukundoo” (1927)

Oscar Wilde—The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888)

Gene Wolfe—The Fifth Head of Cerberus* (1972)

Yevgeny Zamyatin—We* (1920; trans. 1924)

20 out of 50. I’ve some way to go. But a lot of these are vintage and possibly not very easy to come by.

Locus 21st Century Poll (Fantasy)

And here is the Locus 21st Century poll for fantasy

1 Gaiman, Neil : American Gods (2001)
2* Clarke, Susanna : Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004)
3 Rothfuss, Patrick : The Name of the Wind (2007)
4* Miéville, China : The Scar (2002)
5* Martin, George R. R. : A Feast for Crows (2005)
6 Rowling, J. K. : Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)
7 Bujold, Lois McMaster : The Curse of Chalion (2001)
8* Miéville, China : The City & the City (2009)
9 Fforde, Jasper : The Eyre Affair (2001)
10 Bujold, Lois McMaster : Paladin of Souls (2003)
10 Pratchett, Terry : Night Watch (2002)
12 Gaiman, Neil : Coraline (2002)
13 Wolfe, Gene : The Wizard Knight (2004)
14 Pratchett, Terry : Going Postal (2004)
15= Gaiman, Neil : The Graveyard Book (2008)
15= Lynch, Scott : The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006)

I have read only four here – and two by the same author. Notably one of these made it onto the SF list as well, which shows how hard differentiating SF from Fantasy can be. (The only one that I’ve not read which I might look out for is the Wolfe.)

Locus 21st Century Poll

Following on from the Locus 20th century polls I posted about a few days ago this is their list for SF novels published from 2000 on.

1 Scalzi, John : Old Man’s War (2005)
2 Stephenson, Neal : Anathem (2008)
3* Bacigalupi, Paolo : The Windup Girl (2009)
4 Wilson, Robert Charles : Spin (2005)
5 Watts, Peter : Blindsight (2006)
6* Morgan, Richard : Altered Carbon (2002)
7 Collins, Suzanne : The Hunger Games (2008)
8 Gibson, William : Pattern Recognition (2003)
9* Miéville, China : The City & the City (2009)
10 Stross, Charles : Accelerando (2005)
11* Mitchell, David : Cloud Atlas (2004)
12* McDonald, Ian : River of Gods (2004)
13 McCarthy, Cormac : The Road (2006)
14* Harrison, M. John : Light (2002)
15= Willis, Connie : Black Out/All Clear (2010)
15=* Chabon, Michael : The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2007)

7 out of 16. I’m obviously not keeping up with modern SF.

Locus Poll (Fantasy)

That same Locus Poll also listed the top 15 Fantasy novels from last century.

Again asterisked means I’ve read them, ** that I can’t remember and (*) only the first of the trilogy.

1(*) Tolkien, J. R. R. : The Lord of the Rings (1955)
2* Martin, George R. R. : A Game of Thrones (1996)
3 Tolkien, J. R. R. : The Hobbit (1937)
4* Le Guin, Ursula K. : A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
5* Zelazny, Roger : Nine Princes in Amber (1970) 971 70
6 Lewis, C. S. : The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
7* Miéville, China : Perdido Street Station (2000)
8 Rowling, J. K. : Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
9* Crowley, John : Little, Big (1981)
10* Adams, Richard : Watership Down (1972)
11 Goldman, William : The Princess Bride (1973)
12* Martin, George R. R. : A Storm of Swords (2000)
13 Beagle, Peter S. : The Last Unicorn (1968)
14** White, T. H. : The Once and Future King (1958)
15 Pratchett, Terry (& Gaiman, Neil) : Good Omens (1990)

I don’t have quite such a high hit rate here – unsurprisingly, as I prefer Science Fiction to Fantasy: but there is of course a lot of crossover between the two and the boundary is blurred. Even so I would have said Perdido Street Station was SF rather than Fantasy.

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