It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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2014 reading diary, #3

I took a break from my Hugo reading to get up to date with some SF Mistressworks reading and then, for some reason, when it came to choosing books by male authors I picked old sf ones (because I’m still alternating my reading between women and men writers). Still, at least now I’ve read those crappy old sf novels and they can go to the charity shop…

Extra(Ordinary) People, Joanna Russ (1984). I read this to review for SF Mistressworks – see here.

renaissanceRenaissance, Raymond F Jones (1951). Many years ago I had an idea for a story inspired by the plot of the film This Island Earth, so I decided to read the novel as research. It was years before I tracked down a copy and a few years more I finally got around to reading it – see here. Meanwhile, I’d decided to read more Raymond F Jones – even though I had yet to read This Island Earth at the time. I’d already bought Jones’ Beacon novel The Deviates (because Beacon novel; see here) and a copy of The Alien (I loved the cover art; see here). So I picked up a copy of his first novel, Renaissance, and recently pulled it from the shelf to read. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – I hadn’t been impressed by This Island Earth and that is Jones’ best-known novel. Well, Renaissance is very much a novel of its time, and it makes very little sense. It opens with a giant computer, which seems to run a small colony of scientifically-minded people, but it’s all sort of B-movie weird with a giant curtain of nothingness bordering the colony on one side and a DESERT OF FIRE on the other, and everyone wears togas or something and no one appears to have sex as babies magically appear at some sort of temple… The hero gets into trouble with the authorities for daring to research a taboo subject, biology. He uncovers a conspiracy, so he infiltrates the temple… which requires him to disguise himself as a woman – but given that they wear little in the way of clothing, he uses some sort of plastic material to effect his disguise. No one sees through it, although you wouldn’t know from the text that he was pretending to be a woman for much of the story. Anyway, it turns out the colony is in an alternate universe and was an experiment by Earth, which is now ruled by some sort of secretive cabal, and there’s a historical repository of knowledge safeguarded an AI which wants to overthrow the cabal… And it’s all complete tosh, about as rigorous as blancmange and as plausible as a unicorn pasty. I’ve still got those two other Jones’ books to read – well, three if you include The Secret People, the book on which The Deviates is based – but I doubt I’ll be going any further into his oeuvre.

marvel2Captain Marvel 2: Down, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dexter Soy & Filipe Andrade (2013). I was never really a big comics fan, and I went off superhero comics completely a number of years ago. And even when I did read comics, Captain Marvel was not a title I bothered following. But when I discovered that the first half of this miniseries by Kelly Sue DeConnick featured the Mercury 13, I decided to give it a go (see here). I wasn’t that impressed so wasn’t going to bother with the second volume… until I learnt it took place at the bottom of the sea. It was just too close to Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above. And now I’ve read it, er, it isn’t. At all. Captain Marvel – Carol Danvers – helps a friend recover something from the sea bottom off the coast of New Orleans. Down there it’s a ship and plane graveyard… and then some alien energy leaks into the wrecks and creates a giant monster out of them which Danvers and her friend must battle. The story then moves to New York and Danver’s private life, trouble with her neighbours, a possible medical condition preventing her from flying, and random attacks by an old nemesis… Like the first book, there’s a smart script there, so it’s a shame the art is routinely awful. You’d think, given that comics are a visual medium, they’d put more effort into it.

Requiem for Anthi, Jay D Blakeney (1990). This is the sequel to The Children of Anthi; I reviewed it for SF Mistressworks – see here.

charismaCharisma, Michael G Coney (1975). During the 1970s, there were a number of male British sf writers all working (mostly) down the same line in the genre. They’d come out of the New Wave – although some had been around prior to that – and, in direct contrast to the big-selling US sf authors, they kept their visions low-key and their focus more literary. Writers such as Richard Cowper, DG Compton, Michael G Coney, Keith Roberts, Robert Holdstock, perhaps even JG Ballard. Their novels were often set in a near-future UK, with light extrapolation, and only a small number of “ideas” – which were there solely to drive the plot. There was no “movement” as such, and several of the writers went on to write completely different genre fiction – Holdstock and his Mythago Wood, Ballard left the genre all together, Coney moved into pure heartland territory with his Hello Summer, Goodbye… Coney’s Charisma, however, very much fits the pattern. It could almost have been written by Compton, in fact. The narrator, John Maine, is the manager of a hotel in the small Cornwall fishing port of Falcombe. He’s also involved with a local boatyard which sells “houseyachts” (hovercraft houseboats, as far as I can make out). Near Falcombe is a Research Station which has been experimenting with a device that gives access to parallel worlds. And Maine discovers by accident that he can travel to these parallel worlds – because the John Maine in those worlds has died, so there aren’t two of them existing in the same world at the same time. And then the owner of the hotel, a lying and cheating businessman, a Tory in other words, is murdered… and Maine travels back and forth to various parallel worlds trying to change events, solve the murder and track down the woman he loves, Susanna. The plotting in Charisma is quite clever, with its multiple parallel takes on the same group of people and their  actions. The world-building is light – it’s pretty much 1975, but with hovercars and 3D television. Unfortunately, Maine, the narrator, is… I hate to say “a product of his time”, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more male-gazey novel than this – in fact, Maine is an unreconstructed sexist pig. And it leaves a nasty taste in what would otherwise be an interesting and accomplished 1970s British sf novel.

lotswifeWhat Lot’s Wife Saw, Ioanna Bourazopoulou (2013). The last of my Hugo reading. I do have at least one more novel on the book-shelves that qualifies – Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman – and I did have time to buy and read a couple more, but I decided to call it a day after What Lot’s Wife Saw. Possibly because I’d heard so much praise for it that I thought it likely to take the final slot on my ballot. Except, well, I didn’t really like it at all. It’s the near-future and the Dead Sea has somehow inundated much of Southern Europe, and coincidentally revealed a rift which contains “salt”, a powerful drug to which much of the world is now addicted. Phileas Book lives in Paris and compiles “Epistlewords” for The Times. These are three-dimensional crosswords whose clues depend on extracts from letters published alongside. Despite numerous descriptions of the Epistleword, and its “meandros” shape, nothing in the novel indicates the Epistleword is either plausible or solvable. The salt mentioned earlier is mined at the Colony, a small company town on the shore of the Dead Sea – which is now completely gelid. How the Dead Sea has a shore after flooding the surrounding area for thousands of square kilometres  is not explained, but the shore is an inhospitable desert populated by “Suez Mamelukes”.  Recently, the governor of the Colony died in mysterious circumstances, and within a fortnight riots tore the town apart. His six closest advisers have all written letters explaining what happened. The mysterious Seventy-Five, the company which mines the salt, asks Book to analyse the letters – because of his Epistleword special talent thing – to discover the truth of the events they relate… A lot of people praised  What Lot’s Wife Saw so I think it’s fair to say my expectations were pretty high. But. It just didn’t work for me. The sections in the Colony felt like they were set in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, which made a nonsense of it being near-future – assuming you swallowed the whole Flood thing, which made no sense anyway. The letter structure was interesting, but the voices of the six were so similar it was often hard to tell them apart. And they were really unlikeable. The writing was mostly good but often drifted into over-writing. And the ending, the solution to the mystery Book is asked to unravel, is… well, it’s banal. I’d been expecting something with much more impact, and not just a quick Scooby Doo scene which explained clues that were so obscure no reader would have spotted them – I mean, EREMOI? Disappointing.

demonsThe Demons at Rainbow Bridge, Jack L Chalker (1989). This is the first book of a trilogy, the Quintara Marathon. Chalker used to bang out trilogies and series as if science fiction were on the brink of extinction. And it showed. In this one, the writing barely reaches competent, the setting is cobbled together from used furniture, and the text is riddled with continuity errors. In this series, the galaxy is split into three mutually antagonistic power blocs, the Exchange, the religious nutters of the Mizlaplanian Empire, and the evil dog-eat-dog empire of the Mycohlians. Humanity went out into the stars and found itself just another alien race among the many claimed by these three polities. The Exchange is ruled by the mysterious never-seen Guardians, and is pure Rand-like capitalism from top to bottom. The Mizlaplanians have hugely powerful mental powers and have convinced everyone they’re gods and those of their subject races with “normal” mental powers are angels and saints. The Mycohlians are parasites and they pretty much leave their anarchic empire to run itself, assuming that the cream – the most ruthless and violent cream, that is – will rise to the top and keep everything together. An Exchange scout ship finds a pair of the eponymous demons on a remote world, and sends out a mayday before being slaughtered. The novel then spends a third of its pages describing the formation of an Exchange team to investigate, then a third on a Mizlaplanian team to do the same, and the final third on the Mycohlian team. All three head for the remote world, where they find a butchered research team, the demons have escaped and… continued in the next book of the trilogy. Chalker was a crap writer and this is far from his best work.

Ark Baby, Liz Jensen (1997). Every time I start a Liz Jensen novel, I tell myself I should read more of her books. I’ll be reviewing this on SF Mistressworks, since it qualifies as science fiction.


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Five genre books that should be back in print

A couple of times while reading books to review on SF Mistressworks, I’ve wondered why a book is no longer in print, especially given that many inferior ones still are. A recent such review – it will appear tomorrow – had me thinking about which out-of-print books I’d like to see available once again, books that only saw one or two editions a decade or more ago. It proved a harder list – even limited to five – than I expected. For one thing, the SF Gateway has been doing an admirable job in bringing a number of books back into “print” as ebooks; some of my favourite sf novels have appeared over the last few years in the SF Masterworks series; and many authors have made their back list available as print-on-demand books or on Kindle, such as Marta Randall or Gwyneth Jones. But there are still some books that I think should be re-introduced to a twenty-first century audience:

The Wall Around Eden, Joan Sloczewski (1989). I reviewed this for SF Mistressworks (see here) and thought the book a masterclass in science fiction writing. The last edition in print was from The Women’s Press in 1991. It really deserves to be made available once more.

The Complete Short Stories of Joanna Russ, Joanna Russ. This is a cheat – there’s no such book. But if assorted male authors have had their collected short fiction published, then why not Russ? Her last collection was in 1988, and by my count she had almost seventy pieces of short fiction published. It’s long past time for a collected works.

Coelestis, Paul Park (1993). Okay, so it’s one of my favourite sf novels and I also happen to think it’s one of the best sf novels ever written… But it saw only a single hardback and paperback release in the UK and US and has been out of print ever since.

The Steerswoman’s Road, Rosemary Kirstein (2003). This was an omnibus of two earlier novels, published in 1989 and 1992 (neither of which were then reprinted), but the omnibus appeared only in a single edition and has never been reprinted since. It should be – the books are excellent. See my reviews on SF Mistressworks here and here.

The Grail of Hearts, Susan Shwartz (1992). This is a superior fantasy which has apparently never been reprinted since its paperback edition in 1993.

Anyone else have any genre books they’d like to see back in print?

ETA: By my count Russ had 56 stories published, plus six Alyx stories and two set in the Cthulhu mythos. All but fourteen have been collected.


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A quarter of top fives

Like every blogger, I watch my stats but I’ve nearly really taken note of which are my most popular posts, or where I get most of my visitors from. But other bloggers do it regularly, and since I hadn’t finished the reading diary post I was planning to post today, I decided to generate some quick and easy blog content by posting a few 2014 stats about It Doesn’t Have to be Right… It Just Has to Sound Plausible. The following are for the current quarter, January to March 2014.

Most popular posts

  1. The list: 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women
  2. 2014 Hugo thoughts
  3. The future we used to have, part 22
  4. Dune Mania
  5. 20 British sf films

 

I’m pleased 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women continues to be popular. It’s perhaps my most reblogged and linked-to post ever. It’s currently Hugo season, so the popularity of a post on that topic is no real surprise. I’m not sure why part 22 of my The future we used to have posts has proven so much more popular than the others – perhaps it’s because it features Giant Computer Brains. Dune is, obviously, a very popular novel, and I suspect most of the visitors to that page have come from image searches. I’ve no idea why British sf films is getting so many hits three and a half years after I posted it.

Most referrals from

  1. Search Engines
  2. Twitter
  3. Facebook
  4. Reddit
  5. semalt.com

 

I suspect a lot of the search engines results are image searches, and probably for the aircraft and cars and stuff I’ve posted in my The future we used to have series. I get around four times as many visits from Twitter than I do from Facebook, even though notifications of new blog posts appear on both platforms. I’ve been linked to from Reddit on a number of occasions, usually because someone has taken issue with something I’ve written. New visitors still filter through in dribs and drabs. I’ve no idea what semalt.com is, it looks like some sort of analytical website.

Most popular search terms

  1. avro vulcan
  2. ian sales
  3. future houses
  4. sncaso trident
  5. водолазный скафандр
  6. ancillary justice

 

This is just weird. I’m apparently not as popular on my own blog as the Avro Vulcan, a Cold War V-Bomber. The SNCASO Trident was a French prototype interceptor from the 1950. I think I posted a photograph of it on my blog once. The Russian means “diving suit”, and no, I’ve no idea. I posted a review of Ancillary Justice on my blog here, and since the book has been much spoken about, and is on so many award shortlists, it’s no surprise that the review generates traffic.


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A moving picture’s worth a thousand words

… But I can’t be arsed to write so much, so here’s a couple of lines each on some of the films I’ve watched recently. I’ve been a bit slack in documenting here what I’ve seen this year, and not just because some of it has been rubbish. But with being computer-less for several weeks, and then a reading binge for the Hugo, things around here have been left to slide a bit and I’m still trying to get back into the swing of blogging. Anyway, the movies – this is only some of those I’ve watched in the past couple of months, the notably good and the notably bad…

Oblivion, Joseph Kosinski (USA, 2013)
Looks pretty, set-up doesn’t make sense, smells of Cruise’s ego, and owes a little too much to Mad Max 2, Independence Day and assorted other sf blockbusters of the past couple of decades. Cruise trying to recapitulate the history of sf cinema since 1980. And failing.

Man of Iron, Andrzej Wajda (Poland, 1981)
Sequel to Wajda’s Man of Marble, which I’ve not seen but really must. A dramatisation of events at the Gdańsk shipyard, with a protagonist stand-in for Wałęsa (who actually appears in the film – in documentary footage, and as a character played by an actor). Excellent stuff.

Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow (USA, 2012)
Completely not what I was expecting. I knew going in it was about US torture and human rights abuses, and had expected an “ends justifies the means” message. But Bigelow chose to present it all as value-neutral, and torture is not something that should ever be value-neutral.

Man of Steel, Zack Snyder (USA, 2013)
In which Snyder gets confused between a superhero film and an alien invasion film. America’s First Boy Scout is given a make-over better suited to something by Michael Bay. Rubbish.

Upstream Colour, Shane Carruth (USA, 2013)
Carruth returns with another film that forces the viewer to work hard, but it’s worth it. We need more films like this.

Riddick, David N Twohy (USA, 2013)
In which Twohy tries to remake 300 with a cast of one. Admittedly, that one is Vin Diesel. Such testosterone very CGI so yawn.

Desk Set, Walter Lang (USA, 1957)
Spencer Tracy is absent-minded computer genius determining whether his Giant Computer Brain can replace Katherine Hepburns’ research department at a New York television network offices. Not the best film either have made, together or separately.

Call Girl, Mikael Marcimain (Sweden, 2012)
Tense political thriller set in the 1970s about corruption in the Swedish government, especially in regard to call girls. Similar atmosphere to Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Excellent.

Toward the Unknown, Mervyn LeRoy (USA, 1956)
William Holden is tortured USAF officer, back in the US after being brainwashed by Koreans. He wants to be a test pilot at Edwards, but the general in charge is reluctant to take him on. But he does anyway. Holden gets to fly the X-2 (and a XB-51 masquerading as the “XF-120″). Cold War aircraft, excellent aerial photography, 1950s melodrama… what more could you want?

Gilbert_XF-120

The Burmese Harp, Kon Ichikawa (Japan, 1956)
The end of WWII, a Japanese soldier remains in Burma as a monk, determined to bury all the Japanese soldiers whose bodies lie rotting about the country. The film focuses mostly on the company he leaves behind, who all enjoy choral singing. A piece of stone-cold classic cinema.

Queen Of Outer Space, Edward Bernds (USA, 1958)
Typical B-movie sf of the period which, bizarrely, makes a nod in the general direction of actual science – by remarking that the Venus the heroes have crash-landed on bears no resemblance to the one science had led them to expect. In other words: jungle! And, er, a women-only civilisation. Starring Zsa Zsa Gabor. Enough said.

Riverworld, Kari Skogland (Canada, 2003)
I reread the book a few years ago and only vaguely recognised it from this television movie. Don’t remember quite so much Randian bullshit in the novel.

Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro (USA, 2013)
Big dumb tentpole sf from last summer. Emphasis on big. Emphasis on dumb. Mecha versus kaiju. Best watched after numbing brain with copious amounts of alcohol. Or with the sound off, so you don’t have to hear the monumentally stupid dialogue. This is Hollywood sf by numbers.

Leave Her To Heaven, John M Stahl (USA, 1945)
Gene Tierney as pathologically jealous wife. Classic 1940s melodrama which loses it in the last third as it turns into a silly courtroom drama with Vincent Price bellowing “But did you love her?” at husband Cornel Wilde. Worth seeing, though.

Daisies, Vera Chytilová (Czech Republic, 1966)
Bonkers Czech film in which two young women set out to do exactly what they want – which involves, among other things getting drunk in a night-club, and trashing a buffet. Lots of weird cinematic effects. Love the line in the plot summary on Wikipedia: “There is significant action here, with Marie I looking through the window at a parade and Marie II eating.” Um, yes. Good film.

Europa Report, Sebastián Cordero (USA, 2013)
Disappointing. Hard sf monster-in-space movie done better in Apollo 18. Interesting non-linear narrative – although you do spend half the film wondering where one of the characters has disappeared to. The spacecraft is typical movie overdone, though not as bad as some. And Europa apparently has a surface gravity of 1G and not 0.134G.

The East, Zal Batmanglij (USA, 2013)
Brit Marling proves she’s still one to watch with a thriller about a corporate undercover agent who infiltrates a cell of eco-terrorists. So the terrorists are all privileged scions, biting the silver spoon that fed them, but the corporate intelligence angle puts an interesting spin on it all.

Free Zone, Amos Gitai (Israel, 2005)
An American, an Israeli and a Palestinian meet up in Jordan’s free zone to conduct business (well, the American is only along for the ride). Somewhat heavy-handed use of them as stand-ins for their countries, but the three – Natalie Portman, Hanna Laslo and Hiam Abbass – play their parts extremely well. Good film.


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Thoughts on the 2014 Clarke Award shortlist

Last night, they announced this year’s Clarke Award shortlist, and it looks like:

My first thought was that it’s a surprisingly safe shortlist. But then it struck me that with three debuts, “safe” is probably not the right word to use. And yet, in genre terms, in regards to the definition of science fiction with which this year’s jury were apparently working… it is sort of safe. Thankfully, there’s no talking horses (just perambulatory trees), but neither is there the usual left-field literary-fiction-dabbling-in-sf pick.

Unusually, I’ve read four of the books already – and one of them, the Priest, I’d planned to read. Nexus I’d ignored after seeing two negative reviews of it – in Vector and Strange Horizons. But of the books I have read… I thought both the Leckie and the Hurley good, and have written about them – see here and here. It’s also hard not to see Ancillary Justice as the sf book of 2013, given the buzz that’s surrounded it and its appearance so far on the BSFA and Nebula shortlists (and I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t make the Hugo shortlist as well). Smythe’s The Machine is also very good. And as a literary fiction pick is hardly a contentious choice – while Blue Door describes itself as a publisher of “commercial literary fiction” (an oxymoron, surely?), Smythe has also been published by Harper Voyager, a sf imprint. And The Machine is pleasingly Ballardian.

Then there’s the Mann… I’m a fan of Mann’s sf and I have copies of all his books (see here). But The Disestablishment of Paradise is his first novel since 1996, and a lot has changed since then. Which, sadly, means that The Disestablishment of Paradise feels very old-fashioned. The writing is assured, the structure is handled well, the world-building is clever… but the pace drags, the dialogue is stilted, and the interactions between the characters read like they come from a book written fifty years ago. I’ve not read The Adjacent, although I was planning to as part of my Hugo reading. But Priest is pretty much the Grand Old Man of British literary sf (from the inside, that is), a previous Clarke winner, and a four-time BSFA novel winner (the last in 2012). While The Adjacent‘s presence was by no means a certainty, the odds must have been good it would be there. Finally, all I know about Nexus is what I’ve read in a pair of not-very-complimentary reviews. Which makes its appearance on the list a surprise – but we’ll see what’s said about it now that it’s a finalist.

The Clarke Award has a history of generating odd shortlists. This year’s is perhaps the least contentious for a number of years. But it’s also quite a strong list, with some excellent books on it. Three speak to the future of the genre, two are by old hands, and one updates a 20th Century mode of sf for the 21st Century. That’s a pretty good spread. Who the eventual winner will be, however, is anybody’s guess…


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My final Hugo ballot

I have spent much of the past half a dozen weeks or so catching up on my Hugo reading so I could round out the draft Hugo ballot I posted back in early February. Obviously, this didn’t mean reading every piece of fiction published in 2013, I had to choose what to read. And I made my choices according to a number of factors – authors I’d read before and appreciated, word of mouth, recommendations from friends and acquaintances, even other people’s posted Hugo ballots… Some novellas and short stories I wanted to read, but didn’t have access to copies since I don’t subscribe to the Big Three and I haven’t bought every original anthology published in 2013.

So there are some things to bear in mind about my choices. First, they’re limited by what I had access to. Second, I’ve nominated some of my my own works because a) I’m allowed to, and b) it’s not like they’ll get hundreds of votes anyway, and c) I wouldn’t have written the damn things if I didn’t think they were good. (And it’s not like I was massively prolific in 2013 anyway – only two novellas and two short stories.)

I should also point out that I don’t actually have much time for the Hugo Awards as awards. The results – or even the shortlists – almost never reflect my tastes, and its winners are by no means the “best” of the year in their categories (and that’s not just a “taste” thing). The Hugos are a popularity contest and I’m not in tune with the electorate in any meaningful way. (Although, to be honest, I’ve been somewhat surprised – and scared – that I noted Sofia Samatar’s ‘Selkie Stories are for Losers’ as a story worth nominating when I first read it back in January 2013, and I seem to be in agreement in that regard with a lot of people as it’s appeared on several award shortlists and Hugo ballots. On the other hand, it does demonstrate my belief that fiction can be objectively good, if so many people with different tastes have recognised Samatar’s story as award-worthy.)

Given my continual dissatisfaction with the Hugos – its categories, its rules, its shortlists and winners throughout the decades and years… – you’d have thought I’d refrain from nominating or voting in this year’s awards. Certainly I see no point in buying a worldcon supporting membership simply for the “privilege” of voting. But I will be attending Loncon 3, and I bought a membership to be at the convention not to vote in the awards. It’s a side… er, well, not “-benefit”; not really a “bonus” either. It’s something I can do because I’ll be attending the worldcon. And, since there are a few points I’d like to make about the Hugo Awards, I decided to make those points this year by nominating works.

novel
1 A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
2 Empty Space: A Haunting, M John Harrison (Night Shade Books)
3 Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit)
4 Life After Life, Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)
5 The Machine, James Smythe (Blue Door)

There are several books I didn’t manage to read in time which were possible contenders: Shaman, Kim Stanley Robinson; Strange Bodies, Marcel Theroux; The Adjacent, Christopher Priest… And plenty I did read that didn’t make the cut (see here and here). But looking at other people’s posted ballots, I don’t think there are any other books I’ve missed I might consider award-worthy. (Although Larry Nolen did suggest some translated books which looked interesting – can’t find the damn titles now, though…)

novella
1 The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself, Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)
2 Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)
3 Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance, Paul Park (PS Publishing)
4 Spin, Nina Allen (TTA Press)

I like novellas, I think it’s an interesting length – both to write and to read. But I think it’s best-suited to book format. In other words, it takes up too much real-estate in a magazine, and is too long to read online. But not many small presses publish original novellas in hardback or paperback, and of those that do few of them are the sort of genre fiction that I like. In other words, I read very few novellas published in 2013. So I spent last weekend hunting around online for suitable candidates… without success. I bought only two novellas published last year, and both made my ballot.

Yes, I am ignoring the novelette category. Novelettes should die. There is no need for a category for “medium-length stories”. There is more difference between a 17,500-word novella and a 39,000-word novella than there is between a 1,000-word short story and a 17,400-word short story.

short story
1 ‘The Incurable Irony of the Man Who Rode the Rocket Sled’, Ian Sales (The Orphan)
2 ‘Selkie Stories are for Losers’, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons)
3 ‘Golden Apple’, Sophia McDougall (The Lowest Heaven)
4 ‘A Bridge of Words’, Dinesh Rao (We See a Different Frontier)
5 ‘The International Studbook of the Giant Panda’, Carlos Hernandez (Interzone)

The first test of a good story is: did I make it through to the end? Most I give up on after only a handful of paragraphs. Of the stories I did finish, the above are the ones I thought the best. I note that another story from The Lowest Heaven has proven a more popular pick than mine; and the same is also true for We See a Different Frontier. Both are excellent anthologies, incidentally; and proof that there really needs to be a Best Original Anthology Hugo.

related work
1 Red Doc>, Anne Carson (Knopf)
2 Beyond Apollo, David SF Portree
3 The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, Peter Davison (BBC)
4 ‘A Genre in Crisis: On Paul Di Filippo’s “Wikiworld”‘, Paul Graham Raven (Los Angeles Review of Books)
5 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women (iansales.com)

Ah, I hear you cry, your choices make no sense! Red Doc> is fiction, Beyond Apollo is a fanzine, The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot is a dramatic presentation! Except… there is no category for poetry, so I’m putting Red Doc> here. Beyond Apollo is not about science fiction or fantasy or even fandom, it is about science and engineering, so I’m putting it here. The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot is not science fiction, it is about a science fiction programme and set very much in the real world… so I’m putting it here. Paul Graham Raven’s excellent review is about the most traditional item on my ballot. And I’ve given my last slot to the list of 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women I published – but which was contributed to by many – because it was an important project.

semiprozine
1 Interzone
2 Vector
3 Strange Horizons

fanzine
1 SF Mistressworks
2 Pornokitsch
3 Nerds of a Feather
4 Sibilant Fricative
5 Good Show Sir

fan writer
1 Liz Bourke
2 Jonathan McCalmont
3 Abigail Nussbaum
4 Jared Shurin
5 Nina Allan

Yes, I have ignored some of the categories. I will not be voting for them either. Yes, some of my choices are not obvious fits for the categories in which I’ve put them. But I profoundly disagree with the definitions of some of the categories – I mean, “semiprozine”? Who the fuck thinks its definition is even remotely sensible or workable? – and I have chosen to express this disagreement by nominating things where I think they should go.

I expect to be thoroughly disappointed by the eventual shortlists. Perhaps one or two of my fiction choices will make it onto the final ballot – Ancillary Justice is, I think, a shoo-in; likewise the Samatar short story. Nina Allan’s Spin is a possibility. But I’ll be bloody surprised if any of the others make the cut. As for the not-fiction categories… if every nominee for fanzine is a paper fanzine, or every nominee for fan writer is someone who writes for paper fanzines… then I’ll consider fandom officially dead.

Finally, Loncon 3 will also be awarding Retro Hugos, for works published 75 years ago in 1938. So not only are voters expected to be familiar with every piece of genre fiction published last year, but also for a year decades before they were born? Fuck off. Loncon 3 has provided a handy list of what was published in 1938, for those of you daft enough to take the whole thing seriously. I will say only this: I have read only one of the eligible novels, Galactic Patrol by EE ‘Doc’ Smith, and it was unutterably shit… and yet it and its sequels, the Lensman series, are still celebrated today as “classic” science fiction…


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Another month, another book haul

… Although I think it’s been longer than a month since my last book haul post. Which may explain why so many books appear in this one. Except my book haul posts always seem to feature a large number of books… I really must cut back on the number I buy. I managed to read nine books in one weekend during February, which took less of a chunk out of the TBR than I’d have liked since I’d bought so many damn books that month. Ah well. The following are the usual mix of subjects and genres and stuff.

2014-03-07a

My Hugo reading – a bunch of 2013 titles I bought to round out my ballot for best novel. I’ve already read Life After Life, The Machine, The Shining Girls and Red Doc> (see here). Only What Lot’s Wife Saw to go (and also Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman, which I bought last year when it was published).

2014-03-07b

Some books for SF Mistressworks. Cassandra Rising is a SFBC women-only sf anthology, and the only copy of it I could find happens to be signed by half the contributors. Oh well. Jane Saint and the Backlash is the sequel collection to Saxton’s The Travails of Jane Saint, which was also published by The Women’s Press. On Strike Against God isn’t, as far as I’m aware, genre, but I’ll decide whether it’s suitable for SF Mistressworks once I’ve read it. All three books were bought on eBay.

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An assortment of paperback fiction. I want to read more Lem, hence Tales of Pirx the Pilot. Which reminds me, I must get a copy of the film adaptation – I found a website the other day that sells Russian DVDs (many of which have English subtitles). The Trench is the sequel to Cities of Salt, a novelisation of the US exploitation of the Saudi oil reserves, which I enjoyed (see here). The Sense of an Ending was a charity shop find; it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The Wizards and the Warriors is the first book of the Chronicles of the Age of Darkness, which I’ve heard isn’t too bad – now I have the first three books I’ll see what they’re like.

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An assortment of hardback fiction. And a graphic novel. The stories of Captain Marvel 1: In Pursuit of Flight (see here) and this second volume, Captain Marvel 2: Down, have pretty much the same inspirations as Apollo Quartet 3, Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above. It’s as if Kelly Sue DeConnick took the two narratives of my novella and wrote her own versions of them – except, of course, the timing makes that impossible. Both feature a character called Helen Cobb, clearly based on Jerrie Cobb. The first Captain Marvel graphic novel is about the Mercury 13, and the second partly takes place at the bottom of the sea in a ship and plane graveyard. A very weird coincidence. Sadly, the story is mostly typical superhero fisticuffs, and the art is pretty poor. Cixin Liu’s fiction has been recommended to me many times, so I decided to pick up a copy of The Wandering Earth, a collection of his novellas translated into English for the first time. Browsing on eBay one day, I discovered that Macmillan had published a series of Soviet sf books back in the 1970s. New Soviet Science Fiction is an anthology, but the series also featured several novels. I smell a collection coming on. Finally, Descent is Ken MacLeod’s latest novel.

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Some collectibles. Mozart & the Wolf Gang is a signed first edition. The other two books are among the most expensive I’ve ever bought – I won’t say how much each cost, it’s a little embarrassing. Panic Spring is Lawrence Durrell’s second novel, which was published under the name Charles Norden as his first did so badly. This is the US first edition, sadly, not the UK. Eye is a collection by Frank Herbert and copiously illustrated by Jim Burns. There were 175 slipcased, signed and numbered editions published, and now I have one of them.

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Research material for Apollo Quartet 4, All That Outer Space Allows. The final novella of the quartet will be about Apollo astronauts, of course it will… sort of. But it’ll chiefly be about an astronaut’s wife, and women science fiction writers – hence a pair of biographies of the latter: Judith Merril’s, Better to Have Loved; and James Tiptree Jr’s, The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. Partners in Wonder is about early women sf writers – I might write about it for SF Mistressworks after I’ve read it…

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Some reference books, genre and otherwise. The Issue at Hand, More Issues at Hand and Anatomy of Wonder were all bargain purchases from Cold Tonnage. Uranian Worlds I decided to buy when I was trying to look something up online with very little success. I bought it from an Amazon marketplace seller; the book proved to be an ex-library copy, but the seller cheerfully refunded me half the selling-price. Paul Scott: A Life is a biography of, er, Paul Scott.

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