It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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1000 Must-Read Novels – Q2

Back in January of this year, the Guardian published a list of “1000 Must-Read Novels“, split over seven categories. The Science Fiction & Fantasy list went around the blogosphere, with bloggers marking off those books they’d read and those books they owned but had yet to read. I decided at the time that there were several books mentioned – in all of the categories – that I wouldn’t mind reading.

So I’ve been picking them up and reading in amongst my normal reading. And tracking my progress. As below.

tbr” is those books I own but have not read. The figures are from the beginning of each quarter – Q1 on publication of the list, Q2 1 April, Q3 1 July, and Q4 1 October. If I restricted my reading to books on the list, I’m sure I’d have made more of a dent – but I didn’t want to do that.

Q1 2009 Q2 2009
read tbr read tbr
comedy 12 1 13 2
crime 28 0 28 1
family & self 7 2 7 5
love 13 5 14 4
nation 7 1 7 1
sf & fantasy 63 10 65 13
war & travel 16 1 16 3
146 20 150 29


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Doing the Hugos – an update

Asimov’s have finally put their Hugo nominated story and novellas on their web site. So here’s my thoughts on:

‘From Babel’s Fallen Glory We Fled’, Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Feb 2008)
An interesting story. I can’t decide if it’s taking the piss or a little bit lazy. The meta-fictional framing feels like an afterthought, and the typographical tricks for the alien’s speech feel like Swanwick is having a sly laugh at his readers. There are some nice ideas in the story, but it feels too thin a treatment, as if it should have been longer and more detailed. It’s a great deal better than Resnick’s story, and not as inconsequential as the Kowal, but the Chiang and Johnson still have it beat.

As four of the five novellas are now available, I’ll work my way through those. It might take a while – they’re the longest of the “short” lengths, as long as an old-style novel in fact. Sadly, the missing novella is the one I really wanted to read. For the record, the shortlist is as follows:

The Erdmann Nexus’, Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
‘The Political Prisoner’, Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF Aug 2008)
‘The Tear’, Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)
‘True Names’, Benjamin Rosenbaum and Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2)
‘Truth’, Robert Reed (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)

Incidentally, a point of order. Mike Resnick’s ‘Article of Faith’ was first published in Postscripts #15 in September 2008. According to the Hugo shortlist, it was published in Jim Baen’s Universe in October 2008. But that would be a reprint. At the very least, the Hugo committee should correctly attribute the magazine in which the story was first published.


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Reading Challenge #4 – The Tar-Aiym Krang, Alan Dean Foster

The Tar-Aiym Krang is hardly classic sf by anyone’s definition. But I vaguely recall enjoying it and its three sequels when I read them back in my late teens. And it was unlikely I’d ever get around to trying them again unless I bunged the first book on a reading challenge list. The same, of course, was also true for Vance’s Star King… and that pretty much cured me of wanting to reread the rest of the series (see here).

So, The Tar-Aiym Krang. First published in 1972, this was Foster’s first novel as well as the first book in his popular Flinx & Pip series of, at present, fourteen novels. Flinx is an orphaned young man of (mostly) good character, but dubious morals and profession, in the city of Drallar on the world of Moth; Pip is his minidrag, a flying poisonous reptile. Flinx is also a little bit telepathic, and Pip is empathic.

Flinx stumbles across a mugging and is forced to intervene when Pip attacks one of the muggers. Both the victim and the two muggers end up dead, and Flinx finds a map clutched in the victim’s fist. He takes it. Shortly afterwards he agrees to guide a human and a thranx, Tse-Mallory and Truzenzuzex, around Drallar, and is present when they visit the home of wealthy merchant, Malaika. Tse-Mallory and Truzenzuzex want Malaika to finance an expedition to recover a legendary alien artefact. The Tar-Aiym had once ruled part of the galaxy some 500,000 years earlier. And then abruptly disappeared. Legend had it they’d met a race who blocked their expansion, and the biological weapon they developed to destroy this race backfired and wiped out themselves as well. However, the Tar-Aiym were also working on another project, the Krang, which is either a weapon or a musical instrument. No one knows. It could be both, like a bagpipe….

The Tar-Aiym Krang is a straightforward quest. Flinx joins Tse-Mallory, Truzenzuzex, Malaika and assorted spear-carriers on their hunt for the Krang. They have adventures. Unfortunately, it’s crude stuff. The writing tries for flavour but fails. The characters in Draller talk in some sort of cod-historical accent which just looks silly. When Flinx is onboard Malaika’s ship, he helpfully asks questions on everything from space travel to galactic history, resulting in great info-dumps of background. The characterisation relies on stereotype – Flinx is every artful dodger who has ever appeared in fiction, and a little bit too good to be plausible. The other characters are… roles. To be fair, this was a first novel and it’s thirty-seven years old, but it certainly compares unfavourably with first sf novels of the twenty-first century.

I said earlier that I had vague memories of enjoying The Tar-Aiym Krang and its three sequels – Orphan Star, The End of the Matter and Bloodhype. I also have on my book-shelves Flinx in Flux, a later sequel written when Foster returned to Flinx & Pip eleven years after The End of the Matter. (Bloodhype was actually written second, although its story is chronologically last of the four.) I seem to recall not being very impressed with it. Certainly I never bothered trying the nine other books in the series….

Ah well, another book I fondly remember proves not to be not very good without the rose-tinted spectacles of nostalgia. Looks like I’ll be taking The Tar-Aiym Krang and its sequels off my books-shelves.


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Doing the Hugos – an interlude

I was planning to read and write about the novellas on this year’s Hugo shortlist. But only two of the five are currently available online, so there isn’t much point at this time. Asimov’s are being a bit crap for some reason – the Swanwick is still unavailable, as are two of the novellas. Of the novelettes which were originally published in Asimov’s, one has been posted online because it’s on the Nebula shortlist, another is on the author’s web site, and the third only appears to be up as a sample of the magazine’s 2009 contents….

I suppose I could have a go at the other Hugo categories. But I’ve not read any of the Best Related Books, nor the Best Graphic Story.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form…. I have seen The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, Iron Man and WALL-E, but not listened to METAtropolis. I’d sooner the Hugo went to something that was, well, you know, science fiction or fantasy. Not a superhero film. So that means WALL-E, I suppose; which I thought quite good, if a little inconsequential. Were there no good genre films in 2008? Apparently yes – see Jonathan McAlmont’s “Alternative Hugos for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form” on Blasphemous Geometries.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form…. Don’t watch Lost, not seen season 4 of Battlestar Galactica (I’ll wait for the DVD), not much of a Whedon fan so I gave the Dr Horrible thingymabob a miss… and then there are the two Dr Who episodes. I remember the two-parter ‘Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead’ having some good bits but being somewhat over-egged. ‘Turn Left’ was, I thought, better. Both were probably the best stories of series 4.