ed_rex: (Default)

All the covers I ruined

I have a confession. Back in the lonely days of my early adolescence, I spent a lot of my free time haunting bookstores and there developed a peculiar and unsavoury habit. Not shop-lifting, but vandalism.

I had it in for Fred Pohl's brilliant novel of missing aliens and absent lovers, Gateway. Y'see, the Del Rey paperback (pictured at right) was, to put it bluntly, crap. Usually, simply opening the book wide enough to scan the middle pages was enough to detach the cover from the book's spine.

At a buck-ninety-five a copy I thought Del Rey owed its readers something better, and so made it my mission to open every copy in every bookstore I entered. I was, I self-justified, protecting my fellow readers from shoddy merchandise and, maybe, encouraging the publisher to try again. It must have worked, as I don't think Gateway has ever been out of print.

Little did I know that some years later circumstances would see me become friends with Pohl's former wife Judy Merril, or that she would one day introduce me to him at a conference she had been involved in organizing in Toronto.

That meeting didn't go so well. Though we huddled together in a doorway while sharing a smoke, I didn't want to bore him by telling him how much I'd enjoyed Gateway and Man Plus and Jem and The Space Merchants and that I had the advantage of him because I had also read his autobiography, The Way the Future Was. Worse, I was even worse with small-talk than I am now, and Pohl didn't seem to think it necessary either.

We grunted about the lousy weather and that was about it. But I digress.

In 1979, Pohl had been a professional for 40 years. When I met him in person he had been at it for about 50 and seemed to me, if not quite ancient, then certainly old. He was tall but stooped, his body showing signs of that inevitable surrender to entropy and gravity that faces all who live long enough to endure it.

In 2011, Pohl has been a pro for more than 70 years and is not only regularly writing a Hugo-winning blog, he is still writing fiction.

And so I recently scrounged up the coin to pick up his latest book — in hard-cover, no less. And frankly, given my recent experiences with paying good money for one lousy book or another I put down my money kind of nervously.

So I am doubly-pleased to be able to say that All the Lives He Led is one of the best SF novels — best novels — I've read in a while and with nary a rocket ship or time machine in sight.

The full review is at Edifice Rex Online, with very little in the way of spoilers.

krait: Ilisidi riding her mecheita (Foreigner - mecheita)
posted by [personal profile] krait at 10:48pm on 24/05/2011
I and a couple of friends are planning to read and discuss C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner together over on my journal - we're still working out details, but the basic plan is to read a certain number of chapters per week, then comment via a "discussion post" for discussing each week's reading.

I bring it up here because I was curious whether anyone knows of a comm for things like this (group reading / read-togethers / readalongs / does anyone know if there's a name?); I was thinking of creating one, aimed at both sci-fi and fantasy readers, where those interested could post "testing interest levels" sorts of posts to find co-readers, links to any group-read they've organised in their journal, or place their "discussion posts" if they don't want to host such a thing on their personal journal...

Would anyone be interested? A number of people on my flist back on LJ would periodically do something like this, so I know other people enjoy readalongs, and thought it might be neat to collate all the relevant details in a comm, so if you couldn't quite remember where you made that post about [something you read with a group], you could find it again! :D

(Naturally, if anyone here would like to join the Foreigner readalong, you're very welcome! There are some more details in my most recent DW posts.)

Crossposted to [community profile] fantasy, since the proposed community would include both genres.
ed_rex: (Default)


For the record, my copy of N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms came courtesy of a contest conducted by the writer Tricia Sullivan, whose novel, Maul, I read a few years back and which which has since stayed with me far more strongly than most. I wish I could say the same about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. (Edited to fix typos. Thanks to shanaqui for the head's up.)

Stormwinds over a cardboard world

Nebula-nominated first novel is epic failure

I opened N.K. Jemisin's (now Nebula Award nominated) first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, having occasionally read the author's blog and commentary elsewhere on the internet, and was well-aware the book had been getting a lot of positive attention since it was published last year. In other words, I was looking forward to reading at least a very good debut novel and hoping for even more than that.

Instead, I find myself obliged to discuss a first novel about which I can find almost nothing good to say whatsoever — except to note that, on page 222, the author offers a striking and (I think) original metaphor for the female orgasm.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a novel remarkable only for the lack of detail and verisimilitude of its world-building, the droning sameness of its characters (god or human — you can't tell them apart), the thoughtlessly anachronistic dialogue and banality of its prose.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not the worst novel I've ever read (there are lots of bad books out there), but it might be the worst highly-praised science fiction novel I've ever come across (I say "might" because it has been many years since I read Lord of Light).

The basics include a number of standard fantasy tropes. A world not quite our own, shared by humans and a more ancient and powerful race; a heroine with a Special Destiny; a society with a pre-industrial technology (plus magic) and a feudal political order with a cruel and corrupt extended family at the top of the heap.

There's nothing inherently wrong with re-using the familiar to tell a story, but there is a lot wrong with using those tropes so badly the reader never feels they are looking in on another world, let alone that they have actually entered into what Tolkien called a secondary creation.

For a fantasy to succeed, if must convince the reader of not only the reality of its narrative but of that narrative's background. The author must pay attention to such things as his or her world's history and culture, to its tools and technology, as much as to character and psychology.

To my ears, neither Jemisin's world-building nor her character-building convince, let alone provide cause to care. Worse, her prose is sophomoric and her dialogue painfully melodramatic.

I did not answer, and after a moment Scimina sighed.

"So," she said, "there are new alliances being formed on Darr's borders, meant to counter Darr's perceived new strength. Since Darr in fact has no new strength, that means the entire region is becoming unstable. Hard to say what will happen under circumstances like that."

My fingers itched for a sharpened stone. "Is that a threat?"

"Please, Cousin. I'm merely passing the information along. We Arameri must look out for one another."

"I appreciate your concern." I turned to leave, before my temper slipped any further ...

These are not words that sing, nor dialogue that breathes. Is there anything in this book that does? There is more on my website.

ed_rex: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] ed_rex at 03:12pm on 07/01/2011

When I was nine or ten years old, the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar showed up on my black and white television. I liked the music and was confused by the tanks and American soldiers showing up in place of Roman centurions, but what i remember best was a scene in which Caiaphas or Pilate — some official anyway — looked out on the crown of Jesus' supporters and sang about how "There must be more than 50,000" of them.

Thing is, Jesus Christ Superstar was made on the cheap (or looked to be) and, unless my memory utterly fails me, that "crowd" was much closer to fifty people than it was to fifty thousand. At that age, such a discrepancy utterly shattered my suspension of disbelief, no matter how good the music.

Unlike a film's, a novel's crowd scenes are limited only by power of the author's imagination, which is one reason why there are a great many epic science fiction novels but very few epic science fiction movies.

So it is particularly strange that the scope of Pamela Sargent's ostensible epic, Venus of Dreams, feels every bit as small as that crowd dancing on the sands of the Judean desert. A 500 page novel about terraforming the planet Venus, that takes place over decades, ought to be a sweeping and complex tale encompassing science and culture, technology and politics, with a large (if not necessarily larger-than-life) and representative cast of characters throwing light on societies and mores other than our own.

Venus of Dreams manages none of these things. Instead this confused mess of a novel begins as an unconvincing bildungsroman, awkwardly transitions into an even less convincing story of political intrigue and ends with an utterly improbable attempt at revolution against a government we never really understand in the first place.

Click here to read my cranky review in full at Edifice Rex Online.

boundbooks: Zhang Ziyi (stars: rising void)
posted by [personal profile] boundbooks at 12:49pm on 09/04/2010 under
Sci-fi discussions for breaking plausibility usually revolve around two things: technology and alien species. I’m thinking about discussions along the lines of ‘can we ever go faster than light’ and ‘what constitutes a truly alien species’? One plausibility breaker that doesn’t get brought up much is race. Basically, why do so many sci-fi novels break the expected distribution of race?

According to a 1999 UN Report, here’s the projected percentage breakdown:

2100 World Population: Africa 23.7%, Asia 57.1%... )

If this is the projection, then sci-fi should be filled with characters and protagonists from Africa and Asia. At least one of my favorite sci-fi series has this problem: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series accidentally implies that Asia and Africa are smoldering wrecks judging by the majority white people that her protagonist runs into.

How do some of the books that you’ve read handle this issue? Did they do it well (or offer a plausible explanation for breaking the expected distribution) or did they fumble it?
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)
posted by [personal profile] holyschist at 06:28pm on 19/03/2010 under ,
I've been reading more speculative fiction online lately, particularly at Strange Horizons and Fantasy Magazine. Both have some really stunning work.

Recently I read Alaya Dawn Johnson's amazing Aztec-based fantasy story A Song to Greet the Sun (warning: potentially very triggery stuff, abuse and murder) and Alice Sola Kim's SF-ish Beautiful White Bodies, which made it on the Tiptree honor list for 2009. I also loved Willow Fagan's my mother, the ghost (dunno what genre I'd call this).

Do you have favorite non-subscription online fiction magazines or stories? A favorite SFF author who has links to some of their work online? Please share!

(x-posted to [community profile] fantasy and my personal journal)
starlady: (hitsugaya smirk)
So, the Honorverse! Am I the only one who reads all of the books in it compulsively? I just finished the most recent volume, Torch of Freedom, and really liked it. There are spoilers behind the cut, though I did my best not to give away the ending. (Note: the full review is here at my journal.)

I wanted to like this book so much less than I did. In point of fact, it's the most sheer fun I've had in the Honorverse since…I don't know when; maybe not since The Short Victorious War (though I think the Saganami books are also pretty enjoyable). It's also an interesting mixture of frustrating tropes combined with some surprisingly thorough thinking on (among other things) slavery as an institution and human nature.

Freedom! Forever! )

And if you're interested, you can download full-text HTML versions of the first 14 books here; they're off the Torch of Freedom CD bound into the book, which is free to share for free. I've numbered the main novels according to internal chronology; the remainder of the books are the short story collections, which generally fill in interesting gaps in the narrative.

I wonder what people tend to read David Weber (and Eric Flint) books for. If you do read them, or other military sf, what keeps bringing you back? 

starlady: Darth Vader reading Deathly Hallows (join the dark side)
posted by [personal profile] starlady at 01:38am on 16/11/2009 under
C.L. Anderson, Bitter Angels

Joanna Russ, The Zanzibar Cat

Samuel R. Delany, Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia

(All links go back to reviews at my journal. I generally don't spoil.) Anyone else read these? What did you think? 
ellarien: bookshelves (books)
posted by [personal profile] ellarien at 10:50am on 15/11/2009
I picked this up in the UK over the summer, where it was published in paperpack by Tor; it doesn't appear to be out in the US. I think it counts as SF; the ghosts and transferable souls seem to be technological, but it does have a somewhat fantastical feel.

Cut to be safe: Plot spoilers for the first few chapters. )

It's very atmospheric, whether in the frigid cities and wastes of Mars or the steamy, drowned marshes of Earth, and full of nifty weirdness. The writing has the same kind of bleak, dreamlike, grungy beauty I've also seen in M. John Harrison [Viriconium, etc.]; it seems to be one of the registers specific to British authors. On the down side, I found it rather confusing; all three of the pov characters are rather similar and have similar voices. Also, it ends frustratingly in a place which suggests it isn't a standalone, but I've no idea when or if the sequel will be available.

If anyone has any opinions on this book, or knows anything about a sequel, please comment.
foxfirefey: Fox stealing an egg. (mischief)
posted by [personal profile] foxfirefey at 12:11pm on 07/11/2009
[personal profile] jimhines is seeking your submissions for a 2009 roundup of humorous science fiction and fantasy! (Also posted to [community profile] fantasy.)


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