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SF Reviews and Articles in General Publications

Salon, Sept. 24th
The publication of Stephen King's new novel Bag of Bones has prompted critical reappraisal of the author's career. Today's Salon Magazine has a trio of pieces by Andrew O'Hehir, including a review of the book and a telephone interview with King (in which he discusses H. P. Lovecraft among other things). O'Hehir's article states that the fanfare surrounding King's new book ''has focused the literary world's attention, gradually and groggily, on what should have been obvious all along: King is one of the most important writers of our age.'' O'Hehir then describes five essential King books for beginners: Carrie, The Shining, Pet Sematary, It, and The Green Mile.

Also, here's Simon and Schuster's official Bag of Bones website, which includes several sample chapters and an impressive concordance of literary references in the book (e.g., Bride of Frankenstein, page 493). The first chapter is also available on CNN. (Thu 24 Sep 98)

The New Yorker Sept. 7
A portion of the magazine's profile of King by Mark Singer is online.
(Thu 24 Sep 98)

Los Angeles Times, Sunday Sept. 22nd
Richard Eder reviews Iain Banks' (non-SF) novel A Song of Stone (Henry Holt), a parable of violence and chaos perhaps inspired by what used to be Yugoslavia. ''Banks writes with rich tactile detail and dark suspense, borne upon an undercurrent of revulsion. The revulsion issues from the corrupt voice of Abel, his narrator. It grips us insistently and too close; it breathes a perfumed rottenness in our face; it employs unabashed confession as an ultimate smoke screen. Banks uses this smoke to trace out his novel's theme: the perduring evil that underlies all history and histories.''
(Tue 22 Sep 98)

Washington Post Book World, Sunday Sept. 22nd
John Clute reviews A Song of Stone too. ''In the grotesque, tragic, farcical atrocities and contretemps that close the book, nothing seems clearer than the fact that a man of culture, like Abel, will prove almost unbelievably inept when dealing with the virus of chaos. The conceit of the song of stone -- the notion that something hard and human and memorable will survive under the chaos of events -- proves ludicrous.'' Reader reaction, on the Amazon page, is highly mixed.

Also in WP this week: Richard Grant reviews Phil Patton's Dreamland: Travels Inside the Secret World of Roswell and Area 51 (Villard), ''a hitchhiker's guide to a place that doesn't appear on any maps''. Patton is less interested in UFOs and aliens than in airplanes and secret government projects, despite the photo on the dust jacket of an alien wearing a cowboy hat. ''I don't mean to criticize Dreamland for having little to say about aliens, abductions and All That: merely to point out that this excellent book is not quite what its packaging would lead us to expect.''

And Paul Di Filippo examines the work of contemporary Italian fantasist Anna Maria Ortese (1914 - 1998) in A Music Behind the Wall: Selected Stories, Volume Two (McPherson). Di Filippo admits her to the company of Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Dino Buzzatti, and Tommaso Landolfi, also discusses her novel The Iguana, and compares her variously to Philip K. Dick, Thomas Wolfe, and George MacDonald. ''Tapping directly into numinous layers of the human subconscious and a cosmic spirit, she delivers allegories and strange timeless incidents not susceptible to univalent readings. ... Deploying simple settings and recurring symbols -- railway stations, butterflies, snow, forests, islands, castles, drawings -- Ortese conjures up haunting psychological states of alienation felt by all but the least sensitive among us from time to time, her prose alternately lucid and darkling.''
(Tue 22 Sep 98)

More Stephen King

  • Christopher Lehmann-Haupt reviews Bag of Bones in The New York Times, Monday Sept 21st, suggesting that the book doesn't quite live up to its potential.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday Sept 20th review, by Yunah Kim and Elizabeth Judd, concludes that Bag of Bones is ''hardly his best book, but it's lively and, given its flaws, far more gripping than it has any right to be.''
  • USA Today's article, ''Horror's home run king bats again'', includes this passage:
    If forced to choose between good storytelling and beautiful writing, he says, he'd settle for a good story. ''So-called literary critics who praise gorgeous writing without a story are like some guy dating a model, saying she's dumb as a stone boat but is great to look at.''
    The paper's review by Bob Minzesheimer appears today.
    (Tue 22 Sep 98)

    San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday Sept. 20th
    A column by Michael Berry covers several SF/F works that ''display a wide range of wit, from laugh-at-loud funny to icily satirical''. Sean Stewart's Mockingbird (Ace) is ''a true tour de force, one of the best, most enjoyable books of the year.'' Avram Davidson's posthumous novella The Boss In the Wall (Tachyon Publications), completed by Grania Davis, is ''both a chilling horror story and a sly satire of academia.'' William Browning Spencer is ''a bona fide original, reminiscent of Jonathan Carroll in the ways he twists the mundane into the surreal and horrific'' but Irrational Fears (White Wolf) ''doesn't find him in top form''. Nancy Kress's collection Beaker's Dozen (Tor) features work that is ''overtly comic only occasionally'', but Kress ''does, however, have the keenness of vision that makes for formidable satire''. And Michael Marshall Smith's One of Us (Bantam) is ''a rickety roller coaster of a book, but there's no denying the fun of some of the plot's hairpin turns.''
    (Tue 22 Sep 98)

    Newsweek, Sept. 21st
    A feature article by Malcolm Jones Jr., subtitled ''Stephen King reinvents the Gothic romance'', reviews Bag of Bones, which hits the bookstores in the US next week. ''There isn't much about novel writing that [King] doesn't know by now, and when he decides to scare you, you know you've been worked over by a pro. But the big surprise here is the emotional wallop the story packs... [The book] contains some of his best writing, worthy of comparison at times to his idol, Shirley Jackson.'' The article includes this exchange about King's peers.
    (Wed 16 Sep 98)

    Entertainment Weekly, Sept. 18th
    Geoff Ryman's 253 (St. Martin's Griffin), the hardcopy edition of Ryman's online novel, gets a paragraph review from Alice King. The ''print remix'' ''includes an index of links between characters, cheeky footnotes (William Blake makes a cameo trip to the present in a rambling note about the poet's home on Hercules Road), and subversive ads (BECOME AN AUTHOR IN YOUR SPARE TIME!) that remind the reader that however real a novelistic world may seem, it's still the creation of an all-powerful author.''
    (Wed 16 Sep 98)

    Voice Literary Supplement
    Nicola Griffith's The Blue Place attracts favorable attention from reviewer Elizabeth Pincus, who remarks ''The Blue Place warps time as well as genre. It may be the first-ever nugget of post-gay pulp, with a hero as sexy and iconic as television's Xena."
    (Wed 16 Sep 98)

    Salon, Monday Sept. 14th
    The webzine's ''21st'' feature by Andrew Leonard wonders what killed cyberpunk (answer: cyberspace) by way of reviewing two current examples, Alexander Besher's Mir: A Novel of Virtual Reality and Scott T. Grusky's Silicon Sunset: Where the Information Highway Really Leads. Leonard says ''Besher is a decent writer with some vivid ideas'' but the novel is lazy and full of stereotypes. Both books rely too heavily on contemporary Web realities. Grusky too has a great idea, ''reminiscent of the best work of Philip K. Dick'' but ''he writes in a flat, colloquial style that tends to cast his whole project under an amateurish light.''
    (Mon 14 Sep 98)

    The New York Times Book Review, Sunday Sept. 13th
    Dick Teresi reviews David J. Skal's Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture and is not impressed. He likes Skal's use of contemporaneous reviews in discussions of movies like Frankenstein, but takes Skal to task for expressing deep thoughts about scientists based on pop culture. ''His negative judgments about scientists are based on movies and visits to Disney World, Universal Studios Florida (Robosaurus, a fire-breathing T-Rex robot, is his idea of Big Science) and sex shops.''

    Also this week: Mavis Gallant reviews Jorge Luis Borges' Collected Fictions, ''the first complete translation into English of all the fictions, in a single voice'' by Andrew Hurley, a professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico. ''Some -- ''The Aleph,'' ''Emma Zunz,'' ''The South'' -- stand among the great short fiction of the century.''

    And there's a review of Andrea Barrett's The Voyage of the Narwhal, a historical adventure novel about an 1855 Arctic expedition. The central character is a naturalist and ''the whole novel takes place in the lee, as it were, of Charles Darwin's 'Origin of Species,' which would appear four years later but whose ideas were already in the air -- along with debates about slavery, racial superiority, the Irish potato famine and the young author Thoreau, whose books the ship's surgeon pores over on the voyage.'' Michiko Kakutani's Sept. 4th review cites the book's thematic links to ''Frankenstein'' and ''Moby Dick'' and its description of the polar region that recalls Barry Lopez and ''the metaphysical landscape of Poe's 'Narrative of A. Gordon Pym' ''.
    (Mon 14 Sep 98)

    Boston Globe, Wednesday August 26th
    Robert Taylor reviews Gillian Bradshaw's Island of Ghosts, an historical novel about the Sarmatians, a barbarian 2nd century tribe fighting Roman legions. (Bradshaw is best known to genre readers as author of an Arthurian trilogy.) The reviewer praises the author's deft balancing of tribal values against Roman laws and customs and the book's focus on character, giving the ''historical novel a rare and unusual depth''. (The review is archived and is accessible only for a fee.)
    (Mon 14 Sep 98)

    CNN, Wednesday Sept. 9th
    David Mandeville pans David Farland's [Dave Wolverton's] The Runelords. Mandeville says the fantasy notion of runes is interesting, but he finds the plot first predictable then nonsensical, and gives examples. ''I started disbelieving around page 17.'' He concludes (ironically) ''Farland has a great deal of potential. I'll just say that 'The Runelords' reads like a trunk novel that should have been published long after he became famous rather than as a first effort.''
    (Wed 9 Sep 98)

    The New York Times, Wednesday Sept. 9th
    Richard Bernstein reviews Jorge Luis Borges' Collected Fictions.
    (Wed 9 Sep 98)

    Popular Science August 1998
    A short story by David Brin, ''Life in the Extreme'', is the first in a series in which the magazine asks SF writers to envision life in the next 100 years.
    (Wed 9 Sep 98)

    CNN, Thursday Sept. 3rd
    Jim Argendeli reviews Stephen King's Bag of Bones and is not disappointed: ''a classic ghost story which should keep his old fans elated and cause others to understand why the man from Maine still has the born storytelling ability to keep us enthralled.
    (Fri 4 Sep 98)

    The New York Times Book Review, Sunday August 30th
    Gerald Jonas's science fiction column covers four books, all notable for their female protagonists, though otherwise variously successful. He likes Sean Stewart's Mockingbird best; Stewart ''writes about magic as if it were an everyday occurrence''. Matt Ruff's Sewer, Gas & Electric is a talky, picaresque novel that takes cues from Ayn Rand. J. R. Dunn's Full Tide of Night starts well but deteriorates into a ''slow-motion confrontation between Good and Evil. Guess who wins.''. And Alexander Jablokov's Deepdrive is complicated but colorful. ''You can think of this novel as 'Men in Black' with a female lead, played straight. But Jablokov's aliens are definitely not from Central Casting...''
    (Fri 4 Sep 98)

    San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday August 30th
    Ernest Callenbach reviews David Morse's The Iron Bridge, an unusual time travel novel in which an attempt to redirect the future focuses on an 18th century iron bridge in England. Callenbach is impressed on several levels, e.g. ''Morse deploys social history skillfully, giving us a vividly painful sense of what growing industrialization meant'', and though Morse's ''commitment to history drives him to evade the logical contradictions of the time-travel genre instead of embracing them'', his treatment of historical forces is provocative.
    (Fri 4 Sep 98)

    Washington Post Book World, Sunday August 30th
    This month's science fiction column is by David Streitfeld. Psychoshop, the posthumous Bester/Zelazny collaboration about ''the same old magic shop-motif that has been replayed many times in sf'' doesn't reflect the best of either author. ''The characters aren't developed enough to warrant being labeled cardboard; when the appearance of God rates only a yawn, it's a sign that a novel is in trouble.'' Nalo Hopkinsons's Brown Girl in the Ring ''has the usual first novel faults in pacing and plotting but more than compensates with its richness of language''. Also covered: NESFA Press's C. M. Kornbluth collection, and Jim Turner's anthology Eternal Lovecraft: The Persistence of HPL in Popular Culture.
    (Fri 4 Sep 98)

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