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SF Reviews and Articles in General Publications

San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday Dec. 27th
Paul Di Filippo reviews Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Talents, comparing and contrasting it to recent books by Bruce Sterling, Sheri S. Tepper, and Lisa Goldstein. The book ''exhibits a few annoying strategies but also features some emotionally wrenching interludes and dollops of unobjectionably good-hearted 'Why can't we all just get along?' philosophy.''

There's also a good overview of The Year in (Book) Review by editor David Kipen. And Thomas Lewis reviews Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont's Fashionable Nonsense.

Salon, Dec. 24th
The webzine's third annual Book Awards, five fiction and five nonfiction titles, include José Saramago's Blindness, Andrea Barrett's The Voyage of the Narwhal, and Sylvia Nassar's A Beautiful Mind. Salon's contributors also make individual selections for Literary Losers of 1998. Book critic Brigette Frase chooses J. G. Ballard's Cocaine Nights as worst of the year: ''What a shame that Ballard and his characters are unblemished by any sense of humor. With a nip here and a tuck there, this could have been a really funny novel.''

(Sun 27 Dec 98)

Worst of '98
Anne Rice's The Vampire Armand and Pandora are together chosen for People magazine's annual Worst of Pages list. ''Cranking out both the seventh volume of her Vampire Chronicles and a novel about a whole new undead hero in one year seems to have driven Rice batty: Both lack bite.'' The vampire novel is also one of Entertainment Weekly's five worst books of the year. The effect of ''this monstrous mishmash'' is ''a writer who at this point isn't even sure which of her own books she's plagiarizing.''

In contrast The Vampire Armand gets a decent notice in the New York Times Book Review from Michael Porter, who finds it richer than the author's earlier books. ''She first sketched out his story in 'Interview With the Vampire' and 'The Vampire Lestat,' but here she colors it in, using a vibrant palette suitable to its initial 16th-century Italian setting.''

Washington Post Book World, Sunday Dec. 20th
Paul Di Filippo reviews Gahan Wilson's The Cleft and Other Odd Tales (Tor). ''This collection provides more fun than watching Gary Larson arm-wrestle Dean Koontz for the favors of the bride of Frankenstein.''

Also in Book World, John Clute contributes the monthly Science Fiction and Fantasy column. Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years -- A Complete Coverage of the Genre Magazines Amazing, Astounding, Wonder and Others from 1926 through 1936 (Kent State University Press) is Everett F. Bleiler's ''deeply intelligent, sympathetic but unsentimental magnum opus'' that analyzes the birth and growth of the SF genre. The book includes synopses of every story -- over 1800 of them -- published in American SF magazines from 1926 to 1936. They comprise ''a literature of disaster, aversion, hatred, fear'' that is the result, says Clute, of the influence of the ''humorless, didactic, pedestrian, philistine'' Hugo Gernsback, whose influence on the genre, aside from the founding of Amazing Stories, was ''disastrous''.

Clute also covers Stephen Baxter's Moonseed (HarperPrism), a book that ''fails to build on Baxter's strengths. Cognitively it is something of a wallow, an endless ambling vast hunk of a book with a massive potbelly''. Bruce Sterling's Distraction (Bantam Spectra) is ''just as long, but is so absorbingly new in every detail, so grippingly engaged with the task of trying to tell us what the world may feel like next century, and so unremittingly hilarious, that it seems far too short. It is Sterling's best novel yet.''

(Mon 21 Dec 98)

Time Magazine, Dec. 21, 1998
Bruce Sterling and his novel Distraction (Bantam Spectra) are profiled in a two-page spread under the headline ''Cyberpunk Spinmeister''. Sterling is ''one of America's best-known science-fiction writers and perhaps the sharpest observer of our media-choked culture working today in any genre'' while the book is ''a new high-water mark'' in his career -- ''catnip for smart people''. The issue's Table of Contents lists the piece not under the Books subheading but under a ''Science Fiction'' subheading of the magazine's ''Society and Science'' pages.

(Tue 15 Dec 98)

Los Angeles Times Book Review, Sunday Dec. 13th
The Review's year-end issue consists, as it did last year, of a long list of noteworthy titles with brief comments summarized from the original reviews. Critic Richard Eder's 10 Best Books include Nobel-prize winner Jose Saramago's Blindness (Harcourt Brace), a parable of a nation gone blind.

New York Times Book Review, Sunday Dec. 13th
Andrea Higbie briefly reviews Gahan Wilson's The Cleft and Other Odd Tales, ''a collection of meticulously eccentric stories. But the illustrations are definitely the icing on this devil's food cake of a book.''

(Mon 14 Dec 98)

Salon, Dec. 7th
The literary SF webzine Event Horizon is profiled as challenging conventional wisdom about both online publishing and SF magazines.

(Mon 7 Dec 98)

New York Times Book Review, Sunday Dec. 6th
The Review's ''Holiday Books 1998'' issue includes a category for science fiction on its lengthy list of Notable Books of 1998.

Washington Post Book World, Sunday Dec. 6th
Book World has some year-end lists including ''Experts Pick Their Favorites of 1998'' but, though there are selections of science books, literary fiction, and thrillers, there are none of science fiction. Notable among the science picks: James Trefil's description of E. O. Wilson's Consilience (Knopf) as ''the most significant science book published in 1998, without question.''


Michael Dirda, as the children's book editor of Book World, reviews two books by Philip Pullman: Clockwork (Arthur R. Levine/Scholastic) and Count Karlstein (Knopf). The latter is ''a perfect novel for wintertime reading''.

(Mon 7 Dec 98)

Globe and Mail, 28 November 1998
The Canadian newspaper's Globe 100 list of notable books published since last November includes, in the Canadian Fiction category, Phyllis Gotlieb's Flesh and Gold (Tor) with a quote from Spider Robinson: ''This is quite simply the best SF novel I have read in many years...'' The International Fiction category does not include any genre works.

New Scientist, 14 November 1998
Elizabeth Sourbut examines three recent SF novels in an essay that wonders if the distinction between character-driven mainstream fiction and idea-driven genre SF is eroding. Citing Kim Stanley Robinson, Christopher Priest, Doris Lessing, and Margaret Atwood, the reviewer says ''In our confused, science fictional world, perhaps the distinction no longer exists. The psychological novel merges into the classically dystopian, while the big ideas of science arrive on the bookshelves nattily clothed as high literature and peopled with decidedly three-dimensional characters.'' In Ian McDonald's Kirinya (Gollancz) (a sequel to Chaga) ''the concerns of science fiction merge with strong characterisation''; ''This densely textured novel is very descriptive and full of contrasting societies and conflicting motivations.'' Sanjida O'Connell's Angel Bird (Black Swan) concerns a zoologist studying magpies. ''The narrow focus makes it feel more mainstream, yet O'Connell's themes, scientific endeavour and the exploration of free will and destiny, have been the stuff of science fiction for a century.'' Maggie Gee's The Ice People (Richard Cohen Books) follows a mid-21st century family as global warming brings on the next ice age. ''When read as science fiction, this novel has an old-fashioned, clunky feel to it. ... However, as an allegory of the battle for understanding between two increasingly separate sexes, the book is a powerful read.''

The Independent, 25 Oct 1998
Laurence Phelan reviews Jeff Noon's Pixel Juice (Doubleday UK), commenting ''Science fiction is fashionable again. The revival started in the early 1990s when dance music producers began to mix samples from Bladerunner and 2001 with their experimental beats. After four novels in which club culture is a motif and setting, Jeff Noon leads the British arm of this revival. Updating Philip K Dick, via William Gibson and Lewis Carroll, Noon sets his cyberfiction in a fantastically imagined futuristic Manchester, where humanity and technology have evolved and mutated. His latest release, Pixel Juice, is a collection of 50 short stories that showcases the best aspects of his talents.'' He concludes that the book is ''paradoxically his best work yet''.

(Tue 1 Dec 98)

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