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SFFH Reviews and Articles in General Publications

Wednesday 31 October 2001

§ Washington Post Book World October 28, 2001
A column by John Clute covers books by Ursula K. Le Guin, Paul Di Filippo, Daniel Pearlman, and Pat Murphy. Adventures in Time and Space With Max Merriwell (Tor), actually, is by

Pat Murphy writing as Pat Murphy writing about Max Merriwell and Mary Maxwell and yet another pseudonym, Weldon Merrimax, under whose name Max emits noir thrillers.
Also in this Book World, Michael Dirda reviews Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey, a selected of interviews edited by Karen Wilkins (Harcourt).

§ New York Times October 25, 2001
Janet Maslin reviews Clive Barker's Coldheart Canyon, sounding like reading a horror thriller is perhaps beneath her, until admitting in the last paragraph:

By now you may well wonder why you are even reading about this. Here's the reason: Mr. Barker actually lives up to some of his hype. Grisly as it sometimes is, "Coldheart Canyon" unfolds with genuine momentum, in the vigorous style of a fully engaged storyteller. He may indeed reach the point of rising above genre limitations to more widely palatable material even if for now he is content to stick to hard-core horror and leave readers "thinking that if this was what sex with the dead was like, then the living had a lot to learn."

§ BookSense.com October 19, 2001
Michael Moorcock has an essay about perseverance...

Our Russian allies called their great cities "hero cities" and the British awarded the brave people of the Island of Malta their highest civilian honor, the George Cross, for their extraordinary defense of their country.

Now New York has become a "hero city," not simply because of the assault she sustained, but for the spirit with which she met it. This heroic status becomes part of a city's history. Part of her pride. Part of her sorrow. Part of her cultural understanding of the world. It is subtle credit she can draw on.
There's also an excerpt from the author's King of the City.


Friday 19 October 2001

§ Salon Oct. 18, 2001
Laura Miller's review of King & Straub's Black House is long, and contrarian (with a perhaps overly harsh title).

"Black House" cants more in the direction of horror (as opposed to fantasy) than "The Talisman" did, perhaps an indication that King and Straub realized that good fantasy calls on talents that they just don't have, at least not in abundance. While that shift ought to make the sequel the stronger of the two books, strangely it doesn't; instead it just emphasizes how incompatible the two genres can be. Both fantasy and horror tap into our dreams of a vast additional dimension to the reality we think we know too well, but while fantasy regards that other world with longing, horror recoils from it in revulsion. Readers pine for the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or for Middle Earth (at least those parts not under the direct control of Sauron); no one wants to visit H.P. Lovecraft's hideous plateau of Leng, where, in a remote and prehistoric monastery, the unthinkable High Priest covers his face with a yellow silk mask. And we sure don't want any of Lovecraft's creations to pay a call on us, either.

Also in Salon recently, a brief plug (second item) by Andrew Leonard for China Mieville's Perdido Street Station.

§ BookSense.com October 16, 2001
Joan Aiken is interviewed by Gavin J. Grant, with a little help from a couple young readers...

What scares you? Do you ever get scared writing about these scary things?
What scares me? Gangs, irrational rage, people who can't be reasoned with. I don't think I'd be scared of the supernatural, but then I have never really encountered it. I think I would be more interested than scared if I did.

§ Kansas City Star 10/14/01
Richard A. Lupoff's The Great American Paperback (Collectors Press) is reviewed by Brian McTavish.

From the start of the [paperback] boom, Lupoff notes, there was infighting within publishing houses regarding what type of paperbacks to peddle -- books in so-called good taste or those that pushed the envelope of propriety. Editors had to wonder: How much money could be made by offering more sex and violence?

A fortune, as it turned out. Shocking and arousing paperbacks featuring Dashielle Hammett's no-nonsense gumshoe Sam Spade, Mickey Spillane's hardboiled private eye Mike Hammer and Ian Fleming's womanizing super spy James Bond sold millions of copies.

Other genre-bound books sold well, too, especially when couched in cleavage and other lurid imagery -- although sometimes that didn't happen until the second time around. When the legitimate science fiction novel Outpost Mars, by Cyril Kornbluth and Judith Merril, got a paperback makeover in 1961, the book was attributed to "Cyril Judd," retitled Sin in Space, and given a cover painting showing a self-assured blonde stripping for an ogling astronaut in zero gravity. How absurd -- and enticing.


Monday 8 October 2001

§ Los Angeles Times Book Review October 7, 2001
Harlan Ellison heralds Ray Bradbury's new novel From the Dust Returned (Morrow).

The gestalt patchwork quilt that is "From the Dust Returned" may not be "Les Miserables," but it is superlatively what it is: a touchstone, codex and sampler of the pure Bradbury voice. Now here's the warning, the gardyloo you must not ignore, the alert not to feed the gremlins after midnight. Bradbury's voice is as idiosyncratic, as mannered, as specifically that of a rara avis, as Hemingway's or Proust's or Vonnegut's. If you dip a toe, and the aroma of rose petals and jasmine rises to trouble you, hit the road. Go find some faux-noir imitator of Jim Thompson or James M. Cain or John O'Hara. Don't shred the air with complaints of "precious" or "arty."

Dorman T. Shindler reviews Bradbury's novel in the same day's Denver Post.

§ CNN.com October 4, 2001
The news service's Career/Job Envy section profiles Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman clearly is enjoying riding the crest of a rising tide of attention for the often-derided literary genre called fantasy. ... [on the other hand] "I enjoy not being famous. I drive my publicist mad by declining to do things like the David Letterman show or People magazine (another AOL Time Warner company), because I don't particularly like being a personality, I like being about the story I'm telling, I like being about the books."

§ Salon Oct. 4, 2001
Donna Minkowitz reviews Ursula K. Le Guin's two new Earthsea books, considering how they revise some of the attitudes of the earlier novels in the series, and whether they should even try to.

Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the few writers I know who excels at both political fiction and epic fantasy. She's brilliant at both. But unfortunately, she's not always brilliant at both at the same time, and indeed, bringing them together is very, very hard. The intuitive demands of myth-making are only uneasily combined with the keen analysis required by a search for justice and equity.

... I'm not sure beautiful stories should be "corrected," even when they are sexist, hierarchical and gross. It might possibly break a fundamental covenant between writer and reader for the author to "reveal" that her fantasy world was radically different, and far worse, than she had previously told us.

Thankfully, "The Other Wind" is not only about the sexism of Le Guin's earlier world....

§ New York Times Book Review October 7, 2001
Gerald Jonas in his current SF column also admires Le Guin's new novel.

At the age of 72, Le Guin has brought to bear on her youthful creation the hardheaded, cleareyed, ultimately optimistic view of human nature that she has forged during an extraordinarily productive and thoughtful career.

Jonas also considers Maureen F. McHugh's Nekropolis (Eos) and Iain M. Banks's Look to Windward (Pocket):

Banks writes with a sophistication that will surprise anyone unfamiliar with modern science fiction. He begins in medias res, introducing characters, places and events that are not explained in detail until many pages later. He asks readers to hold in mind a great many pieces of a vast puzzle while waiting for a pattern to emerge. When I discovered that the pattern concerns a terrorist plot to murder billions of people, I wanted to put the book down. I am glad I didn't. What Banks has to say about idealism, fanaticism, revenge, blame and forgiveness made as much sense to me as the news and analysis that blared nonstop from my television set.
As of this posting the first paragraphs of Jonas's column are missing from the NYT website, but they're worth quoting:
On the day that everything changed, I was reading the advance galleys of a novel by Iain M. Banks called Look to Windward (Pocket Books, $23.95). Like most people, I immediately began to think my everyday activities seemed trivial in the wake of unimaginable tragedy. Then, like most people, I became convinced of quite the opposite.

Even in what we now fondly remember as "normal" times, I often found myself justifying an interest in science fiction to people who dismissed the genre as unserious at its core. These people were usually familiar only with science fiction as presented in the movies and on television — common-denominator stuff that borrows, typically in grossly simplified form, ideas and approaches from SF writing of 30 years ago. Looking closely at the books I had chosen to review for this column, I felt all the more certain of the importance of a genre rooted not in here-and-now reality but in untrammeled imagination — a literature free to stand apart from the specifics of today and speak about who we are and who we might be with daunting clarity.

§ The Atlantic October 2001
Gregg Easterbrook defends C.S. Lewis against "recent denunciations of the classic Chronicles of Narnia as racist, misogynist, 'poisonous' works", such as those of Philip Hensher and Philip Pullman. Contrasting Lewis and Pullman:

Perhaps we'd rather not know what it says about the postwar literary drift that 1950s fantasy concerned children who make common cause with a loving divine, and today's presents children who engage in grim battle against an immoral God bent on oppression. Moreover, this change occurred over a period in which Western children's living standards, education, health, and freedom improved dramatically. Still, good questions remain about whether the Chronicles really are racist, sexist, and overbearing about religion.
Easterbrook admits he "skirted" or "reworded" certain passages while reading the series aloud to his children.

§ January August 2001
Claude Lalumière reviews Robert Charles Wilson's The Chronoliths (Tor).

Considering the big idea at the heart of The Chronoliths, it's surprising how low-key Robert Charles Wilson's novel actually is. ... In fact, Wilson shows sober restraint throughout this carefully told novel. No matter how intense or frenetic the action or events get, Wilson lets the novel itself unfold at its own pace and carefully avoids confusing the novel with its plot.

§ King & Straub
Reviews of Black House in the UK...

Danielewski dragged horror into the twenty-first century where he gave it a hose down. King and Straub are content to leave it where it has always been - behind a velvet curtain 'simultaneously sinister and banal', and to speak of it in a strange narrative voice that is gossipy, intimate and gleeful. They are skilful, deliciously silly showmen who teeter close to vaudeville and whose talents highlight both horror's inherent childishness and its boundless thrills.
Now, with both their careers somewhat stalled, the writers have collaborated again. The result of their second partnership should, more honestly, have been entitled Talisman II: The Final Reckoning. ... One of the problems with Straub/King collaborations is that they balloon up under the pressure of two big literary egos. The first Talisman threatened, at one point, to be 5,000 pages long. This sequel, at 625 pages, could well have lost 300 of them. There are too many characters and the narrative often seems to lose its way. King's devotees will love Black House. Those of us less steeped in his complete works should wait (it won't be more than nine months) for the next blockbuster. Straub, I think, would be best advised to go his own way.

§ The Independent 28 September 2001
Nicholas Tucker takes a dim view of Sean Smith's J.K. Rowling: A Biography (Michael O'Mara Books): "This is a book crying out not to be written."

§ The Guardian September 29, 2001
Maya Jaggi reviews Eva Hoffman's The Secret: A Fable for Our Time (Secker & Warburg), about cloning. From the description, the book sounds like a mainstream writer's reinvention of hoary sci-fi cliches:

Iris Surrey is a teenager whose "ordinary childhood" in a small college town in the US midwest masks a secret. While she and her mother, Elizabeth, seem almost telepathically close, they unnerve and repel their neighbours. The "weirdness" that makes others recoil is heightened as the daughter grows into a mirror image of her mother. At 17, Iris discovers what Elizabeth had meant to withhold until her 18th birthday: that she is her mother's clone, manufactured in a laboratory in Manhattan as a "replica ... a Xerox... a microchip off the old motherboard".


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