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Tuesday 30 April 2002

§ The New York Times April 28, 2002
Gerald Jonas's latest SF column covers Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt...

Since history is by nature episodic, the challenge of a book like ''The Years of Rice and Salt'' is to orchestrate a steady stream of new characters from different eras while keeping a core of familiar players on stage throughout. Robinson's solution is to borrow an article of faith common to the surviving cultures: reincarnation. By focusing on a small band of souls who are born and die and suffer rebirth again and again, he turns a speculative chronicle into a group biography that plays to the heart as well as the mind.
...Sheri S. Tepper's The Visitor (Eos), Michael Swanwick's Bones of the Earth (Eos), and Samuel C. Florman's The Aftermath (St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne). This last is about
a boatload of engineers who, thanks to a convenient comet that wipes out seven billion people, get to rebuild civilization in their own image. Florman, a civil engineer and principal of a major construction company, writes about people who never doubt that civilization and technology are synonymous. Even skeptical readers may enjoy the can-do spirit of Alfred Richards, who clearly shares the author's enthusiasms...

§ Comics April 28, 2002
Both the DC and LA papers review books on comics:

  • Mike Musgrove on Dan Raviv's Comic Wars: How Two Tycoons Battled Over the Marvel Comics Empire -- And Both Lost (Broadway)
  • Marc Flores on the Raviv book and Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee by Stan Lee and George Mair (Fireside Books)
At Washington Post Book World, by the way, Michael Dirda is taking a break for a few months.

§ Guardian Unlimited Sunday April 28, 2002
Robert McCrum reports on a plagiarism charge from one Christina Starobin, author of unpublished manuscript "Blood Eternal", against Stephen King and his Desperation, with alleged similarities including

hearing footsteps on gravel (Blood Eternal) and on black tar (Desperation); a driver talking on a walkie-talkie (Blood Eternal) and an author on a cellular phone (Desperation); tooth pulp like undigested meat (Blood Eternal) and raw tissue from mouth and nose like raw meat (Desperation). The plaintiff also noted that the word 'zilch' had appeared in both her manuscript and in Desperation.
The judge dismissed the complaint.

§ Salon April 17, 2002
The recent auction of the original manuscript of Bram Stoker's Dracula has raised questions about how he did it.

How did a man with less literary talent than the average linotype operator create a book that has never been out of print, and continues to surpass every work written in the genre it inspired? ...

He composed the book as if he were filing a newspaper story, working on a typewriter, cutting up and pasting together his text. The machine allowed Stoker to work quickly and steadily, arranging scenes after the fact and leaving blanks where details could later be inserted.

§ Michigan Today Spring 2002
Sarah Zettel is profiled.

§ eTrucker News
Andy Duncan fans can read his latest article about trucking, Behind the Placard, online. Duncan is senior editor for Overdrive, a magazine for owner-operator truck drivers, with a circulation of over 100,000.

Tuesday 23 April 2002

§ Guardian Unlimited April 13, 2002
J.G. Ballard reviews a biography of Aldous Huxley.

Huxley's greatest novel, Brave New World , is a far shrewder guess at the likely shape of a future tyranny than Orwell's vision of Stalinist terror in Nineteen Eighty-Four . Huxley's dystopia, with its test-tube babies and recreational drugs, its "feelies" that anticipate virtual reality, differs in one vital way from Orwell's vision of a boot stamping for ever on a human face. Huxley's victims welcome their own enslavement, revealing the same strains of passivity that lie beneath today's entertainment culture. Nineteen Eighty-Four has never really arrived, but Brave New World is around us everywhere.

§ Publishers Weekly
Starred reviews in recent issues include...

  • April 15 issue: Jeffrey Ford's The Fantasy Writer's Assistant: And Other Stories (Golden Gryphon, June)...
    Sure to be one of the keynote collections of the year...
    and Richard Matheson's Abu and the 7 Marvels (Gauntlet).
  • April 8: Paul McAuley's Whole Wide World (Tor):
    ...a highly effective, well-crafted and unusually gritty novel that should please fans of both thrillers and computer-oriented hard SF.
  • April 1: Richard Matheson's non-genre novel Hunted Past Reason (Forge, July) [review posted on the Amazon page] and Lois McMaster Bujold's Diplomatic Immunity (Baen) [also on Amazon]
  • March 18: Stephen King's Everything's Eventual, and Nelson Bond's The Far Side of Nowhere (Arkham). The Bond review is on the Amazon page, while PW's short interview with Bond is on its site.
  • March 11: Nicola Griffith's non-genre novel Stay (Doubleday/Talese) [Amazon]; Mercedes Lackey's The Gates of Sleep (DAW); and Alastair Reynolds's Chasm City (Ace)
  • March 4: John C. Wright's The Golden Age (Tor)
  • February 11: George Zebrowski's Swift Thoughts (Golden Gryphon) [Amazon; the full review is also on the Golden Gryphon site]
    The 24 highly regarded stories of this brilliant collection span 30 years of John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner Zebrowski's (Brute Orbits) career in fundamentally philosophical hard SF. ... Though Zebrowski notes that several of his stories "got away" from him, all demonstrate impressive discipline, logic and mastery of his craft...

Monday 15 April 2002

§ Kansas City Star Sun, Apr. 14, 2002
A feature by John Mark Eberhart interviews Richard Lupoff -- "the king of American genre writers" -- by way of reviewing Claremont Tales and Claremont Tales II (both Golden Gryphon).

People who don't write science fiction -- or fantasy or horror -- sometimes get the impression that the writer's chief task is to flabbergast. But Lupoff knows that the willing suspension of disbelief depends not on flashy ideas or cute phrasing, but on convincing the reader that this wild tale is actually a piece of reportage.

§ National Public Radio April 14, 2002
A broadcast interview with Kim Stanley Robinson, about alternative histories and his novel The Years of Rice and Salt (Bantam), is available online, along with a partial transcript of the interview on this NPR webpage.

Recent reviews of The Years of Rice and Salt:

§ The New York Times April 14, 2002
Walter Kirn reviews Stephen King's Everything's Eventual (Scribner), beginning:

The mark of a cultural highbrow nowadays is a cheerful readiness to embrace the lowbrow. In these playful, perverse, postmodern times, no one wants to be branded an elitist, especially the elites. There isn't a junior professor of cultural studies who doesn't dream of twitting his stodgy elders by showing that Madonna ranks with Mozart or that ''Star Wars'' is an improvement on Wagner's ''Ring'' cycle. Which brings us to the strange case of Stephen King...
Kirn discusses the contrast between the "literary" King that lately gets published in The New Yorker, and his more typical "all-out screamers", eventually concluding off-hand, as Janet Maslin did earlier,
The screamers are better.
In Sunday's Times of London, King's book is briefly reviewed by John Sutherland.
King’s narrative is, typically, a blunt instrument. Short fiction does not entirely suit him and the best pieces here are the most substantial, in which he can accumulate his effects (a long, self-contained Dark Tower episode; a rewrite of Wilkie Collins’s nightmare-hotel story, A Terribly Strange Bed). Nothing falls below the level of competent. Little is vintage King.

§ The New York Times February 24, 2002
The last Gerald Jonas NYT SF column was in February, covering John Clute's Appleseed, Dennis Danvers's The Watch, and Karin Lowachee's Warchild, the latest winner of the Warner Aspect first novel contest.

As a first novel, ''Warchild'' impresses with its ambition.

§ Washington Post Book World April 14, 2002
Michael Dirda reviews Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair.

The real charm of The Eyre Affair lies in its pervasive AliceinWonderland background. Fanatical Baconians knock on doors to hand out pamphlets and try to convince you that Shakespeare didn't write "Hamlet." Kids trade Henry Fielding bubble-gum cards ("I'll swap you one Sophia for an Amelia"). If you drop a coin in a jukebox, its speakers will intone beautifully recited poetry.
Also recently is this review by Karen G. Anderson in January, April 2002.

Back in January, a Washington Post column by Gregory Feeley covered books by Tom La Farge, Patrick O'Leary, Avram Davidson, and Élisabeth Vonarburg.

§ Village Voice April 5, 2002
Elizabeth Hand reviews John Crowley's The Translator.

For all the recent talk of an axis of evil, Americans—even secular Americans—seem to possess an almost unshakable need for an axis of good, as personified by seraphic civil servants of the divine. Our fictional angels are everywhere...

In his elegant and heartrending new book, The Translator, novelist John Crowley engages the themes of exile and redemption, the classic elements of angelic literature from Milton to the present day.

§ Guardian Unlimited April 7, 2002
Peter Straub describes the perfect horror novel.

Perfect horror novels contain hidden treasure. They ask the reader to do some of the work, and once you become involved, the book becomes much richer. One thing I think horror can do very well is to suggest a sense of realities that exist beyond our ability to see them or touch them.

§ San Francisco Chronicle April 7, 2002
Michael Berry's recent columns include:

  • reviews of books by Christopher Moore, Stephen King, and Kevin J. Anderson
  • reviews of books by John Shirley, Patrick O'Leary, and Jasper Fforde

§ Christian Science Monitor December 19, 2001
Kurt Lancaster defends fantasy.

Unfortunately, among much of the literati, there's a belief that fantasy literature is something less than what the classics of the Western canon teach. You know, fantasy is just escapism. But it's also about the search for truth and for our place in the world, a yearning that has only heightened since Sept. 11.

§ Gadfly Online 02-04-02
Nick Mamatas, wondering if 20th century SF fans can handle the reality of the 21st century, offers an uncharitable, scattershot portrait of the insularity of SF fandom.

Given that one of the aspirations of early science fiction was a society based on merit, intelligence and heroism rather than mere elite status, the long-standing inferiority complex of fandom as regards the world of "mundane" literature isn't surprising. It is just another stumbling block keeping fandom mired in the nostalgia for the 20th century—though much like the 35-year-old man who can't bear to ask a woman out after having been rejected over and over in high school.

Sunday 7 April 2002

§ Washington Post Book World April 7, 2002
This week's Book World is a special SF and fantasy issue with numerous articles and reviews, including:

  • Michael Swanwick on "A half-dozen fantasy classics perfect for the big screen", by Moorcock, Mirrlees, Gaiman, Eddison, Pratchett, and Mieville
  • Charles Sheffield on hard SF, including a quiz and a list
  • Several brief reviews by Michael Dirda
  • Nick Gevers on SF's Great Author: Gene Wolfe
  • Gregory Feeley reviews the latest books by Kim Stanley Robinson, Ursula K. Le Guin, and John Clute
  • Elizabeth Hand on the feminizations of SF culture
  • Favorite SF/F works of various eminent writers, editors and critics, including Michael Chabon, James Hynes, Daniel Handler, Daniel Pinkwater, plus Disch, Crowley, Gaiman, Datlow, et al
  • Paul Di Filippo on SF from small presses
  • And finally, Michael Dirda's report from the recent International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Friday 5 April 2002

§ Time 24 March 2002
10 questions for Stephen King.
ARE YOU REALLY GOING TO RETIRE? It will be interesting to see what you say about this, because there's almost a willful misunderstanding among the press or among people about what that means. I can't imagine retiring from writing. What I can imagine doing is retiring from publishing.
§ January April 2002
David Dalgleish reviews Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt (Bantam).
The effort required by The Years of Rice and Salt pays off in spades in the final three or four sections, which are utterly alive. They convey, as few novels do, a sense of people inhabiting, experiencing and urgently trying to make sense of the world. ... Robinson approaches this task with an almost religious intensity and devotion.
But Dalgleish is unimpressed by Graham Joyce's Smoking Poppy (Pocket):
Smoking Poppy is a nice novel. In its pages you will find awful things -- rape, addiction, paedophilia, murder -- but it is still, at its core, nice.
Also, Lincoln Cho looks at William Kotzwinkle's novelization E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

§ More on The Years of Rice and Salt
Roz Kaveney reviewed it for The Independent, March 5:

If there is a weakness in Robinson's work, it is perhaps this; his characters are so intelligent that they never shut up and often have fascinating conversations for page after page about the engineering of fortifications or the reconciliation of Sufism and Confucianism or, most extendedly, the ways that history works. It is always good talk, in which everyone speaks in character. For Robinson, science fiction is not only a literature of ideas, but a literature whose characters have lots of them.
And Robinson is interviewed by Gavin Grant for BookSense.

§ Washington Post Book World March 31, 2002
Michael Dirda reviews The Haunting of L. (Farrar Straus Giroux), by Howard Norman [who dissed John Crowley, below], "an unnerving tale of spirit visitations, uncertainty, dread and premonitions of regret."

... Needless to say, these guests are invariably manifestations of the dead -- spirits from the other realm who have somehow returned to ours. ... Their presence overwhelms the viewer's consciousness, so that some unfortunates grow convinced that the unwelcome guest is always at their elbow, peering in on their lives.

Tuesday 2 April 2002

§ The New York Times 1 April 2002
Jasper Fforde is profiled, and pictured. He wrote novels during breaks from his job as assistant cameraman; The Eyre Affair, his first published novel, was the fifth written.

Earlier, Michiko Kakutani reviewed it in the NYT on February 12:

As for Mr. Fforde's narration, it picks up velocity and interest as the book progresses. The gratuitous whimsy that was so cloying in the early chapters gradually gives way to genuinely clever invention, just as the literary jokes — which run the gamut from bad puns (one character is named Millon de Floss) to postmodern capers — slowly evolve from knee-jerk spasms of humor into a larger, comedic point of view.

Gavin Grant reviewed it for BookPage:

There aren't many authors who could pack this much hilarity, wordplay and just plain silliness into a novel and get away with it, but Fforde can. He has a lightness of touch and the ability to push a joke just so far, then turn it inside out to look at the other side.

And the Los Angeles Times ran a March 17 review by Jamie James (who like Kakutani makes the Woody Allen comparison):

Overflowing with brazen joke thievery and appropriated plot devices, Jasper Fforde's "The Eyre Affair" is a tour de force in its particular genre--science fiction literary detective thriller--as small as that genre may be. Characters pop in and out of works of fiction in a manner patented by Woody Allen (in his short story "The Kugelmass Episode" and the film "The Purple Rose of Cairo"), and a scrappy suburban performance of "Richard III" is an inspired spoof on midnight screenings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." ...

§ The Translator
John Crowley's ambitious new novel about the power of language has received somewhat mixed reviews.

  • Miriam Wolf in San Francisco Chronicle, 24 March, likes it just fine.
    Crowley has given readers a lot to appreciate in "The Translator": Wonderful period detail, finely drawn characters, passages that resonate long after the book is finished. Layered and rich, "The Translator" is a remarkable novel.
  • Richard Eder in New York Times, 13 March, is impressed by Crowley's poetry:
    More remarkably, he succeeds with what no prudent novelist ought to attempt. ... Not only does Mr. Crowley write Falin lines that suggest the rugged pith of modern Russian poets in translation, but the lines themselves are real poetry as well.
  • But Novelist Howard Norman, in Washington Post, 24 March, calls it an "accomplished, flawed new novel" disagreeing with Eder on one point in particular:
    The most vexing feature of The Translator, though, is that Falin's poetry is atrocious.
  • And Crowley is interviewed in Booksense.

§ Everything's Eventual
Stephen King's new collection is also widely covered, most reviewers admiring King's range and ambition, sometimes grudgingly.

  • Jane Ciabattari in Washington Post, 17 March:
    The collection includes several well-crafted, nuanced stories that stand up to the best being written today, reminding us that Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote horror fiction, after all.
  • Janet Maslin in New York Times, 18 March, contrasts the various sources of the book's stories:
    Some of that work has been highly visible, appearing in The New Yorker and thus appreciated for literary merit as well as scare value. Other pieces, presumably the genre stuff, come from publications like Fantasy and Science Fiction and 999, flying below the radar of the author's mass readership. Some of the stories have even been squirreled away in the literary Siberia of e-book and audio book format. And it turns out, in the kind of turnabout to which Mr. King is partial, that things are not what they seem.

    The sleepers turn out to be the most appealing pieces in this unpredictable collection, notwithstanding their lack of literary pedigree. And the four New Yorker selections are correspondingly lukewarm. Adapting his style to that magazine's rarefied taste in fiction, Mr. King lets his tales become more self-consciously meaningful and writerly.
  • Erica Noonan in Boston Globe, 24 March:
    This collection marks King's continual progression into respectable fiction arenas and unprecedented literary marketplaces, and the author makes it clear that he hasn't forgotten the genre or fans that made him famous.

§ Salon 21 February 2002
Carter Scholz's Radiance [expanded from a novella published in Greg Bear's 1995 anthology New Legends] is a February pick as reviewed by Andrew O'Hehir. It's about weapons research at a Lawrence Livermore-like lab; "an ingenious and at times a brilliant novel" but as O'Hehir cautions us

"Radiance" is not science fiction but an argument that science has become fiction...
Earlier Washington Post ran this review by Tom Vanderbilt.

January Field Inspections

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