SFFH Reviews and Articles in General Publications
Wednesday 19 February 2003
Anyone who reads Tomorrow Now will immediately understand why Sterling has proven such a hit on the conference circuit: He writes in a plain, conversational style, which he interrupts with striking, apothegmatic formulations, i.e., sound-bites. "Setting fire to long-extinct life-forms is the human race's primary industrial enterprise. . . . The wisest path forward is a path that allows us to keep making fresh mistakes. . . . As a general principle, the more e-mail you're reading, the harder you are to replace. . . . A cruise missile, when you think of it, is just a rich guy's truck bomb. . . . Technocracy's dominance is firmly based on a general conviction that political activism isn't likely to get you any thing worth having." Some of these formulations sound almost too flip, but nearly all of them also seem correct or close to it.
What's curious about her first novel, "The Slynx," then, is that it displays none of its author's copious and varied gifts. Rather, "The Slynx" is a leaden-footed futuristic satire, quite devoid of wit and incisive insights.
The worst thing about new books, French philosopher Joseph Joubert wrote, is that they keep us from reading the old ones.
The Boston Globe 2/16/2003
...it's true that there's something Tolkienesque about ''Set This House in Order,'' with its misty psychological interiors and good-and-evil showdowns. But the novel is also funny, wildly inventive, and emotionally astute, its core reality firmly rooted in contemporary Seattle. Drawing most of his dramatis personae from the motley personalities of two thoroughly fetching characters, Ruff has created a shockingly likable suspense story - most of the apprehension being over just who will triumph in this virtual one-room schoolhouse.
explores exactly how cool it would be to live full time in Disney World, especially if there were no such thing as scarcity and if death were more or less curable. [...] Doctorow throws off cool ideas the way champagne generates bubbles. But in his first novel, he takes the big risk of embroiling his protagonist in a conflict so obscure that it will be hard for many readers to work up much interest in whether he succeeds or fails. Jules' obsession with the integrity of the Haunted Mansion may be laudable, colorful and even funny, but it's still just a big fight about an amusement park ride.
I had just asked him what the significance is of the fact that Cayce Pollard, the protagonist in his new novel, "Pattern Recognition," has a first name that sounds exactly like that of Case, the protagonist in Gibson's first novel, "Neuromancer." Has he, in some obscure way, come full circle? "Neuromancer" unleashed a vision of the future that has become more real ever since the novel was published; "Pattern Recognition" is set in the very recent past, in a world that becomes more bizarre and unreal the closer you look at it.
Up close, Gibson's fractal prose, a headrush of sculpted fragments, hard and compact as glacier ice, is the great all-purpose fetishizer it has always been (even jet lag sounds faintly sexy). But the novel is nothing if not prismatic: Step back a little, and it manages to be absolutely lucid in conveying indistinct shapes-the ineffable and the in-between. There's an odd sense in which events are observed as if from an astral plane, the result of having jacked into the consciousness of a serotonin-starved protagonist further grappling with the out-of-body incredulity that mourning entails.
--and interviews Gibson.
Gibson: The present of Pattern Recognition actually feels to me like the futures of my other books but with the skins of futurity removed. ... I was about 100 pages in on September 10. I came back to it a couple of weeks later and realized that my character's backstory had ceased to exist, or diverged onto an alternate time track. It's the strangest experience I've ever had with a piece of fiction.
Reportedly inspired by the title of Naomi Klein's No Logo, Gibson's cagey heroine Cayce Pollard has such an aversion to trademarks that she sandpapers the labels off her elegantly inconspicuous clothing and literally convulses at the sight of a Tommy Hilfiger garment or the Michelin Man. Though she's technically a freelance consultant for advertising firms, her ironic and deeply ridiculous job sends her zipping across the planet as a "coolhunter," a person whose sole purpose is to look for the Next Big Thing and have the good taste to know it when she sees it. ... As the prismatic title suggests, Pattern Recognition stretches the enigmatic film fragments into a potent metaphor for the new century, a time when people are scrambling to make sense of an unfamiliar and ever-changing environment.
January February 2003
Tower gives us not only a worthy heroine, but a whole cast of strong women in a setting that celebrates them. The heroine, Lale, is strong from childhood; she is molded by the madwoman who rules her tiny nation and bound by a sorceress so powerful we never meet a male who even comes close to challenging her. And though there are male roles in The Assassins of Tamurin they seem almost caricatures compared with these strong women: the handsome young ruler who comes to share our heroine's bed, the devious chancellor whose machinations are tiny compared with those of the madwoman and plenty of underlings for Lale to boss around on her way to saving the day and perhaps even the world as she knows it. And none of it is silly. All of it is precisely as it should be. Chick lit for the fantasy set, rendered in saturated colors and memorable hues.
Fittingly, the Gothic refuses to die. The furniture of much contemporary horror fiction - storms, graveyards, skeletons, vampires - could come straight out of the 18th-century Minerva Press shockers or The Castle of Otranto. Of course horror is not that simple, and was never reducible to those knick-knacks, but their tenacity has been enough for scholars to build theories of horror as irreducibly nostalgic, and for some of the most open-minded readers to see the genre as hidebound. Which is why reading The Dark Domain by Stefan Grabinski, written between 1918 and 1922, is such a revelatory experience. Because here is a writer for whom supernatural horror is manifest precisely in modernity - in electricity, fire-stations, trains: the uncanny as the bad conscience of today.
Grabinski is shockingly undertranslated. When he died in 1937 he had published several short-story collections, three plays and three novels, and yet The Dark Domain is the only volume of his work in English, and it is not a long book - 11 stories.
It calls for Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions. Miracles.
The books are Mary Hoffman's Stravaganza (already included on Locus's 2002 Recommended Reading List, Kate Constable's first novel The Singer of All Songs (Allen & Unwin), and Odo Hirsch's Pincus Corbett's Strange Adventure (Allen & Unwin).
Constable deploy[s] musical effects that float like mists, splinter like glass shards, or percuss like wood on metal over the smooth bass of a controlled and translucent prose.
Wednesday 5 February 2003
Inevitably, The Speed of Dark has been compared to Daniel Keyes' classic and tragic Flowers for Algernon, in which a mentally disabled young man is medically enhanced to become a genius. The Speed of Dark may be an even greater book. True, Moon's plot deployment is rather clunky -- Crenshaw is such a model of rabid political incorrectness that it's hard to imagine him ever climbing the corporate ladder. But her novel isn't exactly intended to be a thriller; it is, rather, a subtle, eerily nuanced character portrait of a man who is both unforgettable and unlike anyone else in fiction.
It's a remarkably positive review.
A lot of novels promise to change the way a reader sees the world; The Speed of Dark actually does.
Yet he actually does nothing different in Pattern Recognition from what he's ever done in the past. It's all there: the close observation of the culture's bleeding edge; an analysis of the ways technology molds our every moment; the contrasting of boardroom with street; the impossibility and dire necessity of making art in the face of instant co-optation; the damaged loner facing the powers-that-be, for both principle and profit; cyberspace as consensual hallucination. All his patented tropes and concerns are here, without the artifice of futuristic skins, the very world of 1980s cyberpunk having sprung up around us while we weren't paying attention. In other words, everything's changed, while nothing's changed at all.
Di Filippo is tempting to rewrite sections of the novel, but concludes:
Gibson has delivered what is assuredly one of the first authentic and vital novels of the 21st century, placing himself alongside Haruki Murakami as a writer who can conjure the numinous out of the quotidian.
Much has been made of the influence of Raymond Chandler on Gibson's first books, but lately, and especially in "Pattern Recognition," it is the shadow of Alfred Hitchcock that seems to loom over the proceedings. Always fond of using a McGuffin to start a story rolling (think of the high-tech sunglasses of "Mona Lisa Overdrive"), Gibson shares Hitchcock's appreciation for obsessive characters, off-kilter dialogue and plots that don't quite stand up to logical scrutiny.
It's his best book in a long time, and perhaps his most accessible one ever.
''Pattern'''s far-out ideas and densely worded sentences bear William Gibson's unmistakable imprimatur; in his eighth outing, the author, who invented the future with ''Neuromancer,'' shows he's just as skilled at seeing the present.
Also, a short review (no longer online), in The New Yorker, February 3.
In Gibson's eerie vision of our time, the future has come crashing upon us, fragmentary and undecipherable; as one character declares, "We have no future because our present is too volatile."
And a review by Lev Grossman in Time, Feb. 10.
Gibson, without departing from the conventions of a glossy, well-paced international thriller, gets at something more ominous: what he views as the subtle treason of the marketer, whereby something decent and good (like a painting or a rock song) gets trivialized into an object of commerce.
[I]n his first book set in the present, Gibson turns loose the full power of his laser eyes and his non-judgmental but awesomely encompassing heart on an exciting thriller that is basically a modern fable, a quest for hints on how to live now. [...] It's a masterful performance from a major novelist who seems to be just now hitting his peak. Welcome to the present, Mr. Gibson.
[T]he result is almost stunningly prosaic, much more run-of-the-mill mystery than SF noir.
What are we to make of this fairy story? There are two ways to look at it. On the one hand, we may enjoy it as a story and not worry whether some parts of it might come true. On the other hand, we may read it as an urgent warning of dangers lying ahead if present-day technological developments are allowed to continue. ... It is easy to demonstrate that the details of the story are technically flawed. ..
The book reminds Dyson of On the Beach, just as flawed, but a book that created an enduring myth, about nuclear war. This leads to an extended discussion of the risks of technology, with responses to articles by Bill Joy and speeches by John Milton.
The Guardian Saturday January 18, 2003
The relation between Lemís original and its subsequent motion-picture reincarnations by Andrei Tarkovsky and Steven Soderbergh is the inverse of the canny Russian dolls. Masterful in its own right, the 1972 Cannes-triumphant Russian adaptation already truncates Lemís slim (200 pages paperback) classic, while Tinseltown's ď30 years laterĒ remix delivers no more than selections from these selections. In matrioshka-speak, where Lemís book contains within itself Tarkovskyís movie as well as all those things that got left on the cutting room floor, poke inside Tarkovsky and youíll find the entire Soderbergh/George Clooney/James Cameron cut.
The two smart critical essays, by Gary Wolfe and the elliptical but always exciting John Clute, avoid sinking into the persecution complex typical of genre advocates.
The Guardian Saturday February 1, 2003
Fifteen years ago, I lent the woman who would soon become my wife a book of short stories by Robert Sheckley, The Same To You Doubled. "These were very influential on me as a writer," I enthused. She took the book and promptly lost it.
He tracks down a copy via Internet and wonders if the stories will hold up.
It would be simple to answer that I've grown up and the book hasn't. Sci-fi is especially vulnerable to this scenario: it has always been a forum for big ideas, the sort that excite the imagination of a growing mind. It is also notoriously a haven for bad prose, idle daydreaming and perfunctory characterisation.
Some of them don't. But most do.
Sheckley is especially good at exploring the collision of alternate realities, and the exasperation of hapless people attempting to tame the forces of chaos with a puny whip of reason. It was these skills that led Douglas Adams to use Sheckley's work - in particular the 1968 novel Dimension of Miracles - as the prototype for his Hitchhiker's Guide series. (Asked what he considered to be the major difference between his books and Sheckley's, Adams said, "Sheckley's are better." Sheckley, asked the same question, replied, "Doug Adams makes a lot more out of his books than I do out of mine.")
PW: Although formally Veniss is science fiction, it, like much of your work, is influenced by the surrealists and postmodernists. Where do you fit in?
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