River of Gods

Buy the book!I first encountered Ian McDonald’s work back in early 1988. Bantam Spectra had decided to make a fuss about McDonald by releasing both his first novel, Desolation Road, and his first collection, Empire Dreams, pretty much simultaneously. I was already a loyal Locus reader at the time, and had read Faren Miller’s reviews of the books in the November 1987 issue, and had ordered copies from a local specialty bookstore in Perth. When Empire Dreams arrived I was knocked out by stories like “Unfinished Portrait of the King of Pain by Van Gogh”, “Vivaldi”, “King of Morning, Queen of Day”, and “The Catherine Wheel”. The latter story was closely linked to McDonald’s first novel, Desolation Road, which arrived a couple of weeks later. A tale of a sun-drenched Martian desert and the mighty atomic-powered railroad that runs across it, it wore its influences on its sleeve, but was captivating nonetheless, and developed something of a cult following. I followed McDonald through his trilogy of fantasy novellas, King of Morning, Queen of Day, and on through the criminally underappreciated novels Necroville and Chaga.If McDonald’s name came up in conversation after that, as it would from time to time, there’d be a small group who had been bitten by the bug and loved his work, a smaller group who thought he was perhaps too facile, something of an imitator, and a disappointing number who’d never had the chance to read his work. And, through the 1990s he kept producing one finely crafted story after another, and occasionally a novel, all of which were never less than interesting, but by the end of the 1990s he’d lost his US publisher and it began to look like we’d heard as much of the McDonald story as we were going to.

And yet there were occasional rumours of a big project, Cyberbad, in the wind. First, though, we saw the short novel “Tendeleo’s Story” and Desolation Road sequel Ares Express. Despite the quality of “Tendeleo’s Story” and short stories like “The Old Cosmonaut and the Construction Worker Dream of Mars”, nothing really prepared us for the book that became River of Gods. First published in mid-2004, it is a bright, energetic novel that tells a sprawling tale of an India facing it’s Centenary. In 2047, with a population of 1.5 billion people spread across a dozen nation states, facing extremes of wealth and poverty, beauty and tragedy, incredibly ancient and equally cutting edge. Where else could a Krisha Cop chase a rogue AI while a politician deals with the failure of the monsoon, or a stand-up comic run a power utility while a scientist lands on an asteroid. More than anything else, this surprising and wonderful novel managed to re-establish (or even establish in some places) McDonald’s reputation as one of the best writers working in the field today, and even helped him to get a new US publisher, who has just published a US edition of River of Gods.

If you’re interested in the best in science fiction, a book that takes The Sheep Look Up into the 21st century, then you should try River of Gods.To get a taste for the book, you can read the opening chapter on the publisher’s website. You can also read “The Little Goddess“, a related story that is up for the Hugo Award this year at Asimov’s website. If you like the story, buy the novel. You’ll love it. And keep your eye out for the other three stories set in this universe: “The Djinn’s Wife”, “Kyle Meets the River”, and “The Dust Assassin”. They’re all terrific.

And, as per a note from Ian, there’s a fifth story, “Sanjeev and Robotwallah”, coming in early 2007 in an anthology from Lou Anders, Fast Forward 1. I know it’s not scheduled, and no-one has committed, by a collection of the Cyberabad stories is already my selection for the best collection of 2008. Surely someone’s going to do it.
Note: This is the third title from Lou Anders’ Pyr imprint that I’ve discussed over the past week. While Lou is a friend, this is really coincidence. On to other publishers shortly!

Carroll awarded Pushcart?

I’m not so clear on this whole Pushcart Prize thing. I know it’s prestigious. I know there’s a book published every year. I’m not clear, though, on the whole nominating and awarding side of things. Nonetheless, I was delighted to see an announcement over on the Conjunctions website that Jonathan Carroll had been awarded the Pushcart Prize for his story “Home on the Rain” (I’ve not seen any other reporting of this, but I’m looking for it). I’m not simply delighted that Carroll won because I like his work (which I do), or because I like this story (which I also do). I’m delighted because this was a crisis of confidence story for me. I read it online, as you can do by following the link above, and wanted to include it in Fantasy: The Best of 2005. Unfortunately, while I loved it, my co-editor didn’t, and we left it out of the book. Every time I thought about the stories we were and weren’t using in Fantasy: The Best of 2005 I kept going back to “Home on the Rain” and to Geoff Ryman’s “The Last Ten Years in the Life of Hero Kai” from F&SF. If I could have added two more stories to the book, those are the stories I would have added. I felt, I don’t know, vindicated when I heard about the Pushcart. I should add that it was disappointing that I didn’t have the time to add “Home on the Rain” to my forthcoming solo anthology Fantasy: The Very Best of 2005, but if you read it now, consider it as being a part of that book. It should have been.

Neil’s Fragile Things

Later this year HarperCollins in the US will be publishing Neil Gaiman’s second collection of short fiction, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. It’s a book I’ve been looking forward to for more than a little while. I think Neil’s short fiction has been getting better and better over the past few years or so, and some of it is just terrific, so I’m expecting the collection to be something special (I’ve also had an advance look at one of the stories in the book, which I think is wonderful, and worth the price of admission all by itself). Anyway, while we’re waiting for galleys and final copies and all of that, I came across a note in the Hill House catalogue. Hill House are some nice guys who do crazy expensive books – I don’t think I’ve even seen one, never mind bought one – but I am interested in their announcement that they’re doing a signed limited edition of Fragile Things. If you’re a Gaiman fan and might be interested, you can’t pre-order it quite yet, but you will be able to soon. This has been a head’s up.

The Best of Howard Waldrop

The last time I saw Howard Waldrop was in Seattle in July of 1997. I was in town with Marianne and some other friends, buying huge bags of cherries, strolling along the waterfront, checking out the Pike Street Markets and generally enjoying the place. Howard had come down from Oso, abandoning the fishing for a weekend, for a convention we were all attending. Somewhere in there I made a run across town in a cab to Lucius Shepard’s place to get some books signed, and I distinctly recall going to a party and John Berry and Eileen Gunn’s place, which I think Chip Delaney was supposed to attend.

Anyhow, I saw Howard a couple times, he read a great story, I gave him a framed copy of the cover of the collection of his that I’d published, and then the curtains of time closed on that period in my life. Between then and about a month ago I did stuff that I’ve talked about here before, and Howard moved home to Austin, published a bunch of stories and a couple books, and the world was ok. Happily, in assembling my two year’s bests for CHARLES and Liza at Locus Press gave me reason to get in touch with Howard again, so I called him in Austin and we had a good long chat. As it turned out, he wouldn’t be going to LA for WorldCon and I wouldn’t be going to Austin for World Fantasy, but he was writing a Robert E. Howard story and life was fine.
Continue reading The Best of Howard Waldrop