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Narrative strategies

I just finished reading Charlie Stross’s next novel, Iron Sunrise, sequel to Hugo nominee Singularity Sky, and I think it’s a superior book to its predecessor in most every way. It’s interesting, engaging, brings more of the conceptual depth of his short fiction into play at novel length, while still preserving a lot of the fun and action that made the first book enjoyable. He also betrays a hand for young adult fiction – in his handling a plot strand involving a young teenager – that I honestly hadn’t particularly expected. I think one day, should he be interested, Stross could write a really terrific YA sf novel.

Now, I finished reading the book last night and, despite talking about it with my boss who told me I didn’t need to, I thought I’d take a look at the new C.J. Cherryh novel, Forge of Heaven. Why? Well, she’s written 50 or so novels and I must have read 40 of them, and I’ve really liked them for the most part, so I’m disposed to read her work. It also seemed to me interesting to see any links between the kind of space opera Stross is writing and the kind of space opera Cherryh is writing, nearly 30 years into her career, and there are a couple obvious differences. Cherryh is up to snuff with her technology and science, but she really buries it into the texture of her society, showing little interest in neat ideas and cool gadgets. Instead, she focusses on character and the story that grows out of character. Which is a good thing, in many ways. But…she does do one thing that strikes me as a dubious narrative strategy, despite having used it in two Hugo winning novels to date. She opens the book with 16 pages of reference material, the kind of historical stuff that usually lives in appendices, and for the first time in my experience, it really seemed to make the book drag. It’s picked up since, and I think it may be a lot better than Hammerfall (it’s immediate predecessor), but I don’t know if it’ll hook readers.

On another related point: is Cherryh the most important female space opera writer of the past quarter century? She doesn’t get the credit for it, but I can’t honestly thing of too many competitors for the title. Hmmm.

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No, I get excited about this.

You can never get enough good news. I just sold another anthology, and I’m really excited about this one. It’s an original young adult science fiction anthology, tentatively titled The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows, and it’s due out in hardcover in mid-2006 from Viking Children’s. There are several great things about this project. First, it’s a cool idea. I’ll post more here about it shortly, but I just really like this book. Second, it should look terrific when it’s published (Viking’s The Green Man and The Faery Reel are just lovely books). The best thing though, is that I am going to be working with the altogether amazing and wondrously talented Sharyn, which is a very good thing. I am happy.

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You get excited about that?

This afternoon I received my Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) from the US Internal Revenue Service, which almost got me excited. I first found out I needed one of these things when I was negotiating to do Best Short Novels: 2004 with the SF Book Club, and it’s taken till now to get one! I can now finish up that project, complete payments etc, and am set for future projects on a much smoother basis. I did wonder what took so long, though, and then I looked closely at the envelope. It appears that the IRS sent the envelope to Austria, which is helpful.

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If you want to see a little information about the year’s best novellas book, Best Short Novels: 2004, the Science Fiction Book Club has put up a page about it here. The only thing I wouldn’t pay too much attention to is the pub date. The book is, to the best of my knowledge, due in July.

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I don’t often comment much about the venerable magazine for which I work, and I certainly don’t respond to criticism etc, but I was struck by something I read over on Rick Kleffel’s The Agony Column. Referring to the latest issue of Locus, where Terry Pratchett and Liz Williams are interviewed, Kleffel writes:

…it’s a misnomer to say that these are interviews, really. They’re not conversations with a critic or reader. They’re actually just long essays by the authors themselves on Stuff They Want To Write About…

While this isn’t a criticism per se, it’s also not really accurate at all. I’ve conducted three or four interviews for Locus (Charles Stross, Robert Silverberg, Sean Williams), sat in a bunch, and have seen the raw transcripts of many others.

Ignoring my own efforts, Locus’s interviews are deftly handled conversations between a Locus interviewer (almost always Charles Brown, but in recent years often Jenni Hall) and the interviewee, and they very clearly do include back and forth between the two parties. They are genuine interviews.

The key here is that Locus has decided to keep the focus on the author, to highlight their views, their perceptions, and to try to understand what they are trying to achieve, rather that trying to highlight anything the interviewer themselves may think. For that reason, the interviewer’s comments are removed, and the interview is edited into a seamless whole. It’s something that I think works remarkably well, and has proven very successful over the years.

Why respond here to this particular comment? Well, Kleffel clearly is positive about Locus and means well, but it seemed to me at least that his comments didn’t justice to what Locus was achieving.

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