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Just saw that some US bookdealer is selling The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy: Volume 1 for $US 111.70. I’m proud of the book, but you’d have to be insane to buy it for that. Especially since you can get it here for $A24.95. Even with postage and handling, you’d be in front.

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Phases of the Moon

Though I doubt I’ll review it myself, I thought I’d make some comment here about Robert Silverberg’s forthcoming career retrospective, Phases of the Moon.

It is, as I’ve suggested below, big, covering six decades of writing, reprinting 23 stories with extensive notes and such, and all in a handsome 600+ page volume. Should you care? Yes!! Why? Well, Silverberg was just presented the Nebula Grandmaster, and this book is nothing less than a coherent argument for why he deserved the award. It collects everything from competent journeyman work through to the defining classics of his career, his evolution from beginner to consumate professional. Stories like “Born with the Dead”, “Enter a Solder: Later, Enter Another”, “Sailing to Byzantium”, “Good News from the Vatican”, “Passengers”, and “The Pope of the Chimps” are about as good as science fiction gets. I think the book also has a great benefit over volumes like The Essential Ellison or GRRM: A Rretrospective, which present a warts and all picture of their subject. This book is just the good stuff, the best, as selected by Silverberg. Having met Bob I know he’s far too urbane and sophisticated to huckster a book, but this one deserves it. And, just to be crass about it, those of you who love beautiful books can get it in a classy Subterranean Press edition, while poor peons like me can get it later in the year in a more affordable edition from Byron Preiss’s ibooks. I think it’s pretty close to essential. If you’ve been reading SF for years, it completes an important part of your bookshelf, and if you’re just starting it’s a perfect overview. Take note.

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What were once vices are now habits…

The title of this post comes from an old Doobie Brothers lp and it’s always struck a chord: the way it refers to the journey from passion overindulged, and then become commonplace, expected rather than enjoyed: vices truly become habits.

The reason I refer to it now is I was perusing my ‘to read’ stack and felt both a little jaded and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books. And by volume, I don’t so much mean number as length. I’ve got some books I really want to read, and in a number of cases they’re books I am very excited about, but they are long. The new Lucius Shepard collection, Trujillo, sits there looking at me, all 680 pages of it, alongside almost 700 pages of Robert Silverberg collection, Phases of the Moon. I just got the new Susanna Clarke in the mail (two copies for some reason), and it’s another 800 pages. I’m waiting on Mieville’s Iron Council which also doesn’t appear to be small, and there’s a bunch of other stuff (I’m even kinda weirdly attracted to the new Stephen Donaldson book which is supposed to be nearly 900 pages long according to the publisher’s catalogue).

Now, there was a time when I would have been thrilled. Lots of books, and likely lots of good books, and they’re mostly all long so they’ll last! Now I just look at them and despair a little. I have so much else to read – couldn’t they be a little shorter? Just a little. (sigh).

The thing that has disturbed me the most, though, about my ‘to read’ stack is that I’ve come, reluctantly, to accept that if something doesn’t get read on the first pass, if I don’t read it when it’s new, I’m never going to read it. Ever. I wish that wasn’t true, but it feels true. I can’t picture a time when I’m going to have the opportunity to go back and fill in gaps, read stuff I’d meant to get to. It’s forever beyond me.

And for all of that, these are great times. Not only have I been ludicrously lucky, not only getting a dream position at Locus, but then getting to edit or co-edit a bunch of anthologies (five to date, with that many again in the works), but I get most of these books free! If you’d told me that would be happening ten years ago I would have laughed at you or thought I’d won some kind of lottery. And you know what? I did. It doesn’t feel like it every day, but when great books pour in for free, when there are more books and magazines than you could hope to read, and when the people you admire most accept you as a colleague, that’s a very cool thing. It is, perhaps, better than winning the lottery.

Oh, and for the regular readers out there, yeah: I’m avoiding writing a column. I’m started and I’m going to finish, but I’m in avoidance. Speaking of columns, I’ve abandoned the new C.J. Cherryh. I really like her work, but after the opening the thought of following Marak Trin Tain across his destroyed world just felt leaden. Now, it’s probably a very good book, but I think it’s one I’m going to let go through to the keeper. On the other hand, just read Steve Baxter’s “PeriAndry’s Quest” from Analog, which is a cool story, and really like the Christopher Rowe story from SciFiction. I’ve also started to peruse Jeff VanderMeer’s Secret Life in earnest, and it’s a way cool collection. The hoopy Scott Eagle cover should be enough to convince you of this, of course, but the stories are weird and wonderful. You should whip over to Jeff’s website or to Golden Gryphon and check it out, and then get thee hence to a bookstore as soon as it hits the shelves. And there’s lots more to recommend. More on that soon.

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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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