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The Atrocity Archives, Charles Stross

Posted in books, sf, Uncategorized with tags on September 25, 2010 by Matt

I’m not sure how to evaluate this book. As a novel, which is what Ken MacLeod’s introduction and Stross’s afterword say it is, it’s a little disappointing. The action¬† builds up as paranormal secret agent Bob Howard takes his first case on “active service”, making contact with a scientist at UC Santa Cruz, known only as “Mo”, who’d like to return to her native England, but isn’t allowed to by US authorities, or by mysterious kidnappers who attempt to use her as bait in a demon summoning; and it comes to a head back in London when yet more nefarious characters kidnap the beautiful Mo and take her to an airless alternate Earth formerly inhabited by baleful Nazi demonologists, and Bob must join up with a souped-up occult military unit to rescue her. With that accomplished, everyone gets a pat on the back and heads to the pub for the beer — story over. Except we’re only two-thirds through. In the final third of the book, Bob’s troublesome ex-girlfriend Mhari disappears without a trace, and he heads off on another adventure, this time to thwart an evil plot to turn all the surveillance cameras in Britain into deadly weapons.

So what this really felt like, was three novellas (novellettes? I can’t keep those straight) stitched together to make a salable volume. A few clues on the cover and title page that The Atrocity Archive, the first 2/3 of the book, were previously released as a self-contained novel in about 2001, and that the final 1/3 was a Hugo-winning short story from 2005, completely passed me by before I read the book. As two (or three) short pieces, the book would have worked well. There’s Stross’s characteristic humor, his harassed protagonists, a tidy wrap up to each story, and always room to expand the setting with more files from the “atrocity archive”. Its good reading, but the confusing marketing made me expect a single novel and gave me wrong expectations.


Asimov’s, July 2010

Posted in magazines, sf, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 30, 2010 by Matt

“The other Graces”, Alice Sola Kim Grace is a high school senior who’s on her way to an Ivy League school. Which Ivy? “Who gives a shit which one?” She needs to get in because her home life is dysfunctional, with a stay-at-home older brother in his mid-20’s and her mentally ill father living in a nearby shelter. Grace is confident she’ll get in to an Ivy because other Graces in parallel dimensions opened a portal to her mind to give her the answers to the SAT. The possibility that Grace may suffer from a similar condition to her father is there just below the surface of, but absolutely never mentioned in, the text, making the story all the more compelling. This is a story that really deserves thoughtful reading.

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Books everyone should read

Posted in Uncategorized on May 22, 2010 by Matt

SF Signal is “mind melding” on this topic , with contributions from a bunch of writers and industry insiders (okay, they said “have on your bookshelf”, but I haven’t got a lot of room for bookshelves). Here’s my fan’s-eye list:

  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin. I only finally read this a few months ago, but it is undeniably a classic. It tackles an important topic that’s not explored often enough in SF, and it continues to advance its speculations throughout the entire novel.¬† An absolutely key example of why speculation is the core of science fiction. This was probably the most-cited book by the SF Signal authors, though A Canticle for Leibowitz may have edged it out only because a couple of other Le Guin titles also contend for this list. And for good reason, as to my mind this is the most uncontestable title to be included on any list of exemplary sf.
  • The Forever War, Joe Haldeman. Another favorite of the SF Signal contributors, and the key example of how science fiction comments on the present day.
  • The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Gen Wolfe. Shows all of Wolfe’s genius, but its readable without taking notes.
  • Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson. Sarah Hoyt cited The Diamond Age, but Snow Crash was the book that introduced Stephenson’s frenetic narrative style, and announced that the cyberpunk era was over.
  • The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury. The earliest SF book I can think of that also achieves literary brilliance.
  • Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein. There has to be a Heinlein story in the list, first because he showed the genre that characterization and plot are as important as scientific speculation in making a readable story. Second, because so much later work is written in response to Heinlein’s work, and particularly to this one. Starting with The Forever War, listed above.
  • Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner. The book is (IMHO) under-appreciated, but it is simultaneously a great example of stylistic experimentation and speculations beyond the purely technical, and a precursor to trends that didn’t fully materialize for 16 years after it was written.

And here’s a few that, based on reputation alone, I think everyone should read, but I (shamefully) haven’t read yet myself:

  • Solaris, Stanislaw Lem
  • Dahlgren, Samuel R. Delany
  • A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
  • The Drowned World, J. G. Ballard

Why read short fiction?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on February 19, 2010 by Matt

If you’d been reading F&SF over the past few years, you could have seen Paolo Bacigalupi’s explosion into print first-hand. Now Time Magazine has named The Windup Girl to the 10 best fiction books of the year, and Bacigalupi’s got a few other great reviews from the mainstream press as well.

The Big Time, Fritz Leiber

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on January 17, 2010 by Matt

I picked this up at the same time as The Wanderer, another Leiber Hugo winner. The disappointment I had with The Wanderer didn’t dissuade me from diving in to this one, which is a good thing, because The Big Time was a very enjoyable book.

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