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6th April 2008

9:22am: Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer Agnes and the Hitman
This is an unusual book in the genre of gothic, which I had thought defunct.

The gothic is what Jane Austen was mocking in Northanger Abbey and I believe the first examples were The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Castle of Otranto. It continued to thrive until the seventies, with examples being written by Mary Stewart (Nine Coaches Waiting) and Joan Aiken (The Ribs of Death). Then, for some reason, it abruptly went away. As well as Northanger Abbey, gothics have been mocked by Margaret Atwood (Lady Oracle) and Gail Godwin (Violet Clay).

In the classic form the gothic concerns a heroine who goes to a house, and in the house is something mysterious, dangerous and connected with the history of the family who own the house. In the course of the story the heroine (a) meets scary mysterious strangers who threaten her life, (b) discovers the truth of the mysteries (c) has everyone fall in love with her, including at least one villain masquerading as a good guy, (d) falls in love with one of the scary strangers, who eventually returns her love despite having never loved before, because she is just so wonderful and the danger has brought them together.

For some reason, after being a thriving genre for a long time, the gothic abruptly disappeared. There have been no new gothics for quite some time. Maybe people got fed up with secrets in mysterious houses and the romanic adventures of innocent heroines?

However, while Agnes and the Hitman has a cover suggesting chick-lit, and while kate_nepveu's recommendation of it was as a romance, I was delighted to discover it is a gothic.

Agnes writes syndicated food columns for newspapers. She has recently bought a mysterious old house with her fiance, who is behaving very oddly. The previous owner of the house, her best friend's mother, is still around, and has agreed to let her off the first three months mortgage in return for organizing her grand-daughter's wedding at the property. Then a man comes through the door with a gun.

The house, unsurprisingly, is full of secrets. The best-friend's mother and the fiance are not what they seem. Everyone has dark family secrets, all of which are eventually revealed. (I guessed some of them, but who cares.)

The dialogue is smart and funny, the sex scenes are relatively unembarrassing, the characterisation is good, the secrets are, if not exactly plausible, at least adequate, and best of all it's an absolutely classic gothic. Really!

26th January 2008

11:37am: Kim Stanley Robinson 40 Days of Rain, 50 Degress Below, 60 Days and Counting
Robinson's always hit and miss for me: love Years of Rice and Salt, hate the Mars books. Love Icehenge hate Kathmandu.

So, this trilogy. In a nutshell, global warming gets worse, there is a disaster, it is prevented by left-thinking scientific Americans not afraid to intervene, a jerk becomes a Buddhist.

Can we say preaching to the choir, boys and girls?

The odd thing is, I am in this choir, but I still found it offputting. It's an odd mix of disaster and utopian, and for me it skates the edge of working in the first two books but fails in the third.

Also the economics is weird to the point of woo woo -- if Reagan did voodoo economics, this is clearly Buddhist economics. Also, what's with the Buddhism? And spoilerCollapse )

The third book broke my suspension of disbelief. I kept rolling my eyes and saying "Oh come on!"
11:24am: Nicola Griffith Ammonite
Most of the stories that have societies made up only of women are explicitly contrasting them to societies made up entirely of awful rough men (Shore of Women, The Gate to Women's Country) or of our historical societies made up of both men and women (Venus Plus X, Whileaway). Ammonite is in a class of its own in being set a planet where a virus kills all men and transforms all women but without seeming to be interested in men at all. Men are irrelevant to Ammonite as they are to the planet "Jeep". (="GP", merely an example of Griffith's tin ear for names that led her to call one of the major characters Hannah Danner and to use ridiculous unpronouncable Gaelic spellings for the names of illiterate savages. This is hands down the worst thing about the book.)

Ammonite is the story of a female anthropologist who comes to the planet with an experimental vaccine, has adventures, suffers, opens herself to the planet and eventually the virus, and comes to understand and sort out everything. It's similar in some ways to The Left Hand of Darkness and in others to The Broken Chain. It's the closest thing we have to a novel in which all the characters just happen to be women, and of course they're lesbians, what else could they be? Despite, or because of, the matter of fact acceptance of a world made up only of women, it does make one rethink gender and gender expectations.

It's also very well written and immensely readable. The cultures of the planet are interesting, the backstory is revealed at just the right time, and in an anthropological way it's a lot of fun. The genetics and the virus may not be science, but the anthropology definitely is.

This won a Lamdha and a Tiptree Award, quite deservedly, and was nominated for the Clarke, BSFA and Locus Awards.
10:17am: Austin Grossmann: Soon I Will Be Invincible
Told in alternating chapters from the points of view of an old supervillain and a new superheroine, this is a one note joke that plays its one note very well.

Doctor Impossible has twelve times tried to conquer the world, and is in a maximum security prison waiting for his thirteenth chance. He has Malign Hypercognitive Disorder: he's an evil genius. There's a line near the beginning something like "In the end, everyone's problems are the same: fortifying your island and hiding your power source." So far, so brilliant -- regrettably, that's as far as it goes.

This reminded me of Martin's old Wild Cards series, but it's nothing near as subtle or self-aware. (I hear there's a new volume coming out soon. While they started off brilliant, I got very bored with them towards the end. I'll definitely wait for reviews of the new beginning.)

3rd December 2007

5:31pm: Elizabeth Lynn Watchtower
This won the World Fantasy Award in 1980, and very well deserved it was.

You know how fantasy books often start with a map, and then a plan of a castle? If they do, I usually look at them first and try to sort things out. The castle plan, in Watchtower makes a lot of sense, and gives quite a lot of information and sets up certain expectations, such that it's quite surprising when the first line of the book shows the place taken in war and burning. This isn't the last expectation Lynn violates.

There's a standard sort of story you might expect, about a watch commander of a watchtower who takes oath under the conquerer to protect his lord's son, and on the surface this is that story, but underneath it's something quite different. The world is very solid, the characters and their dilemmas are absolutely believable from the first second they're introduced. There's barely any magic, and the conflict is small scale -- retaking a castle, not saving a world.

I could wish for more fantasy like this.
4:38pm: P.D. James, Cordelia Grey novels
An Unsuitable Job For a Woman
The Skull Beneath the Skin.

As with Adam Dalgliesh, but instead of "Adorable poet detective" read "Adorable private eye".

The main thing wrong with these is that Cordelia's class status and background knowledge wavers around too much depending on what the plot requires.

I found the solution in "An Unsuitable Job" risible, but enjoyed "The Skull Beneath" much more.

These are not good books. In fact, they are trash. But they're readable trash for all that. I feel a little disgusted with myself for reading so many of them so fast, and that makes me feel more negative about them than I probably would be otherwise.
4:17pm: P.D. James Innocent Blood
This book is brilliant.

There's a girl who was adopted by generous middle-class liberals, and she finds out that her real parents were rapists and murderers, and that her real mother is about to be released from prison, and decides to spend the summer living with her.

There's a man whose daughter was raped and murdered and who wants to get revenge.

The balance and psychology of this book is absolutely stunning. I was deeply impressed and couldn't put it down.

This is streets ahead of the rest of James.
4:09pm: P. D. James, the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries.
I cannot recommend reading the complete works of P.D. James (less two books the library didn't have) in a fortnight. One comes to notice certain repetitions and obsessions (what is it about modern bacon?) and also to dislike Adam Dalgliesh, her far-too-perfect detective.

James has one really good trick, which is to make the victim someone so eminently dislikable that you'd kill them yourself. In Death in Holy Orders I found myself muttering "Oh good!" when I came to a chapter entitled "Death of an Archdeacon". Sometimes the murderer's reasons, when revealed are implausible, but the person was usually so horrible you're just relieved someone got rid of them already.

Once or twice James cheats, with "Of course, it had been obvious all along to Almighty Adorable Adam Dalgliesh, the poet detective, that the harmless inoffensive X was the most likely suspect..." while not having had this be the slightest bit obvious to the reader. This is done to disguise Dalgliesh's stupidity, without which there would be no plot. But apart from that, they play pretty fair with the reader.

On the whole these are pretty decent cosies, and would probably have benefitted from having been read at a more sane pace.
3:52pm: Lloyd Biggle Jr. Monument (1974)
Cerne Obrien, the "Langri" a spaceman stranded on a planet that's paradisial but marginal and inhabited by low-tech natives, realises that if the planet is ever discovered by the rest of the universe, it'll be exploited for vacations. Therefore he makes a plan and teaches it to the natives, who put it into practice after he dies and the planet is discovered.

This isn't a deep or complex book, and while it is a reflection on colonialism, the Third World, and what "primitive" means, it isn't especially thought-provoking in those directions. Nevertheless, it's deeply engaging and just chock full of charm -- everything about this book is charming, the characters, the planet, the wiles of the lawyers, and the Plan.

Maybe this is a book you have to read for the first time when you're twelve, which in fact I did. I still find it remarkably charming and cheering, just the thing for a wintry weekend.

25th October 2007

11:32am: Robert Charles Wilson Axis, Karl Schroeder Queen of Candesce
Both of these books are by Canadian writers, both of them recently came out from Tor, both are sequels to books I love, and both have the same problem -- the original books (Spin and Sun of Suns) are wide open books that present and explore a universe, while the sequels are smaller scale books set in that universe.

I enjoyed reading both of them, but neither of them struck me as brilliant the way their predecessors do.

They're also both middle books of trilogies. With Axis I can hope for a third book to be a satisfying conclusion. Queen of Candesce, however, makes me fear that as there's no reason the Virga setting couldn't consist of an infinite number of perfectly enjoyable stories in that weird setting, Schroeder might settle down and churn these out instead of coming up with weird and brilliant new universe after weird and brilliant new universe as he has been doing so far in his career.

Mark me down as disappointed.

20th October 2007

9:50pm: Sandra MacDonald The Outback Stars
James Nicoll recommended this highly earlier this year.

There's a way of travelling FTL built by missing and mysterious aliens that takes you around a circuit of worlds, all clearly terraformed and all much like Earth, and all settled from Australia. Space travel is a monopoly of "Team Space", a military organization. A ship has recently exploded and a young female lieutenant called Jodenny is trying to forget that ship and her lost friends get to grips with her new assignment.

There's a lot to like here for fans of military SF, and there's a quite legitimate SFnal mystery of the aliens, and there's a central romance, and if everything works out a bit too conveniently who cares, as there are space ships and dreams of the Australian Aboriginal mythos.

This was a ton of fun without ever rising to being really good. I gather that MacDonald is writing, or has written, a sequel. I hope she doesn't settle down to write a ton of stuff in this universe but keeps on developing her talents in other directions. The best of this was the military bits and the places where the universe seemed to be opening out in different and interesting ways. I don't especially want to see more of this, but I hope she gets to build lots of new worlds in future.

(I did wonder slightly whether the use of the Aboriginal stuff, and the Australian stuff generally, counted as cultural appropriation.)
7:49pm: Harry Turtledove In High Places and The Disunited States of America
Turtledove is another author like Heinlein; the rule is that if a book is less than an inch thick, I'll like it.

These two are the latest installments of the "Crosstime Traffic" series, following Gunpowder Empire and Curious Notions. All the books entirely stand alone.

They're essentially YA, though not published that way. They all have (different) young adult protagonists, who go to (different) alternate timelines that Crosstime Traffic is exploiting, and run into (different) problems. These two also have protagonists within the world visited, which I don't remember from the earlier two, but it's been a while and they're the kind of thing I read like candy and don't retain well.

In High Places concerns Annette, aka Khadija, a girl a few months away from going to Ohio State, who is meanwhile working with her parents in the Kingdom of Versailles, in an alternate world where the Black Death killed two-thirds of Europe and everything is still dirty and medieval. She meets Jacques, a young man of the period, and they are captured by bandits and enslaved. Things then get really interesting, though I wasn't entirely convinced mild spoilers, though this is on the back coverCollapse ) It's a fast-paced read, and a lot of fun.

The Disunited States of America concerns Justin, again a boy just ready for college in the original reality, and Beckie Royer, a girl from California in the alternate. This US hasn't stayed together because of some problem ratifying the constitution, and Ohio is at war with Virginia, and has been arming the, well, my goodness, with weird coyness Justin thinks of them as African-Americans and the people he talks to about them call them a word he can't bring himself to say, but which is mentioned without being mentioned every time. This book does not contain "the n word" but it sure makes you think about it a lot. I suppose this was a good choice, for a YA audience, but I found it distracting and bizarre. This is also a fast-paced read, but I found it less fun, without having any more depth. Or maybe I just read them too close together.

I'd recommend these to people who really like alternate histories, to young adults, and to people convalescing from the flu. I'll buy more to keep around for this purpose.
7:35pm: Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me Go
This is an SF novel by a mainstream writer, but nevertheless it's brilliant.

Kathy H, the narrator, is a carer who will soon become a donor, and she has, according to her unreliable first person voice, led a life of privilege. She was brought up at Hailsham, which made her special for a start, and then she has been allowed to be a carer for twelve years, before becoming a donor. The book is written as memoir, and it uses the language of privilege and nostalgia to write about terrible things. Actually Kathy is a clone who has been brought up merely as a walking organ bank, and her privilege and specialness consists of the fact that she has had a slightly better life than some of the other walking organ banks. She thinks she's writing about her friends and her romances and how lucky she has been, and really the world and her life is slowly being revealed to the reader as awful.

Kathy's first person voice is absolutely compelling -- I couldn't put the book down, and read it at one sitting even though that gave me a very late night. Her personality, her naivety, her careful thoughtful observations, her slight primness, come over in ever well-chosen word. On the writing level, this is a masterpiece.

This isn't paced like an SF book, and the revelations are not handled like an SF book, and I'm not at all sure the science works (they give four organ donations and then either die or "complete" in their term, or are kept barely alive with no more pretence of actual human life for other donations) but this is SF, this is doing what SF does, it's turning the world around and showing us another face.

Some reviews call this "near future". That's nonsense. It's specifically stated that it's 1990s England, and an alternate reality where the cloning became possible shortly after the war.

Other reviews complain that people don't put up with things this way, they rebel and try to run away. Well, sometimes they do, and some of the other clones may be doing, but some people always accept and go along with expectations. Kathy looks forward to having more time to think about these things when she's a donor. She's thirty, and we know, and she also knows, sort of, that she'll be dead in a couple of years. There isn't any time, and what she has been offered is painfully thin, as lives go. And she accepts and goes on with it because that's how she is. I have no problem with this. The novel with the revolt in it would be a different story, like Budrys wanting Nineteen Eighty Four to end with Big Brother overthrown.

Of all Ishiguro's other work, this is closest to The Remains of the Day, which also has a first person unreliable narrator, and also deals with power and possibility. If anything, this is even better.
7:17pm: Ellen Klages Portable Childhoods
This is a short story collection, from Tachyon Press. I bought it because it contains "In the House of the Seven Librarians", my absolute favourite short fiction piece of last year.

It's sixteen stories, which range from totally brilliant through laugh out loud funny to chilling to merely OK. Even the only OK stories are pretty good. All of these except "Seven Librarians" were new to me. I checked at the end where they'd been published. One or two had been in Strange Horizons, clearly in weeks when I wasn't paying attention, and lots of the others in oddly specialised places -- what can I say, I live under a rock, and collections of gay and lesbian SF don't come my way all that often.

Klages says she writes about her childhood as fantasy. If this is so, her childhood must have been pretty awful, judging especially by the terrific first story, the Nebula winning "Basement Magic". There's a little girl, and an evil stepmother, and very sweet voodoo magic. Other stories dealing overtly with childhood aren't quite as impressive -- my other favourites were the more adult and more SF pieces. Well, except for "Intelligent Design" which totally charmed me. It contains God's grandmother. I've heard people swearing by her, but I never before knew that her name was Nanadeus. Of course it is.

While this is patchy, it's also lovely. I recommend it, and I'll be looking out for her non-genre YA novel The Green Glass Sea. Anyone read it?

28th September 2007

9:18am: Robin McKinley Dragonhaven
Jake Mendoza grew up in a dragon haven, in a world just like ours except that dragons are only almost extinct. Nobody has ever communicated with them, though, until by chance our hero finds a baby dragon and rears it and manages to change the relationship between the two intelligent species forever.

Normally I adore McKinley. I even liked her vampire book, (and I hate vampires,) and her Robin Hood book, though Robin Hood does nothing for me. I don't think there's anything of hers I haven't read over and over.

All the same, this one left me feeling restless and vaguely unsatisfied.

What is wrong with this book?

It's not that it isn't the world's most original plot, because honestly I don't care about that.

It's not that McKinley can't handle first person -- she's done it before flawlessly in The Blue Sword and Beauty. (They were both a long time ago, though. Maybe she's forgotten how? Or maybe it's a problem because Jake is a guy, and it's harder for her to do a teenage boy than teenage girl? Don't know.)

It's not a problem with the dragons. The dragons are right out of Dickinson's The Flight of Dragons, unacknowledged, but I suppose that's all right when it's your husband! They're telepathic, but hey, they're dragons, and anyway, they're also marsupial which makes up for it.

It may be that our first person narrator Jake has a headache (caused by the telepathy) for the whole book, which gave me a sympathetic headache by the end. Maybe if I read it again I'll like it better.

Maybe it's because it's much closer to SF than what McKinley usually writes, maybe she has a better handle on controlling magic than modern world tech and scientific (if telepathic) dragons.

But... I think it was the voice.

While there were a lot of things I liked about it, it seemed all the way through to keep pulling away from what was important and leave me hearing about it filtered and from a distance. It's a good example of the hazards of first person, I suppose, but I didn't really need one.

I wanted to like this book, and I'm sorry I didn't.

19th September 2007

9:15am: Peter Dickinson The Weathermaker
First of the Changes Trilogy. This is a re-read, but as I hadn't read it for decades, it was like reading a new book.

There's a teenage boy who finds himself on a rock in Weymouth Bay with his younger sister, having forgotten the last six years. This is unfortunate, because the last six years include everyone starting to hate and fear machines and the country turning back to the Dark Ages, his magical ability to change the weather, and his conviction as a witch -- for having kept a motorboat. His sister fills him in, and they escape to France, then return to England to discover what's really going on and fix it if they can.

I had forgotten, in the thirty years since I had last read the book, what was really going on. I remembered very clearly the fear of machines and the way it worked on people, and the descriptions of the magical weather changing and how it was written -- reaching out for cold to make a sea fog, or above the clouds to stop the rain. The explanation isn't anything like as good as the atmosphere, and, like many children's books I read as a child, it seems to be a quarter the length of what I remember.

This was Dickinson's first novel, I believe, and that shows.

I don't know how it would read to a modern ten year old, but if you have a ten year old and can get hold of it, it might be worth making the experiment.

16th July 2007

3:31am: Why awards matter
With the recent results of the Campbell Memorial award, I looked at the past results of the award in Locus's Awards listing. Browsing around there, I found this table of all awards for 2006 and was struck by what a great list it was. If you ignore horror you have by my count 45 distinct SF and fantasy novels, from all over the anglosphere (the Ditmars -- Australian -- and Auroras -- Canadian -- and BSFA -- British -- are included) for adults, young adults, in all sorts of categories, with first novels from new writers and things from people on the top of their form, works by men, by women, feminist works, libertarian ones, a whole cross-section. It's an exciting list, it's a list that gives a slice of the genre. If you read all forty or so books on it, you'd have a good idea of where the genre was and what was cool about it.

I've said the nominees are more important than the winners, and that's true, but looking at this list of winners made me realize that things nominated but overlooked for one award often won another. There are a lot of terrific books here.

I don't know if anyone does this, but looking back at earlier years when I wasn't reading so much (or maybe even born) it made me want to do that with those lists. They looked like good pictures of where the genre was in that year.

So the things we award are at least partly the way the year will be remembered. And this makes it important to give the awards worthily.

9th July 2007

10:01am: Kate Elliott In the Ruins and Crown of Stars, Crown of Stars VI and VII.
Good things first -- the world really does feel remarkably like a whole planet, and one with real layers of history and consequences. I like the magic system, and I like the economics and the social and political systems, and I like the way the main plot resolves. I like the way things fit together. I like Stronghand and the Eika a lot. I like the writing, the prose generally is lovely. If I didn't find a lot to like, I wouldn't have read my way through something this long.

But...

About half way through In the Ruins, I turned to my partner, who is also reading this series, and said "What odds do you give on all the nice characters surviving to the end of the series?"

Nobody you care about dies, or if they do, they come alive again. So why do I care? There's plenty of conflict but no jeopardy, if I don't believe the characters are actually at risk... and by book six, I just don't.

I don't like what happens to Alain at all.

Also, the curse/protection on Sanglant, that he can't be killed by any creature male or female, is broken in the most ridiculous way.

(And legitimate or not, I still hate the word "biscop".)

I'm not sorry I've read these, but I doubt I'll be reading them again. They filled me with a great desire to read something where death has consequences.

28th June 2007

10:29am: Madeleine L'Engle And Both Were Young
This is a 1980s reprint (and edit) of a novel written in the early fifties and set in the late forties -- WWII is a major part of the backstories of all the characters, even though this is a YA novel and most of the characters are teenagers and were children during the war.

This is odd and old-fashioned and sentimental, and it was just what I was in the mood for when I read it. It's also short -- I read it in a couple of hours.

An American girl who has lost her mother gets sent to a Swiss boarding school, where she learns to stop feeling sorry for herself, to ski, and to be a friend. She also falls in love with an amnesiac boy her own age whose past includes a concentration camp.

There's less religion than in a lot of L'Engle, and no genre elements at all. None of it is exactly surprising either -- from the paragraph above, you can pretty much tell how it's going to go, and that's how it goes.

I enjoyed it.
10:19am: Kate Elliott The Gathering Storm
Book five of The Crown of Stars.

No spoilers... which means I can't talk about the plot at all without it reeking of spoilers for the previous volumes.

Good things: in addition to the good things I said about book 1, this and the last really do give you the sense that there's a whole planet out there with different cultures, some of them weird and magical, some of them too clearly based on our world cultures, but a whole planet. I can't think of another fantasy sequence that is actually this convincing on that. The cultures themselves are very well done, too. There's also a good sense of history, and everyone has clear motivations. This isn't your cookie-cutter fantasy at all, it's a very unusual set up and there are very few (and very convincing) actual bad guys. (But am I ever going to find out what Wolfhere has been up to?)

Bad things: the word "biscop". The occasional horrible error about something I know about and she doesn't, like foot and mouth, or the inability of lapis lazuli to catch the light. Two pieces of idiot plotting -- the plot only works because someone is an idiot, or suffering temporary madness that conveniently goes away later.

I'm still reading this series, and if "long and involved" also seems like a plus point, I'd suggest you rush out and join me.

19th June 2007

10:50am: James Tiptree Jr The Starry Rift
Ineluctably masculine.

No, but seriously there are a remarkable number of dead women in this book.

This has been sitting on my bookshelf unread for years, because there isn't going to be any more Tiptree. I decided to read it, because what's the point of keeping it unread forever? Also I wanted some new Tiptree, after being unsatisfied by Philips literary criticism.

It's three linked novellas -- linked by some aliens getting them out of the library. (I am not kidding!) The first, "The Only Neat Thing To Do" is the best -- a girl given a spaceship to buzz about her local area instead takes off exploring and finds very alien aliens. The middle one concerns a man whose psychological memory erasure has wiped out his first love, he meets her again, and also her cloned granddaughter. The third is about first contact and is very peculiar.

I couldn't figure out the way time worked at the tech level. They didn't have FTL or ansibles, they needed cold sleep to go between stars, but it was perfectly ordinary to have one-person coupe STL spaceships as graduation presents but have your parents worry if you were away for a while? This gets especially worrying in the third one.

Apart from that, well, they couldn't possibly live up to being the last unread Tiptree and having been on the shelf for all this time, they're not as good as her very best work -- it seems to me she was one of those people naturally best at short length -- but very enjoyable.

If you haven't read any Tiptree, start with one of the collections.
10:27am: Julie Phillips The Double Life of Alice Sheldon
So much has been said about this book, and so well, that I'm not even going to attempt to review it. Anyone reading this has either read it or at least decided whether or not they want to. I just want to say that IMO Phillips under-rates Tiptree's fiction, and sees it in terms of Sheldon's psychology far more than I find necessary. This may be a difference of opinion between me and Phillips -- she thinks "Morality Meat" is awful and I think it's terrific -- but it coloured my whole reading of the last third of the book and meant that perversely I liked it better before it got onto the reason I was reading the book in the first place.

SF is more than a metaphor. It can be a metaphor. You can look, as Phillips does, at "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" as a metaphor for the sad ugly girl behind every beautiful face, but it's also a real story about real characters, not to mention an incredible tour-de-force bit of worldbuilding and the first piece of real cyberpunk. Phillips only seems to like it when she can comfortably extract the metaphor. But sometimes a zombie is just a zombie, like it or not.
10:15am: Jerry Pournelle (ed) Life in the Asteroids.
This is an anthology.

Well, no, it's a long rant about how NASA sucks, colonies in the asteroids should be built right now (1992) if not before, and interrupted by some stories. The best stories are Poul Anderson's and Pournelle's own. They all have a certain sameness, and they all have the thing that gets called "hard SF" but which means "written by libertarians and containing wrenches and descriptions of how the drives work". All the stories here are by men. (In fact the feminist consciousness of this book could be classed at about 1900. Things that were cute when Heinlein tried them during WWII weren't so cute by 1992.)

The general effect of this book was to make me feel much more sympathetic to Charlie's rant yesterday than I otherwise would have been. I'm all for settling the solar system, but not if I have to stand with Dr Pournelle and his clique.

I suppose it says something about the popularity of this book that I bought it remaindered and it has been gathering dust on my readpile for quite some time.
9:58am: Chaz Brenchley Bridge of Dreams
There's a city with a Sultan that has conquered another city by building a magical bridge from the nightmares of children. There's a pampered girl in the first city who is afraid she's going to be taken to dream, and a ragged boy in the second city who sells water because water is his route to magic.

This is a fantasy novel with an Arabian Nights feel. The two alternating threads don't come together -- though I suspect they will in the sequel. It's beautifully written, the characters are very real and it held my attention all the way through. But (and you knew there was a but coming) a few days after reading it it's kind of hazy, I can't recall the names, and what I remember most is the feel of the world and a memory of having enjoyed reading it. I'll have to re-read it when the sequel comes out in paperback.

17th June 2007

9:39am: International Horror Guild Awards
I don't like horror so I don't have much opinion of these but all the novels are by men and there are only two short pieces by women, out of fifteen.

And the Locus winners have been announced, the three female winners were The Privilege of the Sword for Fantasy, Temeraire as best first novel and Ellen Datlow as best editor.
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