1:34pm: George Eliot The Mill on the Floss
Reading Silas Marner in school put me off George Eliot until now.
This is a long Victorian novel, published in 1860 and set between 1830 and 1850. It has the detail and the level of description common to Victorian novels. It is set in a very precise place and time and class that is often ignored -- the businessmen and provincial men of small property. It's full of financial ruin, miserliness, keeping up appearances and entirely and convincingly solid in every detail.
The novel is about Maggie Tulliver, her brother Tom, her father and mother, and their extended family.
I found the morality perfectly fine until we were getting towards the end, when I started shouting at Maggie not to be such a complete idiot. This does indicate how much I was absorbed in the book, and also that I couldn't tell exactly what was going to happen. I'll never enjoy Eliot the way I enjoy Mrs Gaskell, but I don't think there's any work of Mrs Gaskell where I couldn't have predicted the entire plot half way through. Eliot is a terrific writer.
Nevertheless, it is my considered opinion that The Mill on the Floss would have been vastly improved by an alien invasion about half way through. ( my alternate endingCollapse )
9:31am: Noel Streatfeild The Painted Garden
I gather that the foolish US title for this novel is "Movie Shoes". I sneer in the general direction of whatever editor or marketing director thought children were so stupid as to need linked titles even if they betrayed the books.
The Painted Garden is a very typical Streatfeild children's book. I've read it a ridiculous number of times, I took it down off the shelf for a re-read when I was feeling anxious.
An English family of three adults (mother, father and Peaseblossom, who is the mother's friend and looks after the children but is not an employee) and three children (Rachel, a ballet student, Jane, who has no talents, and Tim, a piano student) go to California and have adventures. They go to California because their father is depressed, and they hope that the trip and sunshine will cure his depression, which it does. (I wonder if Streatfeild suffered from depression, she certainly writes about it well here and in Caldecott Place.)
The early part of the novel concerns the decision to go, the trip (by boat and train), and an introduction to America. As a child I found this fascinating because until then I'd encountered America only in Little Women and Tom Sawyer, and was interested to see that nineteenth century novels did not portray twentieth century reality. As an adult, I'm interested to see that I did not notice that said twentieth century reality was a very specific 1950. This was where I learned what a "drug store" was.
Once in California, plain Jane, the one without talent, gets offered a part in a film version of The Secret Garden. As a child this thrilled me for the glimpse of how a story I knew could be made into a film. I always used to re-read The Secret Garden and The Painted Garden together, so Mary's story would be fresh in my mind when I read about Jane acting it. Jane's problems with acting, and with coping with being important after having wanted to be important, are to my adult eye the best part of the book. Streatfeild is always very good at getting into a child's point of view and making you feel the helplessness and unfairness of it, while also seeing the adult side of things. Jane is shown sympathetically from inside and outside.
Rachel gets on with dancing, meeting Posy Fossil from Ballet Shoes -- and giving us a glimpse of what happened to the three girls from that book as grown ups -- Petrova ferried planes all through the war, with Jacqueline Cochran and the characters from Marge Piercy's Gone to Soldiers, yay!.
Tim plays piano in a restaurant (with sadly comic Italian owners) and later on the radio. They all have to cope with their difficult aunt Cora, their hostess. The father cheers up, at the end they go home.
There are odd problems of class and race. Firstly Peaseblossom is in the role generally occupied by nannies and governesses in Streatfeild, but she is supposed to be a schoolfriend who came to help when Rachel was born and stayed on. It's necessary for the plot that this be the case -- it is her inheritance that pays for the trip -- but it does lead one to wonder about certain things. Streatfeild generally portrays her as a social notch beneath the family, and as being concerned with the children's welfare. For instance, on the ship she shares a cabin with all three children, while the parents share a double. In New York, the parents go off with a friend while she takes the children sightseeing. She is supposed to teach the children and worries about their clothes. We never see her in an adult context, as we see the parents. She is shocked at Posy Fossil's imitations of people. Regrettably, all this prevents one from reading the situation as a menage a trois.
In America, we run into the problem of class=race. Annoying Aunt Cora has a delightful black servant Bella -- clearly Streatfeild had no difficulty with race, as she portrays Bella much as she portrays other (English) servants in other novels, except for the comic accent. I accepted this uncritically as a child, and look sideways at it now -- the other black minor character is also a servant, on the train. Happy smiling Uncle Toms, both of them. But it was 1950. And this is supposed to be a comfort read.
I have no idea how modern children, or American children, would take to this story. It's even hard to imagine how I'd read it if I read it now for the first time.
4:29pm: Jean Webster Daddy Longlegs and Dear Enemy.
I read Daddy Longlegs as a child and loved it. It was written in 1907.
It's an epistolary novel -- probably the first one I ever read -- but the letters have no replies. An orphan called Jerusha Abbott (she renames herself "Judy" and who can blame her!) is sent from the John Grier Home for Orphans to an all-female university by the benevolence of an anonymous trustee, who asks that she write to him once a month. She fulfils this request, and the letters are witty and funny and sometimes very moving. ( spoilers, though it isn't the sort of book where they matter muchCollapse )
I found this just as much fun now as when I first read it.
Dear Enemy is the sequel, about a college friend of Judy's taking over the orphanage and trying to humanize it. It isn't as good, but it was well worth reading and has some lovely moments.
Webster was, according to the introduction to this Penguin edition, a feminist and a Fabian and supported herself by her writing. The feminism mostly comes through in the stories in the belief that women should have education and careers and be able to vote, and the socialism in the belief that orphans and the poor are people and should have choices. Good for Webster, I say, and I'm glad to see this back in print.
4:08pm: James Morrow The Last Witchfinder
This is a very weird historical novel. I have no idea why it's nominated for the John W. Campbell Award unless the conceit of a book (Newton's Principia) narrating the story inherently makes it fantasy. Maybe it does. On thinking about it, yes, it definitely does. A world where books are conscious and write books and have feuds with each other is fantasy. Of course it is. The fact that the thing seems to have been published as mainstream is neither here nor there, Morrow is a genre author after all. But isn't the Campbell Memorial Award specifically for SF? This really isn't SF. But never mind, moving right along, nothing to see here. It's really very good.
There's a woman called Jennet Stearne who is trying to find an unanswerable argument against witchcraft in seventeenth century England and New England, with sundry diversions among pirates, Indians and Ben Franklin. It's a fascinating story, it has good characters, it moves right along, and it's probably a masterpiece.
It's harder to say if I actually liked it.
Indeed, I can't answer that question. Probably I won't be able to answer it until I read it again. As it's very intense, I can't see myself re-reading it soon. I was completely caught up in it while I was reading it. I can't help comparing it to the Baroque Cycle, though it's a very different kind of book, and Morrow's a very different kind of writer. I think I'd like this better if I didn't like the Baroque Cycle so much.
3:50pm: Kenneth Clark Another Part of the Wood (1974)
"I was born on July 13th, 1903, at 32 Grosvenor Aquare, a space now occupied by the American Embassy. My parents belonged to a section of society known as 'the idle rich', and although, in that Golden Age, many people were richer, there can have been few who were idler."
Thus begins Kenneth Clark's autobiography, and thus it continued, so if you're charmed by that, you'll probably like all of it, whereas if you're repelled by that, ditto. Clark became head of the National Gallery and made the acclaimed TV series Civilization, this autobiography only goes up to 1939 and is mostly the story of a boy becoming an art lover and an art lover becoming an adult.
I picked my copy up for a song, I imagine it's the kind of book you either find going begging or can't find at all.
3:22pm: Walter Jon Williams The Sundering, The Conventions of War
These are the two sequels to The Praxis, set in the same universe and featuring the same characters.
They're not as good.
The Sundering keeps up the pace, but The Conventions of War contains a long extraneous murder mystery plot and by the end felt regrettably as if it was just going through the motions. There are lovely moments in both of these books, but they seem to be lacking in significance and focus. Still, if you liked The Praxis a lot, you'll want to read them anyway.
Today, I have added the British Fantasy Society Awards (from desperance) and the Mythopoeic Awards. And I've added the short form BFSA ones to the short form post.
The BFSA list is very long and comprehensive, it's hard to evaluate as a list because it's so long, but there's some great stuff on it.
The Mythopoeic Award list got a squee from me because Susan Palwick's The Necessary Beggar is on it, and that's such a brilliant book. But didn't it come out last year? Oh well, great to see it get some recognition anyway. I hope it wins.
The Sunburst list had me banging my head against the floor and screaming that they can't have found five Canadian books -- nine with their "honourable mentions" -- better than Karl Schroeder's Sun of Suns, and what were they thinking? There's also the Aurora Award for Canadian SF, isn't there? I don't know when that's announced. Sun of Suns had better be on it. On mature and serious reflection, it's nice to see the Canadians taking YA so seriously, and to see two out of five nominees female -- or counting their whole list, four out of nine.
The Quill list I quite liked, despite its lack of Sun of Suns and single female nominee, but it's a very different constituency from the others -- running June/June, according to papersky. I expect to see Brasyl and The Execution Channel on a lot of next year's award lists. It's also a very, well, I suppose the word would be "mainstream-friendly" list, but I suppose that's to be expected.
10:12am: A lovely list
The John W. Campbell Memorial Award list is out. I suppose it's easier to please people with thirteen books than with five, but I'm very happy to see Sun of Suns getting some recognition at last, and The Last Witchfinder and of course Farthing and Blindsight.
Three female nominees -- I have added them to my list. There was one book, Barbara Sapergia's Dry which I've never heard of and which Google only seems to have advertising for, no actual reviews. It's small press Canadian, but even so that seems odd. Anyone read it, reviewed it, or can tell me anything about it?
10:02am: Sturgeon Awards
So, the short list for the Sturgeon Award is out. The Sturgeon is awarded for the best short fiction of the year. As this is a year with no short fiction by women nominated for Hugos, I thought it would be especially interesting to see what was nominated. (As I've said before, I think what's nominated is more interesting that what wins, as it's much easier to see quality in a "top five" than "one absolute best".)
There are thirteen nominees for the 2006 Sturgeon, twelve male, one female.
So I get to add one thing only to my "2006 Award nominated short work by women" list, and it's M. Rickert's "You Have Never Been Here".
For balance, the older nominees are on the same page. 2005 nominees; seven male, three female. The 2004 nominees, thirteen male and seven female. The 2003 nominees, ten male and two female. The 2002 nominees, eleven male and two female.
Before any of this is dismissed as a plot of the patriarchy, it's worth noting that there's a list of nominators for 2006 on the site too, and of nineteen people listed, at least nine are female.
Maybe 2006 just really was a bad year for short fiction by women? It seems strange, but statistically unlikely things do happen.
2:42pm: Walter Jon Williams, The Praxis
So, there's a huge star-spanning empire run by aliens, containing many alien races plus humans. And the aliens who run it, the Shaa, believe in keeping everything the same forever, and they conquered everything else and don't let them have things like brain-computer interfaces and genetic engineering, so there's no singularity and apart from the interstellar antimatter FTL drives and aliens things are only about ten years ahead of now technologically. And the Shaa have instituted strict hierarchies and aristocracies among all the races, and one of the few things for the aristocracy to do is join the space navy, which hasn't had a war for the last 3400 years. Now the last Shaa is dying, and hopes everything will stay the same always, and of course it doesn't.
There isn't much in this book that could be described as new, but it's all absolutely charming. The different alien races are well done, the dialogue is witty, the characters are well chosen and three-dimensional, and the timing is perfect throughout. Not even the space battles are dull.
The two main characters are Lord Gareth Martinez, younger son of a lower level house of peers scheming to be higher, whose vanity and ability to take his privilege for granted are meant to charm and do, and the woman called Lady Caroline Sula, whose backstory comes out in detail during the novel. The first time I read this it threw me somewhat, because I'd already read her backstory as the novella "Margaux" in Asimov's, so already knew the revelation about who she really is -- but it doesn't really matter.
They fall in love. They break up. They participate separately in fighting the rebel Naxid aliens. They get promoted. This story is a romp, it's fun, and I can't help loving it to bits.
2:19pm: Kate Elliott, Child of Flame (Crown of Stars IV)
I feel as if I've been reading this forever, as if empires have risen and fallen and I've only just made it to the end. This is partly because of circumstances not giving me much time to read, and partly because it is very long. (900 pages.)
It's getting increasingly hard to discuss these without spoilers for earlier volumes.
It's fantasy, broad world epic historical fantasy, with more sentient species than you could shake a stick at and a horrible disaster coming.
There's some very cool stuff in this one, and at least one very clever thing. It still doesn't move all that fast, and it still contains the word "biscop", but I'm definitely going to go on with the series.
5:29pm: Robert A. Heinlein Time Enough For Love
This is a bad book.
Nevertheless, despite being long, I have read it three or four times, starting when I was a teenager, and on this most recent re-read, despite seeing how bad it was, I kept on reading every word. I think this is because Heinlein wrote wonderful sentences that fill you with a desire to read the next sentence and the next, despite your better judgement.
This is a loose sequel to Methusalah's Children. It is inferior in that MC has a plot. A pulpy plot, sure, but a plot nonetheless. In MC, a foundation has been set up to breed people for longevity by the simple expedient of paying people with long-lived grandparents to marry each other. By the end of the twenty-first century this has paid off and there are lots of exceptionally long-lived people, who are discovered and being forced to give up their "secret" when they steal an experimental NAFAL spaceship and rush off around the galaxy having adventures, and invent FTL, only to return home to discover that the short-life people they left behind have discovered the secret of rejuvenation.
Time Enough For Love is set centuries later, when there are literally too many settled planets to count. Lazarus Long, one of the original stealers of the spaceship, is 2000 years old and wants to die. The book is about how some people won't let him and he decides he doesn't want to, while having sex with lots of remote descendants, his adopted daughter, his clone sisters, his mother (time travel) and a computer that has embodied in human form. I'm being unkind, but there really is a staggering amount of incest in this book -- including in addition to what I've already mentioned a long story about a pair of "mirror twins" who marry and bring up a family but it's all OK because there's no genetic risk.
So, what's good about it? The sentences, as I said. Even when he couldn't tell a story, he could really write sentences. And there's a long story about the colonization of a new planet at a tech level that gives you an idealised colonization of the West of the USA only with talking mules and occasional spaceships. There's a list of what to take with you. I'm an awful sucker for lists like that. There's the irritating but endearing personality of Lazarus. There's the question of whether he'll want to live, and if so why. There's the embodied computer -- this was the first time I saw that, was it the first time it was done? These days it all seems to be the other way, people uploading brains into computers, not computers downloading their brains into human clone-bodies because they want to have sex.
But it's still a bad book.
Things that are wrong with this book:
1) Frequent weird and unnecessary shifts of point of view. The frame story is in third, but there are frequent long monologues in first person. That would be no problem, but they lurch in and out of first and third for no reason that I can see. I hate this.
2) Related problem -- the story skips everything that could be considered to be plot. There's a plot in there, but... it's elided. Possibly this is entirely deliberate and terribly clever, but I think it was a bad decision. Great sentences and characters are not enough.
3) I mentioned incest -- but everyone complains about Heinlein and incest. I want to complain about prostitution, because I just noticed it this time. What is with this? There are hetairae, highly paid artist professionals -- OK, no problem. One of them retires and colonizes and says there's no place for her old job on the new planet because there are too many enthsiastic amateurs -- that sounds like the thing I heard about the working girls who showed up at the SF con and left, disgruntled. Moving on... when Lazarus is on the American Frontier in Space colony there's a widow friend with whom he quietly shares sex that's pleasurable for both of them. But he insists on paying her for services rendered. Why? What is the point of this? I don't get it. She isn't giving him anything he isn't also giving her. It's an equal exchange, if they both enjoy it, which we're assured they do. There's a quote about taking your clothes off and "doing your whorish best" which I always assumed meant "uninhibited best" but which I now wonder about. I always liked that the women in Heinlein enjoyed sex, now I am forced to wonder whether he actually thought of sex as something women owned and men rented after all.
On the whole I can't recommend this book. I'd suggest going to read, or re-read, some other Heinlein -- the general rule is that anything less than an inch thick is worthwhile.
But he is unparallelled at keeping me reading even when I'm not enjoying myself.
6:02am: M.J. Engh Rainbow Man
There's slower than light (or possibly slow FTL, journeys take decades) travel between the stars. There are spaceships with complex cultures moving. There are planets with complex cultures being visited. A woman from a spaceship decides to stop on a planet that seems very nice -- and you just know things are going to go wrong.
The cultures are astonishingly well done. I could easily believe they were real, and that the culture clash as described would lead to tragedy. (I was going to say "inevitably" but that's what tragedy is about.)
Despite the end, most of this is a cheerful compelling read that does that thing SF does so brilliantly of giving you new worlds, new angles, alien anthropology.
I'd somehow got the impression from online discussion that there was weird gender stuff in this novel. There isn't. There's weird gender definition on the planet -- "women" are defined as "fertile women" and other women are defined as men though it doesn't say what happens at menopause, and I did wonder.
I liked this very much more than I was expecting to.
7:17am: L. Sprague De Camp An Elephant For Aristotle
This is a historical novel. It's also a kind of historical travel novel. It's about a Thessalian cavalryman who is given the task of crossing Alexander's empire, from the banks of the Indus, all the way to Athens, with two Indians, a small troop of quarrelsome soldiers, a philosopher, a Persian offier, and an elephant. The plot could be summarised as "they run into problems on the way".
It's solidly researched, it's a lot of fun, it's ineluctably old-fashioned but none the worse for that, and I'd be eager to recommend it if it weren't practically impossible to find.
7:33am: Not Weird at All
The Locus Award -- finally, a list I like better than the Romantic Times Award list!
But were the Romantic Times reviewer and I really the only people who loved Karl Schroeder's Sun of Suns? I was expecting to see it all over the awards nominations -- and the same last year with Lady of Mazes. Why is it that some people get nominated time after time, even with their minor works, and others don't seem to get any attention at all even when they're being brilliant?
9:25am: Oliver Sacks Uncle Tungsten
This was a present quite some time ago.
It's a memoir and a history of chemistry, and the thought seemed sufficiently offputting that I never quite wanted to pick it up.
This was a mistake: it's brilliant. Brilliant. It's a memoir, and a history of chemistry, and it works because it's an introduction to the wonder of chemistry through the eyes of a boy discovering it for the first time, for whom it is a wonder. I liked it so much that when I finished it I went back and read the section on the periodic table again.
I think an awful lot of SF readers would love this as much as I did. Also, if you have to revise chemistry, this would be a wonderfully painless way of doing it.
1:25pm: John Scalzi The Ghost Brigades
Jared Dirac is a newly created super-soldier with the brain and body of a traitor to humanity. Will his buried memories emerge and will he discover how and why his original betrayed humanity? You bet.
Scalzi seems to have done a lot of thinking about the obvious holes in the universe since Old Man'd War, and this book does a lot to patch them. I'm still not sure it quite hangs together, but it certainly seems a bit more solid. Unfortunately, this is at the cost of the fast-moving excitement of the first novel. There are a number of cool SF-nal things here, not least the story of the emergence of Dirac's consciousness, but this book isn't the fun the first one was.
This is written in third person, edging over into sloppy omni at times, which Scalzi doesn't control anything like as well as he did the first person POV of his first novel. There's a third book due imminently or already out, which I'll no doubt pick up sooner or later in paperback.
9:55am: John Scalzi Old Man's War
John Perry joins the army on his seventy-fifth birthday and gets sent immediately off Earth to fight the hordes of awful aliens.
To point out the absurdities of the set-up would be like shooting fish in a barrel (The universe is full of aliens who want to eat us? There's cloning to make soldiers but they only clone one of each person?) and the Mary-Sueness of the protagonist John Perry goes without saying (The one person the sergeant doesn't hate, who finds the solution to winning the battle so the aliens respect him, who survives against incredible odds...) but nevertheless this book is terrific fun to read. It's fast, it's laugh-aloud funny, it has a wisecracking asshole first person protagonist and while it clearly owes a lot to Starship Troopers and The Forever War, they do say if you have to steal, steal from the best.
I entirely see why it was Hugo nominated last year, and why Scalzi won the Campbell on the strength of this alone. It's not actually a good book, but it's a hell of an enjoyable one.
9:32am: Kate Elliott, The Burning Stone
(Crown of Stars III -- read these books in order or they won't make any sense at all. It's getting increasingly hard to review them without spoilers though.)
In my review of the previous volume, I mentioned that nothing much happened to advance the plot. This volume has the opposite problem, almost too much happens. There's a lot of very cool coming together of information, there are a lot of events, and there's some regrettable idiot plotting. (If you have someone born to a role and they seem to be fulfilling it in unexpected way, wouldn't anyone think that might be worth considering, rather than everyone trying to force them back to the expected path? Some people are rigid idiots, yes, but everyone?)
I'm still enjoying these, I still like all the things I liked about the first volume, I'm reconciled to the word "biscop", but I'm wondering whether I'm ever going to re-read them, as an awful lot of why I'm going to go on with them is to find out what will happen, and a lot of what does happen would annoy me a lot if I knew it in advance.
Conversely, some of it I do already know, from knowing the actual history and seeing what she's doing with the analogy, and that I tend to like. The heresy is cool. The Eika -- Vikings who are literally rock-giants, and have the ecology of that -- are one of my favourite bits, though I hated Alain (who dreams Eika) in this volume because he's so infuriatingly passive.
I really do think it's in the short fiction area that the lack of female Hugo nominees this year is stunningly noticeable. Compiling this list I kept thinking "Wow, they didn't nominate that?" far more than I did with the novel list.
This is a list of short fiction nominated for the BSFA Award, the Nebula Award, the Crawford Award, and the Locus "recommended" list which has 20 nominees in each category. The Sturgeon Award hasn't listed nominees yet, and neither has the Locus Award actual shortlist. I'll try to update this. As the BSFA and the Tiptree don't split by length, I haven't even tried here.
Also, as the Locus list is by surname without first name, if I didn't recognise the name and/or know the gender it didn't make this list -- so if you know of any I missed, please tell me in comments and I'll add them.
ETA: Sturgeon, British Fantasy Society Award (BFSA)
"The Little Drummer Boy" Marion Arnott (BFSA) "Where the Golden Apples Grow" Kage Baker (Locus) "Sounding" Elizabeth Bear (BSFA Award) "Wane" Elizabeth Bear (Locus) "A Flight of Numbers, Fantastique Strange" Beth Bernobich (Locus) "O Pioneer" Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (Sidewise) "What Used To Be Good Still Is" Emma Bull (Locus) "Going Bad" Alison L. R. Davies (BFSA) "The House on the Blighted Sea" Alyx Dellamonica (Locus) "...the darkest evening of the year..." Candas Jane Dorsay (Locus) "Killers" Carol Emshwiller (Locus) "World of No Return" Carol Emshwiller (Locus) In the Forest of Forgetting Theodora Goss, Collection. (Crawford Award Best First Book) "Lessons With Miss Grey" Theodora Goss (Locus) "The Saffron Gatherers" Elizabeth Hand (Locus) "Bainbridge" Caitlin R. Kiernan (IHG) "In the House of the Seven Librarians" Ellen Klages (Locus) "Nano Comes to Clifford Falls" Nancy Kress (Locus) "An Appropriate Pen" Dawn Knox (BFSA) "A Fine Magic" Margo Lanagan (Locus) "The Point of Roses" Margo Lanagan (BSFA Award, BFSA) "Under Heaven, Over Hell" Margo Lanagan (Locus) "Winkie" Margo Lanagan (Locus) "Sundowner Sheila", Gwynplaine F MacIntyre (BFSA) "Jack O'Lantern" Patricia McKillip (Locus) "Hav of the Myrmidons" Jan Morris (Locus) "4.44" Marie O'Regan (BFSA) "Mirror Mere" Marie O’Regan (BFSA) "Cut to the Chase" Marie O'Regan (BFSA) "I'll Call You" Marie O'Regan (BFSA) "In the Pines" Rosanne Rabinowitz (BFSA) "The Christmas Witch" M. Rickert (Locus) "Journey Into the Kingdom" M. Rickert (Nebula, Locus, IHG) "Map of Dreams" M. Rickert (Locus) Map of Dreams (Collection) M. Rickert (Winner: Crawford Award for Best First Book) "You Have Never Been Here" M. Rickert (Locus, Sturgeon) "Horse-Year Women" Michaela Roessner (Tiptree Honor) "Ava Wrestles the Alligator" Karen Russell (Tiptree Honor) "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves" Karen Russell (Tiptree Honor) "The Disappeared" Sarah Singleton (BFSA) "An End To All Things" - Karina Sumner-Smith (Nebula) "Leaves Of Glass" Lavie Tidhar (BFSA) "101 Damnations" Liz Williams (BFSA)
1:54pm: Jan Morris Hav Hav consists of Last Letters From Hav, originally published in 1987, and a sequel novella "Hav of the Myrmidons", added to it last year. I've read Hav about a zillion times over the last twenty years, and I have severe reservations about the sequel.
Jan Morris is a travel writer, and Hav is an imaginary city in Europe that she writes travel essays about. They are written exactly like all the rest of her work, with quotes and history and investigation of place, except that it isn't a real place. In Last Letters From Hav Jan Morris, a travel writer, comes to the city of Hav and experiences it, the strange cave dwellers, the House of the Chinese Master, the Greek island, the fez, the Russian hotel, the train, the snow raspberries... it's all just a little bit magical, it's somewhere you haven't been and would love to visit and be enchanted by. Her book on Venice is just the same, and I haven't been there either. At the end of the book, Morris the character escapes one step ahead of an unspecified and very strange oncoming disaster.
Now any sequel to a beloved book after a long time is problematic for me. Real places have to change, imaginary ones can stay safely in their books and be revisited as often as you like, unless of course the author decides to go revisiting and revising.
"Hav of the Myrmidons" concerns Ms Morris going back to a Hav that has been through transformations after the disaster she escaped. My problem was that I didn't want the snow raspberries to be available tinned in quantity, I didn't want the house of the Chinese Master to have burned down, I wanted the hints and mysteries to stay hidden, I didn't want fanaticism and the modern world to shine so brightly on Hav.
There's a Leonard Cohen song of cold war nostalgia called "The Future" with the lyric "Give me back the Berlin wall, give me Stalin and St Paul, I've seen the future, brother, it is murder!" I really understood that song as I read the new material in this book.
Reading "Hav of the Myrmidons" was like going back to somewhere lovely you went on holiday as a child and finding it all spoiled, with just occasional glimpses that are the same to make things worse.
It's not that it isn't just as well written, and it's not that Morris isn't as good a travel writer writing about the imaginary city as she ever was, it's just that I didn't want all that to have happened. I actually got tears in my eyes when I read about what had happened to the House of the Chinese Master, and this was especially embarrassing, because I was on a train at the time.
I have no idea how the book would strike someone as a book if they hadn't read any of it before, except that Le Guin reviewed it in the Guardian and was very positive about how it was like hard SF with the science being geography.
I'm not sure it would have been eligible for a Hugo this year anyway, and I'm not sure it's even a novel, though I don't have a better word for what it is. There certainly isn't very much like it. While I recommend the original novel wholeheartedly I told the old friend who originally recommended that to me to keep away from the update... but if you haven't read either, I don't know. Here, have some desperate ambivalence.
1:13pm: Ellen Kushner The Privilege of the Sword
This book charmed me to pieces. In fact I loved it so much I don't quite know how to review it. It pushed all my buttons so well I'm afraid it might not be quite as good as I think it is.
There's a girl from a good family whose rich Ducal uncle unexpectedly calls her to the capital to have her trained as a swordsman, which she doesn't want at all until she does, a lot.
This is set in the same world as Swordpoint (no magic either) and The Fall of the Kings (lots of magic). It's fantasy by courtesy, as we don't have a word for imaginary-world fiction.
It's beautifully written, streets above most things published as genre, with lovely characters who come to life and wonderful incidentals, like the romantic novel that runs through the book like a motif and is called The Swordman Whose Name Was Not Death. It helps to have read Swordspoint, which is no hardship, especially as the SFBC are selling the two books in one volume as Swords of Riverside. I should think it would stand well enough alone though.
The only real criticism I have is that the end is a little abrupt and comes around a blind corner, which I seem to remember was true of Swordspoint when I first read it a long time ago.
10:13am: 2006 Award-Nominated Books By Women
There has been alotoffussaboutthe lack of female nominees for the Hugos. My feeling is that one out of five novel nominees is a perfectly normal ratio, and nobody would have mentioned it if it hadn't also been one out of twenty fiction nominees. (The Stoker and Prometheus shortlists are entirely male, and I didn't notice anyone commenting.)
However, people have been asking mostly what novels by women should have been nominated.
So, in the hope it might be useful, a list of books by women that have been nominated for other awards this year, with links to online reviews.
Farthing Jo Walton Green Man Review SF Site Review Nominated: Nebula, Romantic Times Reader's Choice Award (SF: Winner), Sidewise, Locus, John W. Campbell Memorial, Quill, Sunburst "Honourable Mention".
The Demon And The City: A Detective Inspector Chen Novel Liz Williams Bookslut Emerald City Nominated: BFSA
Thanks to Locus Online and Google! I've probably missed loads of things, and I know if leaves out excellent books that haven't been nominated for anything, like Cherryh's Pretender and Sherwood Smith's Inda.
ETA: Sidewise, Locus, John W. Campbell Memorial, Quill, Sunburst, BFSA, Mythopoeic
ETA2: Note about reviews -- I have tried to link to two reviews from what I personally consider reputable and independent sources. If there are no reviews linked it's either because I couldn't find any or the book is of a genre (horror, YA) where I don't know the online sources well enough to know what's a real review and what's a puff piece.