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Strange Horizons: 2013 in review

Strange Horizons has begun the new year with its traditional retrospective, in which SH’s reviewrs say a little about their favourites from the previous year. There’s some overlap between my contribution there and the Top 12 of 2013 that I posted on here; but it also includes some books that were bubbling under my main list. So, if you want to find out my favourite speculative fiction from last year (and to see what others have picked), take a look here.

Strange Horizons: new review and fund drive

Today I have a new review up at Strange Horizons, looking at The World of the End, the debut novel by Ofir Touché Gafla (translated from the Hebrew by Mitch Ginsburg).Gafla’s book is the story of one man’s journey through an unacceptably strange afterlife, searching his late wife, whom he thought would be there to meet him. As you’ll see from the review, I ended up feeling ambivalent towards The World of the End; it’s a lot of fun to read, but its disparate elements doesn’t quite seem to gel.

Strange Horizons is currently in the middle of its annual fund drive, so I’d like to take the opportunity to say a few words about why I value the site. In my view, SH is simply the number one place to go (online or off-) for writing about speculative fiction (I’m less familiar with the fictional content myself, but its reputation precedes it). There are two values at the heart of this: SH stands for serious, in-depth engagement with its subject matter; and it champions diversity of all kinds within the field. That’s what I want from commentary on speculative fiction (actually, make that commentary on any kind of fiction). With Strange Horizons, even if the subject of a particular piece doesn’t interest me personally, I can pretty much be sure that the writing will be engaged and engaging. To write for SH myself is always a pleasure and a privilege.

Strange Horizons is a non-profit operation which relies entirely on donations to keep going, hence the fund drive. If you already know and like SH, why not consider chipping in? If you’re unfamiliar with the site, I strongly recommend you check it out – you never know what may be of interest.

Strange Horizons review: Rosa Montero, Tears in Rain (2011/2)

Today, Strange Horizons publish my review of Tears in Rain by Rosa Montero (translated from the Spanish by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites). The book came from the SH review pile, and I was especially interested in reading it because it’s a work of science fiction in  translation – and we don’t see nearly enough of those in Anglo-American publishing. It’s not just the case that sf imprints don’t often publish translations; publishers who specialise in translated works don’t often cover science fiction (with the odd exception like Haikasoru).

So when a translated work of sf does come along, it is still something notable. Sadly, though, Tears in Rain is not a good book.

It’s a common enough view (one for which I generally have little time) that “mainstream” writers who use sf tropes recycle them unimaginatively because they’re unfamiliar with how they have been used in the past. What concerns me more is when sf writers who do know the tropes are still content to just go through the motions – and this latter is what Tears in Rain feels like to me. But I would not consider Montero a genre sf writer, so why does her novel have such an air? I tried to explore something of this, albeit indirectly, in the review.

In my mind, I kept coming back to the idea of “off-the-shelf futures” that came up in the discussion of Paul Kincaid’s LA Review of Books piece (see the comments for his use of that term). I think that’s what we see in Tears in Rain: a kind of science-fictional future which is so familiar as an archetype that you don’t need to be steeped in knowledge of sf to draw on it – and one so familiar that it has no purchase on the imagination. This – coupled with a thriller plot that doesn’t thrill – is what’s at the root of Tears in Rain’s weaknesses.

Click here to read the review in full.

Strange Horizons: 2012 in Review

I have a little piece in today’s 2012 in Review feature on Strange Horizons, talking about my speculative fiction highlights of the past year. The books I chose to talk about won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s seen my favourite reads of 2012 list; but I have tried to tie everything together in a way that makes a larger point:

…the key opposition in the field right now is not between genre and mainstream, but between texts that play into genre conventions and those that go their own way.

I’ll be looking for more of those works that “go their own way” over the months ahead.

(Incidentally, I was especially surprised – and pleased! – to see three other mentions for Hawthorn & Child: not bad going for a novel that isn’t, technically, speculative fiction.)

Adrian Barnes, Nod (2012): Strange Horizons review

I have a new review up at Strange Horizons today, of Adrian Barnes’s superb debut novel, Nod. I read it shortly after contributing to the debate on freshness in works of the fantastic, and it struck me as just the sort of thing I wanted to see.

In Nod, most of the world’s population loses the ability to sleep, which leads to psychosis within a few days – to the point where people’s perceptions can be manipulated with a word. Barnes tells of the power plays – the literal war or words – that goes on in a corner of Vancouver.

What interests me most about this novel is its pervading sense of unease at a situation which is all-consuming for its characters, yet is explicitly temporary. It makes for a fascinating read.

Click here to read my review of Nod in full.

This book has been shortlisted for the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award. Click here to read my other posts on this year’s Award.

Harry Karlinsky, The Evolution of Inanimate Objects (2012): Strange Horizons review

Strange Horizons have published my review of The Evolution of Inanimate Objects by Harry Karlinsky. I was talking yesterday about creative approaches to the material of sf, and here’s one — a pseudo-historical biography of Charles Darwin’s (fictional) son Thomas, who applies his father’s theories of evolution to the development and classification of everyday items.

This is a playful concept, but Karlinsky’s novel is more than a diversion: it’s also an effective character study, and a reflection on science and how it progresses (see Alan Bowden for more on that point).

Click here to read my review in full.

Lucy Wood, Diving Belles (2012) – Strange Horizons review

Would you like to hear about the best book I’ve read so far this year? Here it is: the debut collection from Lucy Wood, a set of contemporary stories inspired by Cornish folklore. Wood is clearly going to be a name to watch out for in the future; to find out why, I’d invite you to read my review of Diving Belles, which is up on Strange Horizons today.

Click here to read the review.

Further links
Video interview with Lucy Wood
Wood reads from ‘Notes from the House Spirits’

Changes are being rung…

There are some changes underway at a couple of the blogs I visit regularly, which I’m going to mention here.

Niall Harrison recently stepped down as editor of the BSFA’s journal, Vector, and became editor-in-chief of Strange Horizons — so now he’s changing blogs. Niall is handing the reins of Torque Control over to his successor, Shana Worthen (and Vector‘s reviews editor, Martin Lewis), and beginning to post at the Strange Horizons blog. Good luck to all, and I look forward to seeing how both blogs develop.

Elsewhere on the internet, Scott Pack has started a project to read and blog about a different short story on every day of 2011. That should yield some good recommendations. Check out Me and My Short Stories to see what Scott has read so far.

Strange Horizons: 2010 in review

Strange Horizons is kicking off the year with a look back at the previous one, as the site’s reviewers each contribute a few paragraphs on their favourite fantastic reads of 2010. That includes a contribution from me, which features some  books from my general list of year’s favourites, and some others that were bubbling under.

Read the full article on Strange Horizons here.

Robert Edric, Salvage (2010): Strange Horizons review

Today, I make my debut as a reviewer on Strange Horizons. SH is, in my view, pretty much the best place to go online for reviews of speculative fiction, and I am very pleased to be contributing to it.

The book I’m reviewing is Salvage by Robert Edric, a novel set one hundred years into the future, when climatic disruption has displaced many and new towns are being built to house them. Edric’s protagonist, Quinn, is an auditor sent to examine the development of one such town; what he finds is, to put it mildly, not encouraging.

But, already, I’m going over ground covered in the review itself, so I’ll stop there, and invite you to read my Strange Horizons piece by clicking this link.

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