?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Recent Entries Friends Archive Profile Tags Jeamland
 
 
 
 
 
 
I have got to stop going into London on weeknights.

This evening I went to a recording of Battle of the Books, a BBC4 show in which, unsurprisingly, the merits of two books are debated in a quasi-trial format. This installment featured: Valis by Philip K Dick, championed by Jack Klaff (who?), John Dowie (poet) and Ken Campbell (crazy man); and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, championed by Mariella Frostrup (irritating), Nicholas Murray (subdued) and Gwyneth Jones (cool). These ecletic panels were presided over by James Naughtier, and at the end of the show the audience was asked to vote for the book they'd rather read. We also had the pleasure of a John-Glover-as-Lionel-Luthor-alike heckler. And predictably, both novels were described throughout as being 'related to science fiction'.

Apart from that link, it was an odd choice of books to compare, though; I can see that they might want to avoid the too-obvious Brave New World vs 1984 deathmatch, but there must be more obvious and appropriate Dick works than Valis, surely? Man In The High Castle, for instance. Huxley won in the end, though, so I'm not going to complain too much, even if they didn't emphasise the social engineering aspects of the novel as much as I'd have liked. It's not clear when the show is due to be broadcast, but if you feel like tuning in then look for me in the vicinity of the giant floating head of Philip K Dick. I'm not sure if I'd go back for another recording, but I couldn't help noticing that the list of upcoming pairs included Trainspotting versus - wait for it - Lanark...

Media exchanges this evening were mostly limited to copies of the articles on the BSFA non-fiction award shortlist; me, I'm still most impressed by Farah Mendelsohn's attempt to synthesise pretty much every definition of science fiction ever (sense of wonder, check; cognitive estrangement, check; idea-as-hero, check) - and then to argue that sf isn't really a genre, as such, at all. John Arnold and Andy Wood's Ken Macleod analysis is going to have to be very good to match up.

The other thing I wanted to mention this evening was this scathing, hugely entertaining review of the Clarke shortlist by Adam Roberts.



Of the six shortlisted titles (image above shamelessly stolen from the review), he dismisses four of them as unworthy: Darwin's Children for clumsiness, Pattern Recognition for emptiness, Midnight Lamp for being uninvolving and Quicksilver for being Just Bad. Read the reviews; they're brutal, but a lot of fun.

But even the praise for the two novels he likes - Coalescent and Maul, with the former being judged the stronger by a small margin ('a fine and powerful novel by a writer swiftly developing stylistic and formal talents to match the superb imagination, capacity for giant ideas and sense-of-wonder that have always characterised his writing') - is undermined by his assertion that, as a whole, the shortlist is 'wayward'.

On the one hand, I'm not really in a position to judge this assertion, since it's still the case that the only shortlisted title I've read is Coalescent, and even there I would quibble with some of his praise. On the other hand, I agree with Roberts that there are other books from 2003 that I would have expected to see nominated.

The most egregious omissions, in his eyes, are Ian R Macleod's The Light Ages; Dan Simmons' Ilium; and Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. He cites others (Natural History, Veniss Underground, Untied Kingdom, Dark Heavens (that'll please peteyoung) and Market Forces), but those are the big three.

Of these, I completely agree that The Light Ages should be on the list. It is a stunning novel in just about every way: lyrical and thoughtful and powerful. Its omission is criminal. I haven't read Ilium, mostly because I'm nervous about diving into something that seems to require the sort of comprehensive classical education that I lack to be fully appreciated. I have read Oryx and Crake, but I'm not sure it should be on the shortlist. Whilst it has strengths, there isn't really anything in the book that hasn't been covered better before - plus, there's an anti-science (or at least anti-scientist) undercurrent to the whole thing that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. And whilst Roberts is right that it's probably more likely to be talked about in fifty years' time than any of the shortlisted novels, that's because it's by Margaret Atwood, and she's already made her mark. Still, I agree that the shortlist would certainly be more interesting for its inclusion (and in fact, were it up to me, there'd also be a place for a title that Roberts doesn't mention: Fuzzy Dice, by Paul di Filippo. I'd give it the nod for sheer dazzle and blow-your-mind verve, and - since it's a truism that awards judges always overlook humour - for the fact that it's laugh-out-loud funny).

And now? Bedtime.
 
 
 
 
 
 
It's not clear when the show is due to be broadcast

I was told sometime in April on BBC4. Hopefully their mailing list can be a bit more precise.

look for me in the vicinity of the giant floating head of Philip K Dick

Better I suppose than being inside the giant floating head of Philip K. Dick. The director stuck me right behind James Naughtiest. Aargh.

Dark Heavens

A bit of mutual authorly promotion going here, I suspect, as Roger Levy wrote the intro to Roberts's Park Polar. But yes I agree with him, it was strong enough to have been nominated.
Better I suppose than being inside the giant floating head of Philip K. Dick.

Thank heavens for small mercies.

A bit of mutual authorly promotion going here, I suspect, as Roger Levy wrote the intro to Roberts's Park Polar.

Quite possibly (although Roberts is at least upfront about the fact that he's recommending a book by a friend).
James Naughtier

Paging Dr Freud. Dr Freud to the LJ, please.
Is that the wrong spelling? I just copied TAO, 'cause I'm lazy.
Yes.

The top google hit for James Naughtier is the TAO article :)
Ah, well. That's what I get for posting at 2am. :)
I've never yet seen a shortlist for the Clarke Award - or indeed for any literary award - which didn't result in people screaming that X should never have been on the list, or Y should have been there. So Adam Roberts's comments don't worry me. Every book he attacks has been praised by other critics, and vice versa, and that is always the way. But I will say that the judges spent several hours discussing every one of the 40-odd books they had read during the year. Some were dropped from our debates very quickly, others were the subject of intense discussion. We could easily have had a short list twice as long (though even that would not necessarily have included all the books you want to see there), and one or two books missed the list only very reluctantly. But in the end we felt, collectively, that we had arrived at a short list that represented what we all felt to be the best science fiction of the year. Of course it won't please everyone. It's not meant to, and the debate that such disagreements generate is all part of what the Clarke Award is after. But every single one of those books has virtues that make them well worth reading by anyone interested in what is happening in science fiction at the moment.
I've never yet seen a shortlist for the Clarke Award - or indeed for any literary award - which didn't result in people screaming that X should never have been on the list, or Y should have been there. So Adam Roberts's comments don't worry me. Every book he attacks has been praised by other critics, and vice versa, and that is always the way.

Of course. It's clearly his personal judgement, and since I haven't read most of them I can't really say whether I agree or disagree - I just found it surprising and interesting that he was so negative about it, since I normally find his judgement reliable.

(I'm hoping to get through the Gibson and the Sullivan by Eastercon, for BSFA award purposes; my reading last year did not match up well with the award nominations!)

But I will say that the judges spent several hours discussing every one of the 40-odd books they had read during the year. Some were dropped from our debates very quickly, others were the subject of intense discussion.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall... :-)

We could easily have had a short list twice as long (though even that would not necessarily have included all the books you want to see there), and one or two books missed the list only very reluctantly. But in the end we felt, collectively, that we had arrived at a short list that represented what we all felt to be the best science fiction of the year.

Really, the only book I absolutely can't understand the omission of is Ian Macleod's. It's always a possibility, but I would be, um, surprised if all five of the books I haven't read are better than The Light Ages, and I certainly believe that Macleod's book is better than Coalescent. If the list is meant to be representative, rather than just the six best books of the year, and given that as things stand three of the six are varying degrees of hard SF and an overlapping three are shades of cyberpunk, there's probably even an argument for its inclusion on grounds of simple diversity.

Of course it won't please everyone. It's not meant to, and the debate that such disagreements generate is all part of what the Clarke Award is after.

Oh, absoutely. Wouldn't have it any other way!
...but I would be, um, surprised if all five of the books I haven't read are

...generally judged to be...

better than The Light Ages...

_Ilium_ also isn't all that good. It's long, but still manages to leave out some major characters (referred to in a way that's probably meant to be tantalising, but is just irritating). Why mention _The Quiet_ at all if you're not actually going to say anything about it? Yes, yes, this is likely to be addressed in the sequel _Olympos_, but that won't redeem the throwaway structure of the first book.

There is also dreadful use of the Olympic Swimming Pool standard (the "vision pool" is the gods is mentioned initially as being unfathomably large in terms of OSPs, but it later turns out to be a pretty small number of OSPs). Dave Langford left that out of Thog's Masterclass when he put in the double-take phrasing about the air raid's effects vs. results.

There isn't any clever use of the myth-cycle; it's all as straightforward as Asimov's _Words from the Myths_. I don't think you'd gain at all from being a Classics scholar (in fact, it might irritate you even more).

You really should read _Quicksilver_. Not because it's good, but because I want to offload my copy.
[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<mrs [...] g'wan>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]


_Ilium_ also isn't all that good. It's long, but still manages to leave out some major characters (referred to in a way that's probably meant to be tantalising, but is just irritating). Why mention _The Quiet_ at all if you're not actually going to say anything about it? Yes, yes, this is likely to be addressed in the sequel _Olympos_, but that won't redeem the throwaway structure of the first book.

There is also dreadful use of the Olympic Swimming Pool standard (the "vision pool" is the gods is mentioned initially as being unfathomably large in terms of OSPs, but it later turns out to be a pretty small number of OSPs). Dave Langford left that out of Thog's Masterclass when he put in the double-take phrasing about the air raid's effects vs. results.

There isn't any clever use of the myth-cycle; it's all as straightforward as Asimov's _Words from the Myths_. I don't think you'd gain at all from being a Classics scholar (in fact, it might irritate you even more).

You really should read _Quicksilver_. Not because it's good, but because I want to offload my copy. <Mrs Doyle mode: G'wan
g'wan g'wan, you will you will you will>

Philip Pullman's use of historical detail in the Sally Lockhart books has Stephenson beat all hollow. Yes, there are signficant figures dropped into the text in a way that isn't exactly verisimilitudinous, but it works. I don't know why your reviewer objects to these details... it's not a cheap attempt at historical context, but more "local" colour. Why read fiction if it's going to have no wonders? _The Big U_ is a much better read than the opening of the Baroque Cycle, whatever NS may think of his debut work.

Dave Langford slipped me a bit of salient email between himself and the Clutester which is insightful, but it would probably be naughty to post it here. DL signs off with "Meanwhile, the Duchess of Phlegm..." which is indicative.
You really should read _Quicksilver_. Not because it's good, but because I want to offload my copy.

Ah, I already have a copy. And will probably soon own The Confusion, as well. I had this crazy plan of reading the whole Baroque cycle back-to-back-to-back in the month when The System Of The World comes out.

I don't know why your reviewer objects to these details...

It does make me more interested to read the book for myself; I mean, it's not like Roberts dislikes Stephenson's other work.

"Meanwhile, the Duchess of Phlegm..."

Ha!