More than 10,000 books and stories rated and reviewed! - About this site

Home A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y Z Pen names
reviews of books and stories by author's name
SF&F Timeline 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000-Now Best!
retrospective look at sf&f year-by-year
The Ultimate Guide to New SF&F Writers (from 1990 till now)

2001 - Year in SF&F: June

Read other issues here


(right image: art by Bence Kresz)

Alastair Reynolds
"Chasm City" (nv)

(Revelation Space series: 2)
© 2001, Gollancz /Ace
--sf novel : 2002 Locus /9
--novel : 2002 British SF W

--/ third place space sf novel DRB top lists
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ awesome scale
--/ shock value

This novel is quite a different beast from "Revelation Space": it's darker in tone, unapologetic (and often unjustified) in plot twists, baroque in its structure and towering ambition. A reader might get in turn bored, shocked, confused, astounded, and perplexed... it is, however, a black obelisk of a novel, a vast achievement, a master work nevertheless. Think of it as a Dashiell Hammett hard-boiled mystery set to steampunk gears and the brooding lustre of China Mieville's novels, with an added layer (somewhere deep down) of vintage Philip K. Dick's angst. Its pacing and sudden plot twists reminded me of A. E. Van Vogt's approach to writing (which can be summarized as "a new revelation, or a new plot twist, every few paragraphs"). The first half the story tended to drag, however, and I almost wished for action to speed up, and for prose to display (maybe) a little more emotion. Still, it ended up to be an all-out cinematic trip, certainly worth the admission.

I have to say, many people will find the tone and setting of this novel somewhat depressing. Even with the occasional display Chasm City's extraordinary glamor and glitz, and plethora of unmistakable steampunk- and cyberpunk- wonders and references, still - the overall effect of doom and sheer cold-bloodedness of main characters would get to anybody (there is not a single good-nature human being in the story, for a long time). But guess what, all this turns out to be just an appropriate build-up to the final sentiments that Reynolds masterfully hides in the ending. There is Grace in this universe after all! And a deep yearning for things pure and innocent... While these things are hinted - only hinted! - in the novel, they work underneath to shape the characters and to usher in an acceptable (though still pretty convoluted) outcome.

The novel opens (literally) with a bang: the explosive destruction of an enormous space elevator structure, and a subsequent voyage to Yellowstone/Chasm City (which brings to mind some of the Jack Vance's baroque destinations), interspersed with flashbacks of a "Generation Ship" odyssey to another star. I was deeply impressed by Alastair Reynolds' development of his anti-hero, Sky Hausmann, in this part of the story: he is a tyrant in the making, a ruthless figure, a peek into dark souls of the likes of Stalin and Hitler. His is a fascinating progression of evil that's being justified in the name of an idea, in the end revealed as sheer lust for power. Many will find this character hard to stomach (there is even an appearance of a much-maligned Joker figure) - and yet... yet... there is a sort of the redemption lurking just outside the view, a possibility for a transcending change that cannot be explained, and can be only felt. I applaud Reynolds for not stating these things clearly, and for the subtle emotional nuances that break through the cold facade of this book's gritty plot... Well done.

There is much to be said about the Pandora's Box of visual delights in this novel, and I attach some works of art that (barely) touch on that splendor. One word of caution, though: nothing in this novel is what it seems from the start, so prepare to be astounded... after enduring the long, meticulous exposition in the beginning. Chasm City will grow on you... and then you will wander in the twisted jungles of its buildings looking for, and not finding the happy-ending, unless you can uncover a certain happy-ending inside of you. And that seems to be exactly what Reynolds was intending.
(review by Avi Abrams)

(art credit: Marcin Jakubowski, Mark Goerner)


(original unknown)

Alastair Reynolds

(Revelation Space series)
© Spectrum SF #5, 2001
--novella : 2002 Locus /15
--/ fourth place space sf novella
--/ adventure award
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award

What a perfect title for a murder mystery concoction! Chilly in a most intriguing way, slightly morbid, it glimmers with Alastair Reynolds's barely hidden joy at writing such an orderly, distinguished space investigation story (as someone noted, Reynolds likes mysteries). While not as maniacally spectacular as other entries in this collection, this story is indeed a solid, competent example of the "sf mystery" sub-genre, much better than similar (and rather more famous) stories by Isaac Asimov.

The plot revolves around various mysteries inside a deserted human colony (of a period before events in "Revelation Space" novels, approximately around the same time as "The Great Wall of Mars"). Other reviewers noted that "The Great Wall of Mars" and "Glacial" are best read after "Revelation Space" and before "Redemption Ark", as they give a gripping account of Clavain's early years.
(review by Avi Abrams)


Also in June, 2001:

Andy Duncan
"The Chief Designer"
© IASFM, Jun 2001
The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories, 2012
--novella : 2002 Hugo
--winner : 2002 Sturgeon W
--novella : 2002 Locus /3
--short fiction : 2002 SE SF Award W
--novella : 2002 Asimov's Reader Poll /4
--novella : 2003 Nebula

--/ fourth place sf story
--/ style award
--/ emotion award

A lovely paen to the sheer idea of "relentless space exploration" - and to famous Russian rocket designer Sergei Korolev (who sent off Yury Gagarin into space). Here is a quote from an excellent review by Norman Spinrad (IASFM, March 2002) that illuminates the heart of the story, while shedding light on some interesting qualities of a Russian soul:

"...From my own occasional personal contact with cosmonauts and with Russians and Russia in general, there is something in the Russian soul that allows them to be unashamed and unabashed romantics. I'm no expert, but somehow I doubt that there is an exact translation in Russian for “corny.”

Perhaps this up-front and unapologetic romanticism is also what attracts the culture to ideologies, from pre-revolutionary Pan-Slavism to Marxist utopianism, and now, with its demise, to the renaissance of the always nationalistic Russian Orthodox Church.

Russia, it seems, abhors an ideological vacuum... and it's not that far from the visionary idealism that is the more sophisticated and complexly adult version of the gosh-wow sense of wonder that drew generations of kids to those simple-minded SF pulps.

From the very beginning, indeed from before the beginning, going back to Tsiolkovski's nineteenth century speculations, the true goal of the Russian space program — of the engineers and cosmonauts and of its guiding light Korolov, if not all of the bureaucrats and politicians above them — was the exploration of the solar system and beyond by humans, the expansion of the species out into the great wide universal yonder.


As a famous jazz musician once said in a somewhat different context, if you have to ask, you're never gonna get it."
--Norman Spinrad, 2012

(art copyright: John Berkey)


Return to the Wonder Timeline

Click to go to "Dark Roasted Blend" site



Post a Comment

<< Home


Collecting Pulp Magazines

Ephemera Interview with Avi Abrams

Enchanting Victorian Fairy Tale Art

"Then world behind and home ahead..."

Exceptional British Scifi Artwork from the 1950s

Space Pulp Art by Ron Turner and other British artists

Pulp Pleasures: Eando Binder

Great space adventure fiction from the 1930s
"Where Eternity Ends" and other rare gems

Epic Fantasy: the Start of the Journey

Part 2 of our "Best Classic Fantasy" series
incl. works by Henry Kuttner, Tolkien, etc.

Strange Shadows: Best Classic Fantasy

Fantasy "glitches in the matrix",
...lovely baroque magical lands, and more

Classic Cyberpunk SF Novels: Reviews

Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, K. W. Jeter, et al
(awesome must-reads)

10 Possible Sources of "Avatar" in Classic Science Fiction

Going beyond the obvious "Dances with Smurfs"...
(many stories worth reading)

"Steampunk" Anthology: Full Review

some truly crazed stories in there...
(plus artwork by John Coulthart)

"Dune", Plus Often-Neglected
Other Novels by Frank Herbert

"Dune", plus some overlooked gems:
"The Santaroga Barrier" and "The Green Brain"

Universe at Play:
Two Must-Read Novels of the Fantastic

"The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon...
and David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas"

Two of the Most Entertaining SF Novels from the 1980s

"Vacuum Flowers" by Michael Swanwick...
and Tim Power's "The Anubis Gates", of course!

"The Body Snatchers" and Other Alien Pods

Fiction by Jack Finney, Vance, Simak and Bloch
mind impostors and emotion imitators

Exploring the Noir and the Grotesque

Jack O'Connell "The Resurrectionist"
and other newest examples of the bizarre

Overpopulation, Sex and Sensibility

Robert Silverberg's "The World Inside"
and other classic sf blasts

H. P. Lovecraft "At the Mountains of Madness"

and other masterpieces of terror
including original illustrations

"Constellations", edited by Peter Crowther

original anthology, 2005
full review: mind-bending stories

The Ultimate Guide to New Writers of SF&F

more than 2,000 writers, 1990-2009
Ratings, awards, web links

The Surreal Office

"The Situation", "The Cookie Monster"
Weird fiction by Jeff VanderMeer and Vernor Vinge

Mind-shattering Novels of Philip K. Dick

"UBIK", "Now Wait for Last Year", etc.

Theodore Sturgeon's "More Than Human"

There’s a problem with this new gestalt being: needs a conscience.

Jack Williamson's "Legion of Space" Series

Classic Space Opera
The ultimate weapon, controlled by a gorgeous woman

Astounding Stories, August 1934

Jack Williamson, Nat Schachner, "Doc" Smith
Epic space opera gems and horror surprises

Rare Pulp SF&F, Issue 3

Leigh Brackett, Fritz Leiber, Vic Phillips
Rediscovered gems of wonder & adventure

William Gibson's Novels

"Pattern Recognition", "Neuromancer"
A Fractured Delight...

Alfred Bester "The Computer Connection"

"Bester was the mountain, all the rest of us..."
Pyrokinetic writing in one neat package

Two Novels by Samuel R. Delany

"Nova" and "Babel-17"
New Wave Milestones, and then some.

Theodore Sturgeon's "The Cosmic Rape"

(and more reviews of his fiction)
Classic SF at its best and most humane

Travel Distant Worlds!

Vintage Space Travel Posters, and more.
Part 3 of Pulp Sf art series...

Alastair Reynolds' Epic Novels

"Chasm City" and "Revelation Space"
And it's only the beginning...

Rare Fantasy Gems by C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner

Hidden Gems of Pulp Fiction
When two star writers become husband and wife

Grand Old Times... in the Future

Overview of Pulp Art
A Loudly Lurid Universe of Sci-Fi Illustration

Exclusive: Interview with Nancy Kress

From High Fantasy to Hard Science Fiction
A Spectrum of Wonder

Jack Vance

"To Live Forever"
and other Vance extravaganzas

Alastair Reynolds

"Pushing Ice"
Cosmological "noir" chase across space

Charles Stross

"Missile Gap"
Mind-bending Cold War world-building

Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 2

Rare stories from the "Age of Wonder"
incl. David Keller, Horace Gold etc.

Ultra-Rare Serials from "Fantasy Magazine"

"Cosmos" + "Challenge From Beyond"
incredible line-up of writers

Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 1

Neat & Rare Stories
incl. the mad rally story "The Racer"

Astounding Stories, June 1935

Full Issue Review
incl. Gallun, Schachner, Campbell

Astounding Stories, May 1941

Full Issue Review
incl. Heinlein, Asimov, Eric Frank Russell

Horace Gold; P. Schuyler Miller

"Apocalyptic Blockbusters"
"Inflexure" and "Spawn": guilty pleasure

Interview with John C. Wright

Plus his advice to new writers
Adventures in Space & Magic

Frank Belknap Long

"The Horror from the Hills"
Great Lovecraftian Weird Novella

Interview with Jeff VanderMeer

Plus his Recommended Reading List
A Triumph of the Bizarre

Alastair Reynolds, Part 2

More "Galactic North" Stories
A Mixture of Hard Sf, James Bond & Jaws...

Alastair Reynolds Review

"Galactic North"
staring down infinity...

Most Shocking Article

"Holey Fools" by M. Christian
Warning: Gross Subject Matter

Alfred Bester Review

"The Stars My Destination"
"...nail it to the Retro Hugo voting board..."

Larry Niven Review

"Neutron Star"
"better get GP alien ship hull"

Poul Anderson Review

"Ensign Flandry"
"or how to start a sub-genre..."

Thomas M. Disch Review

"The Squirrel Cage"
"...seriously mind-bending stuff..."

Henry Kuttner Review

"Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (The Last Mimzy)
"...great storyline for a pretty average movie..."

Robert A. Heinlein Review

"The Moon is the Harsh Mistress"
" caused a tooth ache, and put my brain on freeze..."

Frank Herbert Review

"Destination: Void"
"...a layered cake of ideas and a scientific extrapolation on a genius level..."

Harlan Ellison Review

"The Abnormals"
"...editors slapped the most outrageous titles on his stories..."

James White Review

"All Judgement Fled"
"...the tension is palpable, soon to grow almost unbearable..."

Grand Adventure Strikes Again

Space Opera Article, by Avi Abrams
Based on Arthur Clarke's "Against the Fall of Night"

William Gibson Review

"Burning Chrome"
"...sheer pyrotechnics and exuberance of style..."

Ace Double: Murray Leinster

"The Pirates of Ersatz /The Mutant Weapon"
"...the characters might as well be cats or hamsters..."

Astounding Stories, May 1935

Pulp SF Magazine Review
with many original illustrations

Also read recent posts:
Author's Pen Names - Most Complete List Ever
The Wonder Timeline: SF&F Restrospective
Space Adventure Article



"SF&F Reading Experience" is part of "Dark Roasted Blend / Thrilling Wonder" family of sites. We try to highlight the most entertaining and rewarding science fiction and fantasy, with emphasis on memorable reader experience, not necessarily general acceptance by the critics. Have fun, and delve into our extensive ratings and reviews!

Most reviews are written by Avi Abrams, unless otherwise noted. Reviews also appear on our unique historical retrospective page Wonder Timeline of Science Fiction. Feel free to submit your own review, if a particular story is not listed here.

All major OFFICIAL AWARDS are highlighted in BLUE
("winner" has a letter "W" by it, otherwise it is a runner-up only)

Our PERSONAL AWARDS (ratings) are highlighted in RED and PURPLE:
--/ first place :
--/ second place :
--/ third place :

--/ fourth place :

--/ cool : (equal to fifth place)

These awards are given in the following categories:
- novel :
- series :
- novella :
- story :
- collection :

Also, there are our personal STYLE / GENRE SPECIFIC AWARDS. These reflect the story's content and the lasting impression on the reader:

--/ wonder award
sense-of-wonder, "visual intensity" and inventiveness

--/ idea award
originality of idea / concept

--/ adventure award
exhilarating plot, excitement / action

--/ style award
outstanding literary qualities, inimitable style

--/ romance award
intense and beautiful love / relationships

--/ humour award
funny and cool

--/ emotion award
touching, lasting impression, sensitivity

--/ shock value
altogether wild

--/ awesome scale
mind-boggling; further enhances sense-of-wonder

--/ rare find
very hard to locate, mostly from old pulps, never reprinted, etc.

Again, please feel free to leave your own review or comment under every writer's entry; also recommend us other stories you liked.