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2000 - Year in SF&F: Reviews



THE WONDER TIMELINE: SF&F RETROSPECTIVE
Read other issues here

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(left image: space art by A. Sokolov, Russia, 1970s)


Alastair Reynolds
"Revelation Space" (nv)

(Revelation Space series: 1)
© 2000, Gollancz / Ace
--shortlist : 2001 Clarke
--first novel : 2001 Locus Award /2
--sf novel : 2001 Locus Award /22
--novel : 2001 British SF Award

--/ FIRST place sf series
--/ second place space sf novel
DRB top lists
--/ adventure award
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ awesome scale


The vistas here are wide and gorgeous, the ending is pure joy, the canvas is colorful and satisfying. This novel starts in intriguing, if somewhat slow-paced way, showing us an archaeological dig on the other planet - but once we learn what kind of immensity this particular archaeological dig uncovers, the action picks up speed and the marvelous adventure gets underway. Various planetary environments are introduced and a weirdly twisted space-faring cyber-culture is described, getting a different treatment from Bruce Sterling's similar "Schismatrix" series. Lack of the hyperdrive - instantaneous FTL travel - in "Revelation Space" universe makes for a truly mind-boggling contemplation of stellar distances and unforgiving time spans, and it also introduces certain harshness in how the characters would live and function... faced with huge gaps of traveling through the void. Thus, the full flavor of "Generation Ship" epics from classic 1940s science fiction stories can be felt once again (this time mixed with edgy cyberpunk philosophies). In a word: this novel is a trip.

And it makes sense, too, when you combine it with imaginary sensory experiences. One can almost see oneself boarding a colossal and beautiful spaceship, armed to the brim with deadly weapons (capable of destroying whole star systems), battling the ghosts, mysteries and conspiracies along the way and arriving at the weirdest destination possible (the novel does end with a bang, I'm not going to spoil it for you). This is a grand space adventure that will stay with you for years, an ice-cold thrilling vehicle... And yet, this is my only complaint: that the novel feels cold to the heart like a surgical instrument, devoid of any particular warmth. One might argue that the detached tone of the narrative perfectly fits the immensity of space and the life/death decisions that characters will face there. Think of it as an epic story machine, covered in chrome, with tangled spikes of brooding menace sticking out here and there - launched upon a grand voyage with not much thought given to side sentiments (though you'd wish it lasted longer than the 500 pages alotted to it).

There are plenty of other influences here: certainly Iain M. Banks, William Gibson, even early Heinlein (seen in the epic sweep of its story) - and also a striking similarity to Larry Niven's stories in its mind-bending finale. Yes, it could have been paced more engagingly, with fewer chunks of exposition, but the reader knows he is in competent hands: Alastair Reynolds is capable of delivering hard science and plot twists with equal flamboyance.

As a side note, I find it hard to forget the mental image of a vast weapons bay inside the Ultra's spaceship (which comes complete with a ghost captain, by the way), where the dread star-destroying guns darkly loom and sleep... waiting for a senseless command to wake them. You can tell, this is the stuff the best classic space operas are made of, stuff that never gets out-of-date. Awe-inspiring.
(review by Avi Abrams)

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(original unknown)

Alastair Reynolds
"Great Wall of Mars"

(Revelation Space series)
(prequel to "Glacial")
© 2000, Spectrum SF #1
--novella : 2001 Locus Award /14
--/ fourth place space sf novella
--/ adventure award
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award



This is something very epic, as though written by Robert A. Heinlein in his Golden Period, but with a new gleam and shine; plus it has a huge dose of Bruce Sterling's Shaper/Mechanist ideas thrown into it for good measure.

Exciting action and thrilling visuals are a given, as we have come to expect from Alastair Reynolds. This novella is the starting point for the whole "Revelation Space" series, so its scale is still pretty small, confined only to the Solar System, but the initial conflict between Conjoiners/Demarchists (or are they Shapers/Mechanists ??) is already revealed in a very concise manner, introducing all the key characters (Clavain, Galiana, Remontoire...) - and starting them on a four-novel, thousand-page odyssey. Isn't it a great feeling, when you can gaze on a whole bookshelf of "Revelation Space" novels and know that even if you spend your whole time reading Reynolds, there is always going to be some more stuff to read?

The embattled walled City of Mars also reminded me of the Venusian City from Henry Kuttner's "Fury" series - with similar subdued militaristic drive and laconic writing. Good taste, good reading times - cheers, let's read some more!
(review by Avi Abrams)

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Ted Chiang
"Seventy-Two Letters"
© Vanishing Acts, ed. E. Datlow, 2000
Stories Of Your Life And Others, 2002
--novella : 2001 Hugo
--novella : 2001 World Fantasy
--shortlist : 2001 Sturgeon
--novella : 2001 Locus /4
--short form : 2001 Sidewise W
--foreign short story : 2001 Hayakawa W
--translated short story : 2002 Seiun W

--/ third place sf story
--/ idea award
--/ wonder award
--/ style award


I found this story a bit long and tedious, but these are probably the only faults in what turned out to be intriguing and entirely unique tale. The concept here is that Names (words) are truly powerful tools capable of creating or modifying reality – this is an important idea in ancient Hebrew culture, starting from Adam, who named (defined, co-created) all the animals in the Garden of Eden. In this story we have some ultimate "incantations" helping robots to achieve their peak performance, but of course, meddling with these building blocks of the Universe leads to the deeply disturbing results. If you remember, a similar idea was the basis for Arthur Clarke's "Nine Billion Names of God", but Chiang gives it a highly sophisticated and learned makeover, creating another classic tale from the Genesis-old spiritual know-how.

Very impressive mixture of high-flight science fiction and meta-physical and meta-spiritual conjecture, which is really hard to do without overdoing it... but Chiang succeeds spectacularly (and garners a plethora of awards in the process).

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Joe R. Lansdale
"The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down: A Dime Novel"

© 2000, The Long Ones
Mad Dog Summer and Other Stories, 2004
--/ fourth place f novella
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ shock value

"Dime Novel" it very well may be, but if it had appeared for sale some hundred years ago (unrated and unabridged), it could've caused a few fatalities among unprepared Victorian readers, through sheer shock and utter, disgusted disbelief. It is an entirely wicked novella, and is meant to be just that. I daresay it's even more offensive than Lansdale's "Zeppelins West" - but for all that hype and coarse sensationalism, it is a gorgeous example of no-holds-barred Wild West Steampunk Blockbuster. It is a blast, like many, many works of Joe R. Lansdale in his screwed-up version of the Wild West (think "cow-punk" plus a few "Saw" movies)

It is one heck of a ride, and it has everything a dime novel should have - mystery, wonder, adventure and crazed horror mixed with deeply dark atmosphere. You've been warned, but by all means, if you just watched, say, "Crank 2: High Voltage" and came out unaffected, then you'll see no problem with this novella either.

This sort of ferocious entertainment in literature reminds me of some wild and crazed Clark Ashton Smith stories in the 1930s "Weird Tales" pulp.

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