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2004 - Year in SF&F: Reviews



THE WONDER TIMELINE: SF&F RETROSPECTIVE
2004: October

Read other issues here

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Neal Asher
"Cowl" (nv)
© 2004, Tor Books
--novel: 2005 British SF Award
--/ cool sf novel
--/ wonder award

Those of you who are interested in what this novel is all about, I refer to the multitude of reviews on the web ("... hunting throughout time and the alternates, Cowl’s pet, the torbeast, grows vast and dangerous. It sheds its scales where its master orders. They are tors – organic time machines to bring human samples to Cowl. And the beast feeds…" You get the idea). Or those who want to know quickly if they should read it, the answer is "yes". Now for the fun part: how should I describe the experience of reading Asher? A muddy, confused, drunk frog trying to figure out the buttons on super-hyper-electronic-accelerator-weapon, while croaking alternative punk tunes with a cigarette hanging from a corner of it's... mouth? or muzzle? Suddenly a cellphone rings, the frog drops the weapon in water (causing spontaneous extinction of some species and an eternal shell-shock to the others). As the frog finds itself drowning, the plot of a new Asher novel (in all of it's inventive and violent glory) flashes before its eyes, and it dies peacefully, glad it had an enlightening experience. If none of this makes sense, don't worry - it was not intended to. Just like all Asher novels, this one is intended to be consumed fast, furious and not very clear on the plot. Personally, I could only get through a third of the book, then things just got incomprehensible, though "grungy" enough to maintain the said frog's curiousity.
review: 10-Aug-06 (read in 2005)


Art by Perihelio (Click to enlarge)

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David Mitchell
"Cloud Atlas" (nv)

© 2004, Hodder & Stoughton / Random House
--novel : 2004 Nebula r-up
--novel : 2005 Arthur Clarke Award r-up
--Locus Poll Award, Best SF Novel (Place: 10)
--/ second place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ style award
--/ emotion award
--/ awesome scale

A novel of this scope and magnitude cannot be read and reviewed as a piece of literature, but rather as a piece of the Universe (think of some rough-hewn blocks of reality, unprocessed), with time, higher powers, human misery and angelic beauty intertwined into one bewildering whole - possible to untangle only by degrees, and not always to one's complete satisfaction. But such incompleteness, perhaps, is part of the book's charm. It does not really have a beginning or end, and could've been written on a far bigger scale, eventually swallowing all the space available in all the world's libraries.

In other words, dear reader, you will be entertained on a highly subliminal level - the language, the wordplay will reach deep inside your soul, the virtuoso (almost Mandelbrodt-like in its complexity) plot will thread your heart though many glorious loops, and the unifying idea behind the book - the Cloud Atlas itself - will be unveiled only in the act of "flipping the proverbial rug" upside-down and gazing on the revealed celestial pattern (instead of random tangle of knots underneath).

This book is about the arrow of human destiny pointed at the vague but glorious destination; it is about victory over time and entropy (to a certain degree); it is about pre-meditated blessings and casual cataclysms; it is a tapestry woven from only the finest literary and science-fictional ingredients. Something that Sir Arthur Clarke would dream up in his sleep but be powerless to remember in the morning. A package and a marvel to be forever entrenched in your imagination. A Cloud Atlas, indeed.

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Howard Waldrop
"The Wolf-man of Alcatraz"
© Sci Fiction, Oct 2004
--short fiction : 2004 British SF
--short story : 2005 Locus Poll

--/ cool f story

Another werewolf story? Yawn... Another Howard Waldrop story? Well, let me get out a cigar and let's discuss it at length, gentlemen. His stories are an acquired taste, but they are truly "his own" creations, much like R. A. Lafferty stories are. As Chris Barnes puts it: "That solidity doesn't lie just in the voice of the story, but in the details. The cell door isn't just a door, it's a Diebold vault door with a chrome-steel lock. The wolf-man, Bob Howlin (great name!), doesn’t just chew gum, he chews Beeman's Black Jack. Howlin's fascination with lunar astronomy is a masterful touch, and the reference to 17th Century fantasies about lunar voyagers is pure Waldrop. As is the unexpected and poignant ending." Link to story: here
review: 9-Oct-06 (read in 2004)

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Kim Newman
"Soho Golem"
(Jeperson series)
© Sci Fiction, Oct 2004
--novella: 2005 World Fantasy Award
--/ cool f novella

Like a modern-day Michael Moorcock extravaganza, spiced up with various popular culture references, and wrapped up into a "devil-may-care" narrative not unlike the Cornelius Chronicles on steroids... or on Hollywood juice... or simply on a DJ's stash of energy-drinks. Like a loud disco night in an era of sophisticated "Electric Light Orchestra" arrangements, this novella stands out in a lurid, brash way, with curiously slurred dialogue and even a touch of "Clockwork Orange-wannabe" self-invented slang. It was nominated for World Fantasy Award, but did not do much for me except kept me wondering what the "noise" is all about. A Victorian steampunk mystery populated with tripping Hippies, time-warping Nazi demons, ancient spirits and dreadlocked Rasta zombies. Sounds like fun, but takes an effort to wade through.
review: 12-Oct-06 (read in 2005)

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Tom Piccirilli
"Ice On Heated Steel Script"
© Chiaroscuro # 19, 2004
--/ fourth place dark f story
--/ shock value
--/ rare find


Tom Piccirilli went on to win bigger battles in the literary world (he is a best-selling novelist right now), leaving behind this wretched, miserable, and yet strangely adorable hunchback of a tale, almost like a "your favorite idiot you love to hate": a nuclear tooth-paste to pollute your literary sensibilities, to warn you what to sink your teeth into and what to avoid. Certainly, like ungainly swamp-roots poetry, this lunatic tale shimmers with unexpected brilliance in the murky waters, revealing nuggets of style, however well concealed by bizarre violence. Recommended.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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EXPLANATION OF THE RATING SYSTEM:

"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)

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--/ cool : (equal to fifth place)
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These awards are given in the following categories:
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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

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