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2006 - Year in SF&F: Reviews



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

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(left image: art copyright: John Berkey)

Alastair Reynolds
"Weather"

(Revelation Space series)
© Galactic North, 2006
--/ third place space sf story
--/ adventure award
--/ wonder award
--/ awesome scale


This is as straight-forward story as you can get: a simple space piracy potboiler, with classic set pieces and predictable special effects. None of the above constitutes a bad thing, though. Space piracy stories historically have been frowned upon by all kinds of critics, dismissed en masse as juvenile and unoriginal. Well, what can we say? other than: pirates are supposed to have a bad rap, unless they are of the kind that "don't do anything".

More often, though, pirates and their lifestyle represent the most romantic environment that a writer can possibly come up with. Problem is, NONE of the great space piracy stories were properly reprinted, or marketed, and so they are virtually unknown as a result. Have you read (or even heard about) Edwin K. Sloat's "Beyond the Planetoids" (1932)? Or Edmond Hamilton's "The Three Planeteers"? I bet you have not... but now you can at least read this little "potboiler" to get a good taste of what "piracy of the spaceways" adventure is all about.

A perfectly simple storyline is all that is needed here: bravery, thrilling battles, testing of the corsair's wits and space engines, with an added exotic (though not really romantic) interest and a geeky fascination with huge unfathomable space drives - all very straight-forward and cute. Very pleasurable narrative from a writer who's not afraid to enter forbidden (even if deemed to be "cheesy") territories and to bring out cool cinematic adventures.
(review by Avi Abrams)



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Charles Stross
"Missile Gap"
© Subterranean Press, 2006
--novella : 2007 Locus Award
--/ third place time sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award: Cold War exploration in an infinite world.
--/ awesome scale

There is a deep primal fear in all of us - of a totalitarian state, waging perpetual inhuman war. We've seen other great treatments of this theme, such as the third part "Cannon Fodder" of the "Memories" anime masterpiece, various dark dystopias of brothers Arkady & Boris Strugatski, and Cold War paranoias of Phillip K. Dick. It has become a marketable fictional environment, almost a sub-genre. Make our skin crawl with subliminal intimations of a "low-flying heavy bomber" kind, or invoke our deeply-ingrained dread of totalitarian shabby lifestyle - and we are hooked to consume another slice of commercialized paranoia. In this case, though, the writer is Stross (in his cool-hat mode), so we are bound to expect some surprises. And we are not disappointed. Stross goes beyond simple Cold War extrapolation into a deep, dark and cosmologically mysterious territory.


(one of the concept drawings for "Cannon Fodder")

Even though I classified "Missile Gap" as a "time-themed" novella, technically it's not about time-travel, or alternate histories. The concept is significantly more twisted, almost as wild as "The Inverted World" by Christopher Priest - a bizarre piece of world-building that cries out to be animated by Hayao Miyazaki. The story is far from complete, however, and the novella is just too short to give justice to Stross' brave world-building: it reads like a rough script, a promotional piece for some movie producer, it lacks depth, emotional and character muscle, perhaps it even lacks SOUL. As such, it might've been relegated to the comic or manga pile, but still... still... the idea of that story speaks to me on so many levels that all other shortcomings are forgotten. Besides, as someone noted in the comments on Stross' site: "No! No sequels! A sequel implies a future, and a future implies hope, and hope is not consistent with the Missile Gap message."

"It's 1976 again. Abba are on the charts, the Cold War is in full swing β€” and the Earth is flat. It’s been flat ever since the eve of the Cuban war of 1962; and the constellations overhead are all wrong. Beyond the Boreal ocean, strange new continents loom above tropical seas, offering a new start to colonists like newly-weds Maddy and Bob, and the hope of further glory to explorers like ex-cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin: but nobody knows why they exist, and outside the circle of exploration the universe is inexplicably warped."

I am surprised that this mind-trip did not win any major awards the moment critics sunk their teeth into it. It's somehow unthinkable that any work of Stross or Gibson would languish without awards. I mean they must mint these awards in advance with "Charles Stross" already engraved on them. (OK, it's just wishful thinking, the Universe can not be that spontaneously cool, yet). Get that book just for the pleasure of reading how the first cosmonaut Yury Gagarin sets to explore the infinite ocean (every planet in the Universe turned flat, you see) inside a giant "ekranoplan" ground-effect vehicle. (a larger version of this)

review: 15-Jan-08 (read in 2007)
Read more reviews for this writer

You can also read the whole novella online here

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Will Elliott
"The Pilo Family Circus" (nv)

© 2006, Allen & Unwin
--horror novel : 2007 Aurealis W (tie)
--novel : 2007 Ditmar W
--novel : 2007 Int. Horror Guild


Clowns, madness and mayhem - but we saw all this in the "Dark Knight" already, didn't we? I've had enough psychotic clowns rammed down my throat this year, thank you. Critics are quite happy about this book - "an entertaining mixture of Palahnuik and David Lynch" - but I found out that I am allergic to demonic clowns and black comedy of this sort is largely lost on me (too obvious?).

In Australia this book co-won the Aurealis for best horror, won the Golden Aurealis for best novel, the Australian Shadows Award, the Ditmar, the ABC fiction award and the Sydney Morning Herald 'Best Young Novelist of the Year' Award, was also short-listed for the 2007 International Horror Guild Award - the consensus is overwhelmingly positive, even though the clowns are intensely gaudy and disturbing, and there is no escaping them.

"Jamie is plunged into the horrific alternate universe that is the centuries-old Pilo Family Circus, a borderline world between hell and earth from which humankind's greatest tragedies have been perpetrated. Yet in this place peopled by the gruesome, grotesque and monstrous, where violence and savagery are the norm, Jamie finds that his worst enemy is himself-for when he applies the white face paint, he is transformed into JJ, the most vicious clown of all. And JJ wants Jamie dead...."

==============================================



ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE, JUNE 2006
- Read the full story-by-story review! Click here


James Patrick Kelly
"The Leila Torn Show"

© IASFM, Jun 2006
--/ cool media sf story
--/ idea award: sentient TV shows

Hmm... the future of show-business is "TV shows with personalities of their own", who bargain with actors and higher powers for better plot lines and ratings - I must admit it is an entirely possible development, as the computer simulated realities might (just might) develop their own artificial intelligences and character types, and set out to conquer virtual (and real) worlds. One of the most original ideas to come by in a long while, but overall impression from this story is marred by an ambitious and "over-the-top" writing.
review: 23-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Jack Skillingstead
"Life on the Preservation"

© IASFM, Jun 2006
--/ cool time sf story

One of the few survivors of post-apocalyptic world is sent on a mission to destroy Seattle, which is nicely preserved in the past, but can not quite bring herself to do it, tasting sublime pleasures of the Pacific Northwest, San Juan Islands and overall ambience of the "Emerald City". I would totally agree with her, as Seattle area is one of my most favorite places to visit. Joking aside, I thought the story is mediocre; it did not do anything for me.
review: 23-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Scott William Carter
"The Tiger in the Garden"

© IASFM, Jun 2006
--/ cool sf story

"A constable on a poor, out-of-the-way planet, is expecting a government Agent, an alien with unpleasant appearance and even worse personality. He is there to apprehend a terrorist..." Well, this story left me cold.
review: 23-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Matthew Johnson
"The Ninth Part of Desire"

© IASFM, Jun 2006
--/ cool sf story

This is "Astounding / Analog" idea-type story, which tells about simulating emotions by chemical and computer means.
review: 23-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Ian Creasey
"The Edge of the Map"

© IASFM, Jun 2006
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award

In a world overrun with computerized nano-cameras, recording the whole sum of Earth events for the benefit of blogging crowds and news industry, only ONE place has been left out - not covered by the cameras. As you might expect, soon all mysterious and fantasy elements of our world are taking refuge there, and on top of that, the whole spot (called "The Weird") disappears with an act of observation, like a quantum entity governed by "uncertainty principle". I loved this idea - one could make a glorious fantasy adventure out of it; but it gets under-developed and unexciting treatment in this story. It's really too bad. Michael Swanwick should collaborate on this idea with his stylistic flair, and a ghost of Henry Kuttner should supply an exciting plot.
review: 23-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Robert Reed
"Eight Episodes"

© IASFM, Jun 2006
--/ cool sf story

A curious story, written as a critic's evaluation of little-known TV series, which lasted only eight episodes - but the last episode reveals that the series is a message from an "almost-microscopic" alien spaceship to humankind. There is also some discussion about validity of exploring other worlds, and rarity of intelligent life in the Universe. Overall, this story had a minimal effect on me, which is surprising, considering Robert Reed's standards.
review: 23-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Rudy Rucker
"Chu and the Nants"

© IASFM, Jun 2006
--/ third place apocalyptic sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ awesome scale

Profoundly wild story, starting in subdued "trans-real" (read Dick' paranoidal) mode, and growing into one of the most visually mind-blowing stories in years. It even includes a current political commentary (kind of a farce, taking "right-wing" stereotypes to the extreme) - the story swims in a black humour like a sugared plum in a Black Russian cocktail, very stylish and ripe with all kinds of possibilities. Take this: nanobots are disassembling Mars into super- giga- computer (while Earth's dumb government is hoping to retain control over it when it's finished and make it to broadcast giant (orbit-wide) ads across the sky, among other things.) The orbit-sized computer soon stops doing that and transforms into a higher being, hungering for more real-estate, namely Earth. Splendid nano-cataclysm ensues, with haunting images of disintegrating reality - saved by an idiot-savant and an unknown variable of a character. This story could have easily been written by Philip K. Dick himself, I enjoyed it tremendously.
review: 23-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Beth Bernobich
"A Flight of Numbers Fantastique Strange"

© IASFM, Jun 2006
--/ fourth place time sf novella
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award

Very original novella, with wildly imaginative premise (numbers have a certain characteristics beyond "just mathematics", prime numbers especially approach personality-like complexity and are able to affect the flow of alternative time streams - an idea similar to numerology, but combined with speculation on time/space fabric' properties). An interesting Victorian background, lyrical prose and a deceptively quiet mystery plot add to reader's enjoyment of this stand-out and truly original SF story in recent years.
review: 23-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Overall strong issue, with emphasis on multi-media and mathematics. Good variety, and of course an unexpected "nutty" tale of Rudy Rucker which (predictably) made my day.


(image credit: AlphaKX, Deviantart.com)

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