REVIEW: THE ROOK BY DANIEL O’MALLEY

The_RookDaniel O’Malley’s first novel, The Rook, won the 2012 Aurealis Award for best SF Novel published by an Australian and comes laden with praise from writers like Charlaine Harris, Charles Yu and Lev Grossman. I found it hard to understand why.

The Rook is the story of Myfanwy Thomas, holder of the eponymous title in the secret Checquy – an ancient agency of the British government that rolls up the roles of GCHQ, the SAS, MI5, MI6 and more and is tasked with the job of clobbering anything supernatural that threatens the interests of the British state. The story begins as Myfanwy comes to her senses in an unnamed London park. She has no memories. Her only clue about who she is and what has happened comes in the form of a letter in her pocket – written by herself. Continue reading

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SHORT FORM DRAMATIC PRESENTATION HUGO SUGGESTIONS

I have no interest in nominating anything for the Hugos, but people have been bemoaning the shortage of things they can nominate for the Short Form Dramatic Presentation category outside the usual television episodes. I like short movies, and think it’d be nice to see more of them recognised, so here are some short movies you could consider. I haven’t checked the eligibility but they’re all dated 2013 and all between 8-15 minutes long.

And, if you’re not interested in the Hugos either, hey, they’re still good little movies.

West of the Moon
Based loosely, apparently, on interviews with children about their dreams. This is kind of lovely, fantastic and peculiar. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/05/06/west-of-the-moon/

 Record/Play
Time travel. It’s a familiar idea – how to change the past – but it’s very nicely done and affecting. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/10/08/recordplay/

C: 299,792 km/s
A Kickstarted movie, and a really enjoyable one. Old-fashioned in style and production (complete with Sagan-ish inserts) it’s a pacy space story done well. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/01/29/c-299792-kms/

Dr Easy
A robot doctor is sent into a siege situation. A Film4/Warp film with very high production values and Tom Hollander from Rev. It ends a bit abruptly. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/06/21/dr-easy/

Expo
Unable to face the things she has lost and return home, a miner on the Moon makes a decision. A touch melodramatic and edging towards the sugary but nice. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/05/16/expo/

Other options: I liked Cargo better than anything in The Walking Dead (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/04/11/cargo/) but it’s touch obvious; A Little Bit Behind  (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/04/23/a-little-bit-behind/) is a funny Australian effort but it’s really just a sketch;  From the Future With Love (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/09/06/from-the-future-with-love/)  has near-future cops doing stuff – should have ended after the bit in the diner; Abe (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/10/30/abe-2/) frankly a bit unpleasant, effectively a robot slasher movie, but undeniably well made.

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REVIEW OF THE ECHO AT ARCFINITY AND OTHER STUFF

the-echo-by-james-smytheSo my grumpy review of James Smythe’s The Echo is now online at Arcfinity.

I’m not normally bothered by the science being wrong in fantastic fiction if it makes the story better – that’s normally true when the author has made a deliberate choice to warp or twist reality. What bothered me by this book (and it’s prequel) is my feeling that the scientific stuff that was wrong didn’t add to the story – indeed that it distracted from it – and that the author was obviously capable of not making these mistakes.

I note that one paragraph from the review got edited out, that’s fair enough, it was too long, but it explains why I think the wrong science matters in this particular case. Continue reading

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‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE THE BSFA NOMINATION DEADLINE…

Okay, so, if I wanted this to be any use to anyone I’d have done it weeks ago, but I didn’t and there was always just one more book to try and squeeze in… And if I wanted this to be remotely interesting to anyone, I’d probably have written a long explanation as to why some of these books didn’t make my nominations – I have long and tedious explanations for the absence of both The Adjacent and Ancillary Justice from my nominations – but I didn’t have time.

The deadline for the British Science Fiction Awards nominations is tomorrow. If you can but haven’t nominated your favourites: DO IT NOW!

If anyone cares, here’s what I’ve nominated for the BSFA Awards this year: Continue reading

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REVIEW: THE PEACOCK CLOAK BY CHRIS BECKETT

Peacock-Cloak-coverThe thing that I like best about Chris Beckett’s short stories in general, and this new collection, The Peacock Cloak, in particular is the rage that is bubbling under the surface and that occasionally erupts from the page.

Not all the stories grip you by the throat, “Atomic Truth”, the first in this collection, is a story in which a young woman reaches a moment of epiphany while brushing briefly against the life of a man with mental illness in a near future London. There’s little enough going on the surface, but underneath there’s a sense of something deeply wrong. Continue reading

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REVIEW: EXISTENCE BY DAVID BRIN

existence-brinI did not like David Brin’s Existence. It is a book so distressingly unpleasant that it left me wondering – and this is no exaggeration – whether I had had enough of the whole of science fiction. I suppose you might say it caused something of an Existential crisis.

Boiled down to its basics, Brin’s novel is simple enough. An astronaut finds an alien artefact that immediately begins to attempt to communicate with humanity. Once the first artefact is discovered it is soon clear that Earth, indeed the whole solar system, is infested with these crystals – all containing the personalities of many different alien ambassadors, all offering radically different advice to humanity and many intent on destroying every other crystal they can reach. The overall message, however, becomes obvious. The Fermi Paradox – the fact that the sky is not ringing with the sound of thousands of alien races – is a result of the fundamental fragility of advanced civilisation. They have failed to solve the problems and threats posed by growing complexity and we probably will too. Brin weaves this basic story through a bewildering variety of, sometimes only marginally, interconnected threads.

There are many, many things wrong with Existence. Continue reading

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THE ART OF POLITICAL MASTURBATION

Last night my Twitter feed filled, briefly, with closely cropped images of protestors in V for Vendetta/Guy Fawkes masks making some noise outside the Houses of Parliament and comments criticising the BBC for not covering what was, obviously, an epoch-making event 1. I made some snarky comment about the size of the demonstration and its meaning in the greater scheme of things and got told by one enthusiastic responder: Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Of course the BBC did cover the demonstration – but this was considered insufficient
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WHICH CULTURE? ROBERTS VERSUS FRANZEN… SORT OF

Adam Roberts has written a (typically) interesting blog post about the division between the “Booker culture” that favours formally complex and “clever, clever” writing and the popular arts that have set “the parameters of the Great Human Revolution of 1950-2020”. You need to read his post to get the full force of his argument but, simplifying, he argues that there are three great forces of change that dominate our era: technology, globalisation – particularly the way it encourages (or forces) people to interact with different cultures – and the extension of childhood deeper into adult life. His point is that literary fiction, of the kind that dominates the Booker shortlists, fails to deal convincingly with any of these forces. Continue reading

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BRITISH UNIONS ARE FIGHTING THE WRONG BATTLE, AGAIN

I’m a strong supporter of Labour’s links with trade unions and the work of unions in general. I’ve worked for two different unions (more than ten years, in total) and the first thing I do in a new workplace is dig out the details of the recognised trade union – not always an easy job – and sign up. I’m a long-term member of the NUJ (my professional union) but I’ve also been a member of Unison, GMB and Amicus amongst others over the years.

Unions play a vital role in society and ordinary people need stronger unions. We live in an era where power has swung dramatically in favour of employers: jobs are outsourced, wages are falling, employment rights have been undermined, the public sector – the final bastion of mass union membership – is being more than decimated. We are at precisely at the moment when unions should be at the forefront of a battle on behalf of working people.

But, for far too long, the union movement has been pointing in the wrong direction. The relationship with the Labour Party is important – crucial, even – but unions’ real political strength never came from the internal wrangling of Labour politics. Generations of general secretaries have obsessed over getting their way at Labour Party Conference or in the National Executive, but all the while the real source of their influence has been slipping through their fingers. Continue reading

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REVIEW OF STRANGE BODIES AT ARCFINITY

strange_bodiesMy review of Marcel Theroux’s new novel, Strange Bodies, is online now at Arcfinity.

When this arrived in the post I realised that I had actually read Theroux’s previous novel – the Clarke Award nominated Far North – but had absolutely no recollection of what it was about. I spotted it on the shelf, reread the first chapter and remembered none of it. It had made no impression on me whatsoever. That was worrying.

Further inspection of Strange Bodies revealed a blurb from John Gray, the philosopher-prince of miserablism, on the rear in which he claimed that this novel challenges “everything we believe about what it means to be human”. My heart sank further. How many terrible reviews of terrible novels have I read which praise the exploration of “what it means to be human”? What else are novels about? What would be the point of a novel that didn’t explore what it meant to be human?

So, bad first impressions. Did the novel live down to my expectations? There’s only one way to find out – read the review.

(I think I’ve started to write trailers for my own reviews… that’s worrying.)

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