The 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
I 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
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 . 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
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
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
My 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.)
My review of Simon Morden’s The Curve of the Earth is now online at Arcfinity.
I quite enjoyed the first three novels, but this was a bit disappointing – though I’m still hoping the later volumes could bring a return to form and I still want to find out what Morden has in store for Samuil Petrovich.
But, hey, don’t let me spoil your “fun”. Go on over and read the full thing, and maybe stay and read some of the other things on that lovely website.
So with Solaris Rising 2 being released tomorrow, the people at Solaris asked the anthology’s authors (you can read my effort, “The First Dance”, in those pages along with some stories that are really, really good) to write something about our favourite short stories.
I couldn’t pick one.
So instead I talked a bit about the first science fiction short story that lodged itself firmly in my memory and that had a huge effect on the way I thought about the world, “The Star” by Arthur C Clarke.
You can read what I wrote by clicking here. And, by poking around a bit, you can read what the other contributors picked.
From issue 59 of Focus the fourth of my pieces of flash fiction “inspired” by the common writing errors and bad habits catalogued in The Turkey City Lexicon. This time, it’s all about pressing buttons with clichés.
Words used to evoke a cheap emotional response without engaging the intellect or the critical faculties. Commonly found in story titles, they include such bits of bogus lyricism as “star,” “dance,” “dream,” “song,” “tears” and “poet,” clichés calculated to render the SF audience misty-eyed and tender-hearted.
A Song to the Sea of Tears
The tears were warm on Alicia’s silken cheek. The movement of the ocean stirred a susurration, sea against shingle, that seemed to grow more insistent as she listened. Seagulls screamed, wheeled beneath fast-moving clouds, and turned inland. Alicia saw none of this.
Her true love was lost.
Another publication announcement – let’s us hope this doesn’t start happening too often, I’m sure we’d all get terribly bored. This time it’s for a piece of non-fiction, my review/rant on Stina Leicht’s first two Fey and the Fallen books has been selected for Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary.
As is often the case, I find myself in the kind of company in which I have the vague sense that I’m the idiot boy in the corner that everyone is patting on the head and congratulating for only spilling a little of his weak lemon drink down the front of his shirt. I’m sure the Germans have a word for that…
Despite all this, I think this is book is a great idea and I’d have been buying it even if my essay wasn’t in there. I am, therefore, especially chuffed to have a piece included, and I’m looking forward to seeing which the other pieces that the editors, Jared Shurin and Justin Landon, have selected. And I’m already looking forward to the 2013 edition.