Friday, January 28, 2005

 

40 other sf blogs

Jim Kelly has a (regular?) column in Asimov's SF magazine called "On the Net." The February column, "Breathing the Blogosphere," is at the magazine's web site. It comprises Jim's thoughts on blogging and a list of 40 recommended blogs. This one isn't among the 40; guess that Gaiman guy needs the publicity more...

Sunday, January 23, 2005

 

Flickry goodness


I've recently signed up to Flickr, and am liking it a lot. Here are some of the reasons why. I can share my own photos. It's free, at least for me, and for other light users. I can browse through photos that others have posted. Tags and groups are among the features that enable me to find stuff to my taste.

For example, here's a photo called "Bind,", by lil. I found it via the "Orangy goodness" group. Those reading this blog at its home, rather than via an aggregator, might have been able to guess that orange is one of my favorite colours. Normal reading-related service will resume soon. But snow-shovelling will have to resume even sooner...
 

Sunday snow


Snow, with cars and stairs
Originally uploaded by AndWat.
This is what Boston (and much of the northeast USA, apparently) looks like today. And it's still snowing!

Friday, January 21, 2005

 

Friday update

I am still reading The Golem's Eye, and enjoying it, although it doesn't grab me as hard as The Amulet of Samarkand (first book of the Bartimaeus trilogy) did. I've been dabbling in a bunch of other stuff.

Of the fiction I've read online recently, I've enjoyed Elizabeth Bear's "Follow Me Light" the most. In this short story, Bear shows tremendous judgment in choosing what to tell the reader and when, what to hint at, and what to leave unsaid. I started a couple of times trying to work out how to write about it in more detail, but couldn't find a way to do it justice. I've given you this enthusiastic recommendation, and the link; I hope that you'll follow them.

Another (meta)link: my delicious sf links. (del.icio.us is a social bookmarks manager. It tells you what that means here.)

In "real life," I am an academic. The paper submission deadline for one of the biggest conferences in my field recently came and went. I volunteered to review a few papers. A few somehow seems to have turned into eight. So I was not in a good mood when I started looking at the papers. I was in a worse mood when I saw that several of them depart from the conference's submission guidelines. One of them exceeds the page limit, another does not reveal its title, and so on.

This strengthens my resolution that, when I finally get round to sending sf stories to magazines and other outlets, I will be a scrupulous observer of the submission guidelines. Why have the first impression one makes on the a gatekeeper be a bad one?

It's been over a week since my last post to this blog. That's longer than I meant to leave it. But then, if people read blogs via feeds, maybe fresh content is less important for (some) blogs than for (most) other types of web site.

Monday, January 10, 2005

 

Footnotes in fashion

I just started reading The Golem's Eye, the second novel in Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy. One of the things that makes the prologue a pleasure to read is the footnotes. The narrator, Bartimaeus the djinni himself, adds asides in footnotes such as this one:

Each sentry was a minor djinni, scarcely better than a common foliot. Times were hard in Prague; the magicians were strapped for slaves and quality control was not what it should have been. The chosen semblances of my sentries proved as much. Instead of fearsome, warlike guises, I was presented with two shifty vampire bats, a weasel, a pop-eyed lizard, and a small and rather mournful frog.
Then I realized that I seem to have read rather a lot of footnotes in novels in the last year or so. There are those in The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in the trilogy. By the way, I just flipped through Golem, and it looks as though most of it is footnote-less, and narrated in the third person. Oh well. More on the book when I finish it.

There are footnotes in Lost in a Good Book, in which Thursday Next, Special Operative in literary detection, finds herself with a lawyer who can only communicate with her using footnotes. Lost is, like Golem, the second book in a series, but Jasper Fforde seems to be threatening to write far more than three Thursday Next books. I devoured The Eyre Affair, the first of them, enjoying its British bookish humour. I found Lost harder going, and couldn't get through the third Thursday. I don't think the books are getting worse, just that two of them should have been my limit.

And of course, there are many wonderful footnotes in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

 

Trackback

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog by the automatic install wizard for Blogger. The installation was very quick and smooth - let's see how the features work. I've turned off Blogger commenting, replacing it with Haloscan's. Blogger currently has no trackback feature, which is why I went to Haloscan in the first place.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

 

El Iskandryia and Veniss

I recently bought and read Veniss Underground, by Jeff Vandermeer, and Pashazade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. I started the former with a few days remaining in 2004; I'm not sure whether I finished it in 2004 or 2005. The latter is the first book I both started and finished in 2005.

Since I intend to write at least a little about each novel I read in 2005, and had no such resolution in 2004, I'll start this post with Pashazade to make sure I get to it. In the first chapter, we meet Felix, Chief of Detectives of El Iskandryia, at a murder scene. He drinks heavily, smokes, is overweight, and was thrown out of the LA police. I found him the most likeable character in the book.

In the second, we go back a few days and meet the young man who turns out to be the central character, Raf. He has an old fox living inside his head. Why? Well, that's just one of the puzzles about Raf, and he doesn't have the answers to some of them. The next few chapters move us around with respect to date and to main character, until the cast is assembled.

One of the most impressive things about Pashazade is that it's very well thought-out as the first part of a trilogy. It's a murder mystery, resolved within this volume. And it's about the mystery of Raf, much of which remains at the end of this volume. Thus, by the end, there's a well-judged mix of closure and open questions.

Since the setting is important, and unusual in the sf with which I'm familiar, let's read a little about the free Mediterranean port city of El Iskandryia.

The free city was not just built on the rubble of its own history, it used that rubble in the rebuilding. Greek columns reshaped by Roman artisans now formed part of mosque doorways, having been ripped from an earlier Byzantine church. So, too, the cultures had mixed. Until the rich mix became its own culture.
The quoted paragraph illustrates one of the main things that prevented me liking Pashazade as much as I wanted to. The prose seems to be trying to establish El Iskandryia as a fascinating, exotic place, but doesn't succeed in making it so for me. The last couple of sentences quoted. Point to the problem. Short sentences may establish a laconic style suitable for a murder mystery, and make for easy reading, but they don't help to establish the sense of place for which Grimwood sometimes seems to be striving.

Describing the other main ways in which P didn't work for me involves spoilers, so skip over this paragraph if you want to avoid them. Grimwood kills off one of the best supporting characters about halfway through. You can probably guess who it is if you re-read the above, and I tell you that it's not the fox. Then there's the matter of Raf's plucky little neice, whose computer wizardry is introduced rather too late in the novel and rather too convieniently for its plot to be convincing.

This is probably sounding more negative than I intend it to be. I did enjoy Pashazade and will probably pick up Effendi, the second novel in the trilogy, at some point. I've heard a couple of opinions that Effendi is the best of the three books, and I am interested in finding out more about Raf.

I have two main reactions to Veniss Underground. One, Jeff Vandermeer writes very well. Two, Veniss is less real to me than is Ambergris, in which Vandermeer's City of Saints and Madmen is set. I'll revisit the comparison between the two cities and worlds of Veniss and Ambergris when I've read the definitive version of City of Saints and Madmen (I have an earlier version, comprising four stories). You can make a partial comparison without leaving the comfort of your browser. Among the Vanderstuff online are "Dradin, in Love" and "Quin's Shanghai Circus," the first parts respectively of City of Saints and Madmen and Veniss Underground.

That's enough writing for now. Time to read something.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

 

A Time of Strangeness

When I started this blog about sf, I never expected to be linking to Time magazine. But since it, like me, has named Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell as novel of 2004, here I am linking to the relevant page at Time.com. And to my own comments on the book.

 

Best of best anthology

One of my tools for catching up with what's been going on in sf in the years I've been away has been Gardner Dozois' series of best of the year anthologies, which is at the time of writing 21 years old.

I'll probably pick up his forthcoming "best of the best" anthology, which draws on the series' first 20 years. It is due out next month, according to Amazon. The table of contents is currently online here.

 

Back from England

We got back into Boston last night, later than we'd hoped due to headwinds.

While in England, I did capture Vandermeer and Grimwood. No, I don't mean that I took hostage the partners in some Dickensian law firm. I mean that I picked up Veniss Underground and Pashazade. I didn't manage to track down the elusively monosyllabic Ford: that is to say, Waterstones in Nottingham did not have The Physignomy.

More soon...