Sunday, June 01, 2003

Florman, Samuel C. The Introspective Engineer. New York: St. Martin's Press. 3/1996. 220 pp.

Finally, a book that I like! Engineers don't have such a great reputation -- they tend to be "can do" people with a lot of confidence and, supposedly, arrogant and indifferent to social needs. Florman's rather introspective extended essay takes a long hard look at this stereotype and finds much truth in it. At the same time, however, he also finds in engineers the practical bent to do a lot of good in the world. Afterall, virtually every aspect of our material lives is engineered in some form or other, so engineers and engineering can't be all bad, can it? Personally, I've always liked engineers and valued their mindset and this book is a good examination of the strengths and weaknesses of that mindset and how they are manifested in the profession today.


Silverberg, Robert and Karen Haber, editors. Science Fiction: The Best of 2002. New York: iBooks. 3/2003. 420pp.

There's something depressing about doing one bad review after another. Means I'm wasting my darn time reading these stupid books. This is the second year Silverberg and Haber have done these anthologies and I have to say that I thought last year's was pretty good. Unfortunately, this year's seems a bit rushed and careless. Take the introduction, for example. Virtually the same, word for word, as last year's. No attempt what so ever to sum up the year in SF. Even the same stupid mistake on David G. Hartwell's name. They call him David A. Hartwell. Once is bad enough, but to make the same stupid mistake two years in a row is unforgivable. I don't pay cdn$11.99 for cut and paste. No story notes to put the work in context of the field or the author's career. Okay, they're the first year's best out of the gates, a couple of months ahead of Hartwell & Cramer's or Dozois's collection, so speed is of the essence, but it's not rocket science to write story notes for a story published in January by December. The point here seems to be to steal market share from the other two collections by being out first, rather than trying to get the best, most overlooked stories.

And speaking of the stories, many just don't do it for me. Author's I really enjoy like Ian MacLeod or Robert Reed are represented here with stories that don't appeal to me all that much -- even Reed's "Coelacanths." "Tourist" by Charles Stross emphasises his weaknesses in characterization without compensating with his strengths in vision. Several other of the stories just don't really engage me as much as they could. I also wish they had tried a little harder to get stories from beyond Asimov's and a few other fairly standard and expected sources. I do, however, have to mention that the Ted Chiang story and Michael Swanwick story are brilliant as usual. I'll update here when I read Hartwell & Cramer's Year's Best SF 8.

Blatty, William Peter. Legion. New York: Pocket Books. 5/1984. 4310pp

Oh boy. High hopes here. The original novel, The Exorcist, is one of my all-time favourite novels. Something about the Catholic upbringing just resonates hugely with that book -- god, the devil, good, evil, the novel is drenched in conflicting desires and makes it powerful and scary and beautiful at the same time. The original film is also very effective, especially since I saw it the first time when I was pretty young. Scared the crap out of me. Still does. Now, after many years, I finally get around to reading Blatty's sequel. High hopes, indeed. As I mention below, I've already seen the film and quite liked it. Oh boy. Unfortunately, the novel is a piece of crap. The problem, for me at least, is that Blatty focuses too much on the police procedural aspect of the novel, spending a lot of time exploring the Lt. Kinderman character. Kinderman comes off as a cross between Lt. Columbo, Rodney Dangerfield and the guy who played Seinfeld's father in the sitcom. Hard to take seriously as a warrior against evil. And speaking of evil, the main plot line concerns a series of killings resembling those from a supposedly dead serial killer. Unfortunately (that word again), the connection to the whole Exorcist storyline doesn't come in until about two thirds of the way through the book. By then, I have to say I really didn't care too much.

It's an interesting side note is that the edition I have is the movie tie in for film The Exorcist III from 1990. Interesting since that although it's been 10+ years since I saw the movie, as I have said, I strongly prefer it to the book. As I recall, the film had a bit of scariness and didn't focus on Kinderman's character so much. It was also an Exorcist film rather an ill-advised conversion of an old 87th Precinct novel. It's just proof positive that somehow it's easier to make a decent movie of a mediocre-to-bad book than to make a good movie from a good book. Maybe if the source material is weaker, the film makers try harder.