Sunday, April 30, 2006

Hamilton, Donald. Death of a citizen. Greenwich, Conn.: Gold Medal, 1960. 142pp.

Wow. This is the first of Hamilton's tough-guy hardboiled spy series featuring Matt Helm. Don't get this confused with the Matt Helm movies from the 1960's starring Dean Martin. These are no cream puff comedies. No, these are violent and brutal, dated but with a genuinely cruel edge. Well worth reading, I like this book a lot and will definately read as many of the other Matt Helm books as I can get my hands on. At 142 pages, this is a short, sharp shock, not fat or excess baggage to distract from the story. Tired of bloated contemporary novels? This is definately old school.

The story? Matt Helm is a retired WWII behind-enemy-lines operative in late 1950s Santa Fe, living the quite life with his wife and kids. Suddenly, an old fellow operative (and lover, natch) turns up at a party and Helm is dragged back into the world of cross and double-cross where nothing and no-one is as they seem. Wild-goose chases, kidnappings, murder and mayhem ensue. Helm solves his problems old school, too.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Article on Alternate Histories

The Lure of Alternate History (Plus the 14 Best Novels and Stories) by Fredric Smoler. Also mentions a couple of critical works on alternate histories.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dozois, Gardner. The year's best science fiction: Twenty-first annual collection.New York: St. Martin's, 2004. 704pp.
Hartwell, David G. and Kathryn Cramer. Year's best SF 10. New York: Eos, 2005. 512pp
Hartwell, David G. and Kathryn Cramer. Year's best fantasy 5. New York: Eos, 2005. 512pp.

These books are obviously self-recommending. If you love short fiction in the fantasy or sf fields, then you will love these books. And their predecessors and successors. Of these particular instances of these series, I think I liked the Hartwell/Cramer sf volume best, followed closely by the Dozois then the Hartwell/Cramer fantasy a little further back. The fantasy volume's standing mostly reflects the fact I'm a more avid reader of sf than fantasy so there were a higher proportion of stories I just didn't care for. Of the two sf volumes, the Dozois is is some ways more conservative, tending to choose the same authors and the same themes over and over whereas the Hartwell/Cramer is a little more adventurous. However, the sheer size of the Dozois and the fact that he can choose more novellas does compensate a bit.

Some standout stories from the Hartwell/Cramer sf book:

  • "Sergeant Chip" by Bradley Denton
  • "Burning Day" by Glenn Grant
  • "Scout's Honor" by Terry Bisson
  • "Red City" by Janeen Web
  • "Mastermindless" by Mathew Hughes (gotta get some of this guy's novels)
  • "The Cascade" by Sean McMullen
  • "Savant Songs" by Brenda Cooper

Some standout stories from the Hartwell/Cramer fantasy book:

  • "The Dragons of Summer Gulch" by Robert Reed
  • "The End of the World as we Know it" by Dale Bailey
  • "Leaving his Cares Behind Him" by Kage Baker (I always love Baker's stories)
  • "Life in Stone" by Tim Pratt
  • "Beyond the River" by Joel Lane
  • "Death's Door" by Terry Bisson (two by Bisson, a good year)

Some standout stories from the Dozois book:

  • "The Bear's Baby" by Judith Moffett
  • "The Green Leopard Plague" by Walter John Williams
  • "The Fluted Girl" by Paolo Bacigalupi (new discovery of the year)
  • "King Dragon" by Michael Swanwick (one of the best short story writers in sf)
  • "The Cookie Monster" by Vernor Vinge (I'm usually not too fond of his work, but this ones was great)
  • "Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst" by Kage Baker (another by Baker, this time one of her Company series)
  • "Dear Abbey" by Terry Bisson (a trifecta for Bisson)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Varley, John. Red thunder. New York: Ace, 2004. 416pp.

Minor Varley, for sure, but still well worth the effort to read.

John Varley has long been one of my favourite sf authors. His relative lack of production over the years has made him an easy one to keep track of, however, and I have read the majority of his works, especially recent ones. He has tended to write in the Heinlein tradition, if a little on the hippie side of things.

Red Thunder is definately in the Heinlein young adult mode, concentrating on youthful, engaging characters involved in a challenging and fun mission -- being the first to land on Mars. These 4 kids (two couples, all around 20) have a chance encounter with a Travis, a washed up old astronaut who happens to have a brilliant and autistic cousin, Jubal. They team up to launch a mission to Mars using the incredible space drive invented by Jubal, basically build a space ship in an old factory with money from one of the kids, who happens to be rich, and beat a mission to Mars already underway from China.

Implausibilities abound and compound, but that's not the point. It's a good story and good entry level sf for someone new to the genre, especially a someone in the 12-15 range.

Update: BoingBoing has a review of the sequel, Red Lightning.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

New intro to Midnight's Children

Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is one of my all-time favourite novels, and certainly one of the greatest fantasy novels of all time. He's written a new introduction for the 25th anniversary edition talking about the origins of the novel. If you haven't read it before, now's the time. via Bookslut.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Lebbon, Tim. Desolation. New York: Leisure, 2005. 309pp.

Tim Lebbon is definately one of the great up-and-coming horror writers around today. I've read and loved a number of his stories in Year's Best anthologies and Face was a really terrific novel. Desolation, however, left me a bit cold. It's the story of a very odd man who was held prisoner by his father for many years, held in an institution for still longer after his father died and finally released to a kind of purgatorial half-way house. The odd collection of characters at the half-way house help him discover the truth about his past, which is much stranger than we first imagined. So far, so good. However, there just didn't seem to be enough plot to justify a full length novel -- it could have been very effective at 100 - 150 pages -- but really ended up a bit dull stetched to this length. I'm still looking forward to catching up on some of Lebbon's work I haven't read yet, but this one is not up to the standard of the other work I've encountered.


A year's best embarassment of riches

Over at SF Signal, a list of the Year's Best anthologies coming out this year and when they're due. There are an astounding 18 of them.

Here's the list, the bolded ones are the ones I'm likely to read (although I may break down and get all the SF ones):

  1. March: Nebula Awards Showcase: 2005, Gardner Dozois ed.
  2. March: Best Short Novels: 2006, Jonathan Strahan ed.
  3. April: Horror: The Best of the Year: 2006 Edition, John Gregory Betancourt and Sean Wallace, ed.
  4. April: The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2006, ed. Bill Congreve ed.
  5. April: Best of the Rest, Brian Youmans ed.
  6. May: Science Fiction: The Best of the Year: 2006 Edition, Rich Horton, ed.
  7. May: Fantasy: The Best of the Year: 2006 Edition, Rich Horton, ed.
  8. June: Year's Best Science Fiction, David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer eds.
  9. Summer: Science Fiction: The Very Best of 2005, Jonathan Strahan, ed.
  10. Summer: Fantasy: The Very Best of 2005, Jonathan Strahan, ed.
  11. Summer: Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror: The Best of 2005, Shane Jiraiya Cummings ed.
  12. July: The Year's Best Science Fiction #23, Gardner Dozois ed.
  13. July: Best New Fantasy, Sean Wallace, ed.
  14. August: The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror #19, Ellen Datlow, Gavin Grant & Kelly Link eds.
  15. September: Year's Best Fantasy, David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer
  16. September: Best New Noir, Allan Guthrie, ed.
  17. October: Best New Paranormal Romance, Paula Guran, ed.
  18. October: The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Stephen Jones ed.