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Archive for April, 2009

Reading Gene Wolfe’s short stories

Recently a collection with Gene Wolfe’s best short fiction has been published. Gene Wolfe has picked the stories himself, which of course doesn’t mean anything. It’s not unusual that readers enjoy stories that the author finds rather poor and vice versa. Looking at the table of contents I see many good stories and all my favourites with the exception of Memorare are included. I already own 3 story collections plus the marvellous The Fifth Head of Cerberus (this makes 20 out of 31 stories from the best-of collection), now it’s time to finally read the ones I have in my possession.

In his introduction to “Castle of Days” Gene Wolfe mentions not to read his stories the way we eat potato chips (one right after the other) and I decided to follow his advise. I will try to read each day one story and track my progress on a separate page.

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Just finished “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman and I am slightly disappointed. It’s not a bad book but it isn’t outstanding neither. Young adults are definitely going to enjoy it but what about adults? Coraline and Neverwhere from the same author put more pressure on the characters. Without using all their wits there was no way to escape the rather cruel reality they were suddenly facing. In Graveyard Book it’s different. The characters are still great but the sense of real danger is not there.

If this book wins the Hugo then only to acknowledge what Neil Gaiman has done for the genre.

NB, John C. Wright wrote in his blog about his reading experience with Anathem:

The middle contained some of the best science fiction writing I have read in years. On the strength of that alone, I would recommend this book to any fan of SF. In case you missed it, let me repeat: The Best SF I’ve Read in years. Just the description of the Orion-drive space vessel is worth the price of the book.

This sounds interesting and I am tempted to start reading the book, however, Wright also mentions an incredible slowness at the beginning and a confusing and unresolved end. I guess this book will have to wait a little bit longer.

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Hugo 2009 – Final ranking

Here is my final ranking for the Hugo. It was an interesting experience to read all the finalists and I am sure that I will do it again next year. I have put together the reviews from the different blogs on one page.

In each category there were two entries that I really enjoyed and which I would recommend to other readers. Almost all other finalists failed to impress (with the exception of the stort story ballot, where I would recommend at least one more story). This is a poor ratio for an award ballot or an indication that my taste doesn’t align well with the taste of the normal SF and Fantasy reader. There are some interesting writers whose work I will follow closely in the future (Ted Chiang, Robert Reed, Paolo Bacigalupi) and a newcomer to pay attention to (Mary Robinette Kowal).

The Novellas

The nominees below made me think about when I should stop reading a story. How crazy does that sound to you?! 3 of the 5 finalists I couldn’t finish though many readers seem to like them. The Political Prisoner is my favourite and a very engaging story. Truth is almost great and I enjoyed reading it. The other 3 were not my taste.

  1. (A) The Political Prisoner
  2. (A) Truth
  3. (C) The Erdmann Nexus
  4. (C) The Tear
  5. (C) True Names

The Novelettes

A similar picture as above. One great story and a very good one, the other three covered topics I wasn’t interested in. Well written, yes, but they simply don’t shine.

  1. (A) The Gambler
  2. (A) The Ray-Gun: A Love Story
  3. (B) Pride and Prometheus
  4. (B) Shoggoths in Bloom
  5. (B) Alastair Baffle’s Emorium of Wonders

The Short Stories

This time there are only 2 disappointments. Evil Robot Monkey is my favourite, a short but stunning story. Exhalation fails to engage but is well written Hard SF. From Babel… has many interesting ideas but the narrative can’t glue them together efficiently. 26 Monkeys is okay but nothing more and Article of Faith made me angry.

  1. (A) Evil Robot Monkey
  2. (A) Exhalation
  3. (B) From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled
  4. (B) 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss
  5. (C) Article of Faith

See you next year!

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Done! I have read the remaining stories, a page with all reviews can be found here.

The Novellas

  • (C) “The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress
    Inhabitants of a nursing home start to have strange experiences… I couldn’t finish the story and gave up after 20 pages. Imagine a juggler who starts throwing one ball after the other to you – this is how I felt. I don’t mind if the author puts some work on the shoulders of the reader and I am sure, from the reviews I have read, that Nancy Kress is able to put everything together but she has to do it without me.
  • (A) “The Political Prisoner” by Charles Coleman Finlay
    A revolution breaks out and the political officer Max is kept as prisoner because of treason. He ends up in a labour camp, struggling to survive and betting on his former boss to get him out. Beside normal humans there are also aliens that are hated by everyone and who have to do the hardest work.
    This is a strong story and one of my favourite in the novella ballot. The labour camps are similar to the Gulag system of the former Soviet Union, the prisoners even have russian names. I was impressed by the experiences of the protagonist Max and Charles Finlay even managed to get believable aliens into the story. Highly recommended!

The Novelettes

  • (B) “Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick
    Another story by Mike Resnick but much better than his nominated Article of Faith. Two old men, Silver and Gold, have shared much in their life. One last time they want to visit the famous shop of Alistair Baffle who sells magic tricks. He should have been long dead so the whole trip is kind of stupid, but nevertheless the men start looking…
    This story didn’t impress me much, it’s well written but at the end it’s just about wish fulfillment. Nothing new and nothing to get excited about.

That’s it. In my next post I will wrap up my experiences and do a final rating.

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With huge steps I finish the review of the short fiction nominees for the Hugo 2009! After the last update I read two more stories.

Update: I have read all stories, a page with the reviews can be found here.

The Novelettes

  • (A) “The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner
    As a young boy Jack finds a ray-gun – a real one, dropped from a alien spaceship. This ray-gun will change his life, it gives him a new focus (which changes over time) and competes with his relation to women… Let me start with what I didn’t like. The ray-gun as hook for further events didn’t work for me. Come on, why does it have to be a ray-gun? SF is the genre for creative, inventive people! Apart from that, I really enjoyed the story. It’s well written and I found it interesting to see how Jack’s judgement of the value of the ray-gun changes over time. Recommended!

The short-stories

  • (B) “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick
    Babel is destroyed and almost everyone is killed. A human is saved by his special suit, which is controlled by an AI who represents an emulation of the woman he has loved (and got killed). He flees together with one of the aliens. On their voyage they talk about the fascinating differences between their cultures. The suit acts as translator and provides different layers of comprehension, which makes the story very interesting to read. On the other hand, the whole setting itself could have benefited from better world-building. I wasn’t able to imagine how the “people” actually live there and I couldn’t connect to the protagonist of the story.

With the last story I have finished the “short stories” category. This leave 1 novelette and 2 novellas that I have to read. Maybe I will try The Tear again in the near future, many people seem to like it.

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Hugo 2009 (4)

On we go after the last update. This was a disappointing round with three stories that failed to grab me. The good thing is that I have now a new rule: read at least 10 pages or 25% of a story and if it doesn’t work for me, dump it. Not being able to finish a story leaves a bad taste but after trying to force myself to read the 3 nominees below I had to make a decision.

Update: I have read all stories, a page with the reviews can be found here.

The Novellas

  • (C) “True Names” by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow
    I stopped reading after 20 pages. The story is about AIs in different flavors, resembling the inner works of computer programs with “filters” or “algorithms”. I am sure that some people will like it but it’s not my cup of tea. Other authors manage to make AIs relevant, unique and give them real personality. I have found nothing of this in True Names.
  • (C) “The Tear” by Ian McDonald
    SF Signal does a good job in describing what the story is about. I gave up after roughly 20 pages. The setting looks very exotic and interesting but without any kind of help from the author I was completely lost. There were paragraphs full of strange names describing events that I couldn’t put into context.

The Novelettes

  • (B) “Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel
    This is “Pride and Prejudice” meets “Frankenstein”. Knowing neither the first nor the second story (although I of course know the basic plot of Frankenstein) I wasn’t impressed by the story. Phantastic elements are mostly missing and the plot was not what I wanted to read. Nevertheless it’s well written and might be interesting for readers who like “Pride and Prejudice”.

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