SF bookshelf

Jeff Vandermeer’s latest deserves at least a short review but it has a lot in common with Slow River, a re-issue in the SF Masterworks series, so I thought I should write about that at the same time. Slow River in turn connects to an intriguing anthology of newer short SF, so here we go.

Hummingbird Salamander

Vandermeer book cover Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff Vandermeer (2021, Harper Collins) was described on the back cover as, “An intellectual mindf*ck disguised as a thriller,” and by the time I finished it I was inclined to agree.

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The Windup Girl

Paolo Bacigalupi book cover Another meta-review?

The Ministry for the Future was the last book I treated in this way. It, too, was a dystopian vision but other than that the two books have little in common, except that both have been very highly recommended by all sorts of people.

The Wind-up Girl is twelve years old, not one, and was a first novel, not the latest of many from an acknowledged master. Perhaps more importantly for the reader, the Ministry is somewhat nerdy and the Girl is a cracking thriller.

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The Ministry for the Future

Book cover image Kim Stanley RobinsonThe Ministry for the Future

Kim Stanley Robinson

Hachette, October 2020.

The Ministry for the Future is a year old but it took me most of the year to discover it and read it, and now, with COP26 imminent, I feel an urgent need to share it with as many people as possible.

Sadly, I can’t find the time to give it the attention it deserves so I am resorting (as I have before) to a meta-review: extracts of reviews by writers who say between them what I would have liked to have said myself.

The conclusion of this short review by Mark Yon for SFFWorld.com will serve as an introduction to the longer pieces:

Whilst it could be said that Ministry for the Future is a political agenda dressed-up as fiction, my abiding feeling at the end is that it shows hope – a sensible and rational way out of the mess we live in – and reflects a heartfelt belief that sensible people, wanting to do the best for as many people as they can, can work in difficult situations to make the world a better place. And at the moment, with all of the political and environmental chaos going on around us, it is therefore the novel we need.

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Colly Campbell – The Capricorn Sky

book coverThe Capricorn Sky

Colly Campbell (author page)

Stringybark, 2020

There’s a lot to like in The Capricorn Sky but unfortunately there’s more than a little to dislike, too. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first.

It’s Campbell’s first novel (nothing wrong with that) and it’s self-published. The book’s unpolished design (fonts, text spacing, etc) sends up the first warning signals and suggests immediately that it has missed out on the benefit of experienced editorial eyes and hands. Furthermore, Campbell has chosen to write in an invented future English in which hyphenated words are replaced by camelCase, “qu” by “qw” (qwite, qwiet, etc), and there are other neologisms and re-spellings. He probably intended that it would help place the action where it’s set, at the end of this century. It’s a tactic which can work well in the hands of an experienced writer (Burgess’s Clockwork Orange and Hoban’s Riddley Walker come to mind) but this reader, for one, found it merely distracting.

And that’s a pity, because Campbell has set a good story in a worryingly plausible future North Queensland.

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Dyschronia

cover of Jennifer Mills novel DyschroniaI was going to add my comment on Dyschronia to the dystopian fiction reviews collected here but decided that it deserved its own space on the blog, and perhaps on our bookshelves.

It’s a Australian novel from an author new to me, Jennifer Mills. Both its setting and its mood reminded me of Randolph Stow’s Tourmaline (1963); so did the quality of the writing, which you may take as high praise since I have always liked Stow. But this is very much a novel of our own time, not the early sixties: pollution, corporate amorality and climate change are the existential threats to the fragile township and its residents.

It’s a challenging but rewarding novel and I look forward to reading more of Mills’ work. Most of the rest of what I would have said about Dyschronia has been said by Gretchen Shirm in this review in the SMH, so I will leave you in her capable hands.