[Book Review] Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock

For seekers of a quiet future–away from watching the US government antagonize and bomb other places to bits–Anne Charnock’s latest novel brings a kind of serenity to near future Western life by focusing on the not-so-nuclear… family. In three parts, from 2034 to 2084 to 2120, Dreams Before the Start of Time examines on-the-horizon socio-industrial advances and their implications on some of the most important parts of daily life: romance, family, and childbearing.

LOVE the cover! Throwback colors, gender neutral design, and quite SF-y.

Picking up from her previous novel, the subtle and smoldering Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind, the Toni strand (my favorite strand) continues its trajectory into the next century, as we get to see Toni the teen emerge into adulthood as she encounters ever-evolving approaches to family systems. Cushioned by semi-connected, tangential stories of family, friends, and barley-linked strangers as they pursue various gestational options, Toni’s life is the guidepost for the story, but far from being the only thing going on. Continue reading

Announcement! Plus, a contest!

In what may be the biggest FC2M news of the year:

On Tuesday, I will post my first-ever ARC book review. I didn’t even know what an ARC was until a few years ago. Since then, I’ve avoided them for various good and, perhaps, hypercritical reasons. (Not like I’m approached that often anyway.)

This is a big deal. It’s a novel by an author I enjoy and would like to see get more attention.

(And it’s not even related to the Shadow Clarke project.)

That’s all I’ll say about it for now. Feel free to speculate on the mystery author/novel in the comments. If you guess correctly, you’ll win a special mental connection with me that we’ll never be able to explain to other people because they just don’t get us. (International shipping included!)

The Torture of the Shadower, part 5: Bleeding tongue

My third review for the Shadow Clarke project posted last week, this time on The Destructives by Matthew de Abaitua. This is a fair and balanced review.

Since I normally comment on the comments in these updates, I should say the author of the novel has decided it’s in his best interest to go on record to voice his dissatisfaction with the review. Obviously, I wouldn’t have written what I’ve written if I thought any of it was inappropriate or undue. I would like to say more regarding his area of concern, as my earlier drafts had, but, while it’s perfectly okay to allow one particular vein of commentary to dominate, say, a Heinlein review, it isn’t appropriate here, and would have overshadowed (as it has now) what I’m most interested in conveying.

It’s never wise to respond to aggrieved authors, however, I wonder if, in biting my tongue, I am giving the appearance of having been effectively silenced. I am also disturbed by the degree of silence surrounding this review, especially when my reviews tend to generate a comfortable level of thoughtfulness and chattiness, which this one should have done.

My review stands as it is, which you can see below. Its biggest flaw is in overstretching to accommodate the strangely mismatched modes of the novel, which I’m still okay with because I still find this turn especially interesting.

*****

His instinct was to remember everything about individual humans. The inexactitude of these remembrances could be beautiful, in their own way; he sought to create a perfect living replica of the past, and in failing to do so, his project almost attained the status of art. His project, with its tiny imperfections, overwrote his memories of the past, warped events as they had once occurred. This was the paradox of remembering, how each act of recollection was also an act of destruction. It was frustrating, yes, but also wonderful. (ch. 26)

De Abaitua wrote one of the most complex and difficult novels from 2015, If Then, and I still find myself wondering about it at random times. I was so taken by that strange novel about an algorithmic society in decay—a novel that feels so uneven on the surface, yet so complete in substance—I couldn’t articulate my thoughts well enough to write a decent review. Since then, The Destructives has been on my “most anticipateds” list. Placed on a Clarke award shortlist only once before, for The Red Men in 2008, de Abaitua was unaccountably left off the list for If Then in 2016. The Destructives is the latest piece in this abstract thematic series and, given its scope, it seems primed to make up for last year’s Clarke snub. Continue reading

The Torture of the Shadower, part 4: The first round of reviews!

This week’s torture is brought to you by the end of Spring Break. (Yes, it happens before spring even begins. That’s how we do things here in Arrakis.) Goodbye, beautiful afternoons of jogging around the neighborhood. Hello, A/C blasting office that forces me to wear sweaters in the summer.

The first round of reviews by the Clarke shadow jury are up. Here are the links, in case you missed them:

The Destructives by Matthew de Abaitua, reviewed by Nina Allan

Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley, reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin, reviewed by Victoria Hoyle

The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo, reviewed by me

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar, reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller

A Field Guide to Reality by Joanna Kavenna, reviewed by Nina Allan

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, reviewed by Paul Kincaid

The Gradual by Christopher Priest, reviewed by David Hebblethwaite

Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood, reviewed by Paul Kincaid

 

(By the way, you are allowed to comment on the shadow jury site. It’s encouraged!)

 

This barely scratches the surface of the number of reviews we have set out to do, so stay tuned!

 

The Torture of the Shadower, part 2: My shortlist, plus meta-list!

The Shadow Clarke project is going strong, and the shortlists are rolling in. Here’s mine, which posted last week:

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I did not expect to feel as comfortable with this list as I do. I wanted my list to represent the best of science fiction–what it should be trying to do– and many will say I have failed, but what most strikes me as I look at this list and read through the books is how much it represents who I am as a reader and a person. Incredibly biased and irrelevant and perhaps off-Sharke-message, sure, but there you go. I didn’t mean to. My list has been called ‘incoherent’ a couple of times in comments, which, in context, I don’t think was intended as criticism or insult, but, the truth is, I have never felt so coherent about a set of books I’ve put together. This list feels elegant to me. Continue reading

The Torture of the Shadower: The 2017 #ShadowClarke

Cool things happening…

Recently, Anglia Ruskin University launched the online ARU Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy, spearheaded by Dr. Helen Marshall, in order to “explore science fiction and fantasy as products that depend on the interaction of literary and visual media and that are constructed by both the publishing industry and fan communities,” with plans to launch a master’s degree in SFF in 2018.

That alone is exciting news, but one of the first big projects of the Centre is to act as the central hub for the doings of the Clarke Award shadow jury, announced last week, which will work to bring robust discussion and debate to the Arthur C. Clarke Award, a juried UK SF award that is known for being both prestigious and controversial.

As you might know, I have informally shadowed current and vintage lists for the past few years, and my own experience with the Clarke Award has been short and rather grumpy (and podcasted!), so much so, that I maybe declared last year that I would never read the shortlist again. Now I’ve been made a liar.

This has been in the works for a long time, and I am delighted to finally be able to share that I am one of the nine jurors to shadow the Clarke Award this year, along with some of my favorite book people: Nina Allan, Vajra Chandrasekera, David Hebblethwaite, Victoria Hoyle, Dr. Nick Hubble, Paul Kincaid, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and Jonathan McCalmont. Out of this group of accomplished writers, critics, editors, and academics, I will be playing the part of amateur American blogger who sometimes likes what she reads. You can find all of our bios here. (Mine’s a bit… rude.) (And, yes, that is me with the donut. It was alright.)

I don’t know how I landed on this shadow jury, but I have respected and admired all of these people from afar, and am thrilled to have an opportunity to work and debate with them.

It seems I wasn’t far off by predicting that Valentine’s Day will kick off the 2017 SFF book award season, as the Clarke Award submissions list will drop this Tuesday. Each shadow juror will examine the (likely) 100+ submissions list for their own personal shortlist of six faves and/or most anticipated novels, and begin reading up. In the meantime, over the coming weeks, the ARU Centre for SFF will begin posting each shadow juror’s manifesto.

Some links if you’d like to brush up on the whole, quoting Vajra here, Sharkenado:

BBC announcement

Dr. Helen Marshall’s intro piece

Nina Allan’s intro piece at her blog

Nina Allan’s manifesto

Paul Kincaid’s introduction from The Arthur C. Clarke Award: A Critical Anthology

Victoria Hoyle’s booktube explanation about the process

On twitter: @csffanglia and #shadowclarke

 

To my vintage SF friends, I promise I’ll return to the land of the neglected and forgotten in the latter half of this year, but for now: Nina. Effing. Allan. I’m sure you understand.

 

 

January 2017 Reading Review

For the past few years, January has been Potential Shortlist Catch Up Month for me, when I try to read all the big name books I overlooked the year before, in preparation for the 10-month SF book award season that’s about to kick off. So that I may have opinions on things. So that I may nurture my FOMO. So that I may mock the system I continue to participate in. So that I may mock myself.

This year is no different, though, to be honest, I’m not really feeling it this year: It all feels trite and meaningless compared to more important things going on, so I’m basically just going through the motions. I mean, why bother seeking out contrived experiences of estrangement and repulsion by reading SF when I see it played out in the political arena every day? I need respite, but books feel false. I experienced a similar plummet in enthusiasm after the 2000 election and 9-11 fallout, and it took me over a decade to recover interest in anything that involved critical engagement with the world, so… if this blog isn’t an interesting space to watch, at least my wobbling dedication to it might be.

Fortunately, things are coming up… BIG THINGS… and that’s enough to keep me active for at least another season. The kindly prods from other people have been unexpected and welcome.

I must say, though, it does feel nice to just sit down and get all this out finally. There is that.

Eesh, and it is a lot. I read an average number of books this month, but a collection of mini-reviews can be a big task. On we go…

2017 BOOKS I READ LAST YEAR Continue reading