The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray

As we inch closer to the unveiling of the official Clarke Award shortlist on Wednesday, I should spend the next few days sharing my final three reviews from my own shortlist for the Shadow Clarke jury. These last three selections are the strongest novels on my own list, and even though my own further reading from the submissions list (and further debate with my fellow shadow jurors) has led me to reassess my shortlist, I have a personal interest in seeing that these novels get some well-deserved attention.

First up this week, I bring you The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray. This novel speaks to my heart, being both fannish and faanish (a new word I learned! thanks for the insult!) in its special way, and it often sparked genuine laugh-somewhat-audibly moments. Looking back, I have more reservations about it than I did when I wrote this review. Being a time-wimey type book, the plot is a bit complicated and, inevitably, unsatisfying. Being a lit-fic crossover, the aesthetic is a bit dry, the protagonist is a bit self-absorbed, and it kind of reeks of yuppiness. I’m not sure I can think of the kind of reader who would champion this novel on any shortlist, but I had a good time with nearly all 500+ pages of it.

Comments on the Shadow Clarke blog suggest an uncanny similarity with Ned Beauman’s The Teleportation Accident (2012)… if anyone cares to investigate the resemblance, let me know. I’m curious.

*****

This is the first novel I’ve read from my shortlist that feels like it belongs on the actual Clarke shortlist. Written by a genre outsider, but built definitively upon a classic sci-fi concept, and clearly aware of decades of science fiction fandom and inside jokes, it ticks a few those well-established Clarke-preferred boxes. It’s also quite enjoyable for those same reasons. Continue reading

[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

[Book Review] Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

My second review for the #ShadowClarke project posted last week at the @csffanglia site. Here it is in all its unimpressed glory, although I recommend you make your way over to the site, at least to read the enjoyable comments.

*****

Good Morning, Midnight is a bit of a shortlist risk, as shadow jury conversations have proved. Ranging in complaints about too much lyrical sciencing to complaints about too much overt preciousness, overall, the general jury criticism toward the book has been along the lines of “too much too much.” And yet, the novel has been blurbed as a blend of Station Eleven and Kim Stanley Robinson– two supreme yet entirely different approaches to SF, flawed in their own “too much” ways (the first, a well-written, but literary carpet bagging of superficial SF tropes, the other, an over-lingering on most things, including the sublimation of ice). With comparisons like these, Good Morning, Midnight might be just the kind of “too much too much” I, and other Clarke readers, would relish. Besides, it has stars on the cover, a spaceship in the story, and is free of the usual, predictable pew-pew hijinks that tends to come with spaceship stories, so, for those reasons, it seems like something worth discussing within the context of possible Clarke contenders.

Good Morning, Midnight is about two corresponding perspectives on silence, isolation, and unacknowledged regrets. As Sully and her fellow crewmates return from their mission to Jupiter, all signals from Earth go silent. Meanwhile, Augustine, an aging astronomer, is the only person left at his research station in the Arctic after he stubbornly refuses an unexpected evacuation. Neither scientist knows what has happened to the rest of the earth, but now they find themselves navigating their respective silent voids, inside and out.

It sounds promising and poignant, but it’s considerably less than what the blurbs promise. Continue reading

[An Actual Book Review] The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo

Johanna Sinisalo’s The Core of the Sun is a tale about loss, in the form of a gender-stiffening social experiment wrapped in a family drama murder mystery, suffused with oppressive norms, self-delusional recounting, and fabulist nostalgia for a world that once was that actually never was. It’s the kind of novel that joins the ranks of extreme, performative, sociological SF, in the vein of Brunner, Ballard, and Pohl, and the feminist dystopias of Atwood, Russ, and Tiptree. It’s the kind of book that people will say doesn’t belong because a.) it isn’t needed in this age of post-women’s lib, b.) its agenda involves too much agenda, and c.) it isn’t science-y enough. But, as the list of authors cited above indicates, precedence invalidates these kinds of arguments.

Legislated gender is the core of the tale, where not far in our recent past, Finnish society has perverted its liberal roots, designing a padded cell utopia of well-cared-for and easily-labeled citizens. Termed a eusistocracy, the Latin essence of which basically means ‘it’s all good if you stay in your place,’ it’s a nation where women really do go to college to earn their M.R.S., where gender fraud is a thing, and where the mating market is subsidized, with government-sponsored beauty rituals and body-perfecting salons becoming cultural imperatives for women. In this altered Finland, there are four genders: femiwomen and mascos, and, barely tolerated, neuterwomen and minusmen, while all social, economic, and political efforts are geared toward cultivating the lifestyles, pairings, and reproduction of the former two groups, and suppressing the latter two groups.

(When put like that, defense for The Core of the Sun’s presence on my Shadow Clarke shortlist may be less about its scientific and speculative foundation, and more about whether it even qualifies as fiction.) 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!