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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

       

Tentacles The SF Reviews newsletter, 19th August 2002

The reviews cover a mixed bag of SF this month. Iíve been working though a pile of old, but not always classic, SF; sorting through the heap of moldy paperbacks with bright covers and brown-edged pages.

Best Books This Month

The best books this month were, best first:

Surprisingly I rated "The Big Time" higher than "Stranger In A Strange Land", but hey thatís the way the cookie crumbles. Yes, yes, yes, everyone knows that Stranger is a classic book, a masterpiece, etc. However, much as I liked it, I always thought it was a bit wordy, with a lot of pontificating about peopleís personal prejudices, and it doesnít really mean anything much unless, perhaps, you read it as a comedy. I always liked the title (hardly original since the original speaker was Moses, still bitter and twisted over his abandonment by his mother).

Fritz Leiberís "The Big Time", however, is a superb, succinct and powerful work that is, in my view, a timeless classic. It was just as good reading it again now as when I first read it as a mere bratlet.

"American Gods" was a disappointment, but then I was taken in by the publicity and, much as I hate to admit it, the blurbs inside the cover. It is a great fantasy work, and itís probably opened up the world of fantasy to a wider audience, but itís not SF and anyway, itís too long. Now Iíll happily rate fantasy novels high on my best SF chart, whether or not they can be justified as SF, as long as they enthrall me while Iím reading and as long as they leave me with a sense of wonder at their conclusion. Gaimanís writing is so good that I was gripped while reading, but all I was left with when I closed the book and put it away was a tree, a merry-go-round and pantheon of Norse Gods.

"Monument" also slips in with a high ranking, again rather to my surprise, because itís so much better than I initially realised. Yes, itís a trivial little light-hearted tale, but Lloyd Biggle Jr. got it exactly right.

Worst Books This Month

These were:

"Virtual Destruction is a techno-thriller, rather than SF. Although awful, it was very close to hitting the target but bounced off the board and stuck in the foot of a guy sitting quietly at the bar.

To be honest, "Heartlight" is probably a pleasant, if quaintly old-fashioned, tale for a pre-teenage girl. Since I am neither it was a disaster for me to even try reading it. Once the miraculous dragonflies flew in, all hopes for a readable book shot out the window and knocked over the injured guy limping his way to the hospital.

"Invasion Earth" is vintage, but not very good, Harry Harrison. It has nice illustrations though.

This Monthís Reviews

Next Monthís Reviews

I hope to finally get the promised Greg Egan and Nicolas van Pallandt reviews in for next month.

There may also be a review of another Kay Kenyon novel, and something from one of the women writers Sarah Zettel, Severna Park, Sherri S. Tepper and Susan R. Matthews, since I seem to have inexplicably accumulated a pile of incomplete reviews of these ladiesí impressive works.

Science Note Ė In Memoriam

Edsger Dijkstra and Kristen Nygaard, two great computer science pioneers, died this month.

Dijkstra, in his understated way, shaped the future of IT. He was one of the designers of the programming language Algol 60 with its revolutionary structured programming.

Hereís a quote from this great man.

"In their capacity as a tool, computers will be but a ripple on the surface of our culture. In their capacity as intellectual challenge, they are without precedent in the cultural history of mankind."

Nygaard together with Ole-Johan Dahl designed the Simula programming languages, introducing the concept of object oriented programming.

Dijkstra and Nygaard changed the face of computing. Almost any programming language, or indeed any computer, that you use now is as it is partly because of their work.

Indeed the Python language, in which the software behind this site is written, is an elegant descendant of their ideas.

That's all for now. As always, tell me what you think about the books, the reviews and the site. Do let me know if there are books you think I should review.

Take care

Max

(max@sfreviews.com)

 


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