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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews


Tentacles The SF Reviews newsletter, 29th March 2007

Ecological Awareness

Boy am I out of the loop! I'd never heard of "mundane SF" – SF about the possible rather than the impossible - but at least I had heard of Kim Stanley Robinson and recommend this SciFI channel interview nterview with him.

I'm not much taken with mundane SF. It's, well, mundane. I want awe, a sense of wonder. However, Robinson's excellently evocative writing is what makes his novels so appealing to me.

Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands,
hoist ther black flag, and begin slitting throats
Henry Lewis Mencken

James Gunn's Top 100

The Centre for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas holds James Gunn's A Basic Science Fiction Library listing the top 100 must-read SF books. The list, substantially updated since originally prepared in 1970, really is an exceptionally good starting point. However, so many fabulous writers are missing and so much of the breadth of the SF genre is lost by those omissions: Algis J. Budrys, Barry B. Longyear, Ken MacLeod, Robert Reed, Keith Roberts and R. A. Lafferty to name but a few.

OK, OK, here are some more authors that you have to read Gill Alderman, Neal Asher, John Barnes, Richard Calder, J. R. Dunn, Dennis Danvers, Christopher Evans, Michael Flynn, Peter F. Hamilton, M. John Harrison, Colin Kapp, Megan Lindholm, Jack McDevitt, China Mieville, Elizabeth Moon, Kevin O'Donnell Jr., Alastair Reynolds, Mary Doria Russell, John Scalzi, Charles Stross, Maggy Thomas and Sarah Zettel.

And for all I know, there could be a couple names from this month's reviews

Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told, 'I am with you kid Let's go!'
Maya Angelou

Best Books This Month

I've got to mention five books of this month's reviews are well worth reading. The first is essential reading. It's by J. G. Ballard and, of course, features on James Gunn's list. . In this novel, his redolent descriptions of the drowned world are as lush as the tropical environment itself.

None of the other four authors are on the aforementioned list, but these books are very good. Simon Ings' "Hot Head" is the forerunner to "Hotwire" a book that I find (to my surprise) I reviewed back in 2001. How good am I! Did it a bit back to front though.

Neal Asher put me off my shellfish for a week with his brilliant "Prador Moon". How can he write such big space opera in so few pages. Other writers could learn a lesson from him. In fact I could learn a lesson from him. Perhaps I should I include a few descriptions of involuntary limb donations to spice up the newsletter?

I hadn't heard of Kristine Smith until a correspondent mentioned her but what a surprise to read this book and see how good a writer she is. Thanks, Cyndie, and also for the Karen Travis recommendation of course. Great stuff.

And oh my gosh, it was lovely to read another novel by Kevin O'Donnell Jr. OK, it is not as good as "ORA:CLE" but it was still a gripping read.

Eternity is very long, especially near the end
Woody Allen

Science Note 1 – Fractal Universe

There was an interesting article in the New Scientist a couple of weeks ago. It was about a small band of researchers led by statistical physicist Luciano Pietronero of the University of Rome and the Institute of Complex Systems, Italy. The article is Is The Universe A Fractal?

They think the Universe may be fractally organised. This means matter may not be spread evenly throughout the Universe, and this rather messes up Einsteinian physics. Now Pietronero may be wrong but either way we'll gain more knowledge about the Big U and if he's right, Physics would be in for a roller-coaster ride.

'What do you do if you step on a mine, Captain?'
'Well, the usual procedure is to leap 200 feet in the air and spread yourself over a wide area…'
Captain Blackadder

Worst Books This Month

Two disappointing books by great authors:

"Sound Mind" just misses the mark – I think Tricia hadn't really worked out where she wanted to go with this. "Red Thunder" is disappointing just because it is a kid's book and I'm postkid, sadly.

I am not a vegetarian because I love animals; I am a vegetarian because I hate plants.
Whitney Brown

Science note 2 – Size Counts

In this case, it is the extremely small size that counts. Scientific American reports on Visible Light Bent the 'Wrong' Way. What I find most interesting was the last two paragraphs about the magnification of extremely faint detail by means of a "superlens" that defies the normal limits on focusing light. By means of 150 nanometre wide lines carved into the inside of this unique lens, "evanescent waves" were converted into regular light, making visible what previously could not be seen.

If you can't beat them, arrange to have them beaten
George Carlin

This Month's Reviews

If you don't go to other men's funerals they won't go to yours.
Clarence Day

Science Note 3: Haemochromatosis as a positive experience

New Scientist discusses in the article Survival of the sickest whether some genetic defects may in fact be advantageous prophylactics against more serious diseases. Haemochromatosis, or "iron overload", is a sickness that results in the body absorbing too much iron, leading to damage to various organs. The article points out that this could have been something of a protection against the Black Death.

Similarly Sickle Cell Anemia protects to some extent against malaria.

Some of this is obvious of course – if the human environment has changed then some of evolution's adaptations may have become inappropriate, but I think it is interesting to think what we could uncover about our history by looking at what adaptations no longer work.

If it weren't for electricity we'd all be watching television by candlelight.
George Gobel

Science Note 4: Have Spacesuit, Will Travel

Space.com reports that NASA Engineers Work On New Spacesuits. With the new generation of space suits engineers hope to reduce the weight from 200lb down to 100lb. But they'll still be white. I can tell you there is no way I'm going to be an astronaut until there is a colour change. I am simply not wearing a white suit in space or anywhere else.

I hadn't realised that the NASA suits are tailored individually for their occupants whereas the Russian suits are one-size-fits-all and are thrown away after they've been word a few times. I suppose a bespoke white suit isn't so unappealing.

Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.

Babes in Space

I mentioned being out of the loop, well I am again. I have to admit I've only just ome across this in an (alter)ego search (looking up references to SF Reviews). I came across this quite brilliantly horrifying site which includes a reference to SF Reviews: My Dropbox Originality Report . It looks genuine. Isn't that scary! I'm so glad I'm not a student.

Now that site refers to the absolutely wonderfully entitled Babes In Space, a course run by Penn State University. The pictures selected by William Stotler and Lee Ann Baronett. At one time this was apparently the largest gallery of pulp scifi covers on the web. If you are having trouble actually getting to see the pictures from that original link, try this one Contents.

I have the body of an eighteen year old. I keep it in the fridge.
Spike Milligan

Next Month's Reviews

I have just had the pleasure of reading the first three volumes of David Gerrold's "War Against The Chtorr" series. This is in preparation for the fourth, fifth and sixth volumes planned and perhaps to be published real soon now.

With luck, next month will show reviews of books by Melissa Scott. Gary Gibson and Keith Roberts. May be even some books by David Gerrold. I wonder which ones they'll be.

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.

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that the English language is as pure as a cribhouse whore. It not only borrows words from other languages; it has on occasion chased other languages down dark alley-ways, clubbed them unconscious and rifled their pockets for new vocabulary.
James Nicoll, 1846-1918

Take care




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