Tag Archives: review

Throwing some light on ILLUMINATIONS

ILLUMINATIONS - the Friday Flash Fiction AnthologySo, the boot took a turn on the other foot. As you may or may not already be aware, ILLUMINATIONS got reviewed over at The Fix Online. And while it’s far from universally lauding the work, the review does us all the highest courtesy possible – it takes us seriously.

My fellow authors all seem to have reached the same conclusion; the level of detail gone into more than mitigates any ego-bruising from the details themselves. It’s like being a martial arts neophyte given a thorough working over by the grand master of the dojo; painful, but extremely educational.

And Alvaro Zinos-Amaro pulled no punches, as is only proper. The reviews of my own stories mostly told me what I already knew, but I’m very happy to see that the ones that got the most respect were the ones I was most confident of. The duration of the FFF experiment thus far coincides with the duration of my career of actually finishing any fiction at all, and to have any of my material pass muster after so little time is more than I might have hoped for.

[ To be honest, I was far more embarrassed to read of the “numerous typographical mistakes afflicting this anthology”. 🙁 ]

So, as it’s fashionable among author types to air their negative reviews at the moment, here are the comments made by Mr Zinos-Amaro on my stories from ILLUMINATIONS, complete with links to the original pieces as published here on VCTB.

In “Alex in Hinterland,” the titular Alex spends time in the Hinterland on a talking, tangible Cloud, against the advice of his peers. What he discovers was not readily apparent to me, though I did get a sense of the story’s implications. The writing seemed somewhat diffuse and the piece as a whole not particularly sharply etched.

A vastly evolved emergent intelligence decides to baptize itself with the name “J” after the square root of negative one. I have no objection to hard SF density, but I’m not sure the profusion of technical terminology in this tale generated a convincing sense of what forces might be at work or helped to maintain the reader’s interest. This tale is weighed down by too much detail and a not particularly inspired ending to achieve what I think it sets out to.

When the Old Lady Evans passes away, the kids are finally able to steal into her house and discover what an “aristos” [sic] keeps for the purpose of entertainment, which may be nothing less than “The Last Bird.” I found the attention to detail and imagery engaging, and though the ending was predictable, the last sentence captured an ironic note that fit snugly within the emotional context of the piece.

In this parable of sorts, talking household appliances worry and fret about “The New Arrival.” This tale, consisting primarily of appliance banter, feels underwhelming, and the ending may be too smart for its own good.

The child narrator of “Daddy in [the] Stone” recounts a weekly Sunday visit to the family’s senescent, mentally frail father. This slice-of-life contains poignant observations and tactfully addresses a delicate but everyday subject. I wasn’t convinced by the narrating voice, which felt like an adult speaking as a child, but there’s enough worthwhile material here for me to recommend it nonetheless.

The young Fentus completes his initiation ceremony and learns some “Secrets of the Faith” shortly thereafter from one of the Order’s priests. The themes, dialogue, characters, and style in this tale offer nothing new, nor do the particulars of their combination. This is all retread material, and the last few sentences augment, rather than diminish, the effect of overall cliché.

The “Alien Abduction” at hand in this tale entails what one might expect. The unfortunate lack of anything new (including the ending) and less-than-stellar writing (for example, the repetitive use of “restrained” and “restraint” in consecutive paragraphs) will likely end up abducting the reader’s time and offer little in exchange.

James and Alex present an optimistic re-evaluation of “Sturgeon’s Law” and consider how it might apply to their “scavving”-based existences. I found the premise entertaining and the characters appropriately depicted for the dramatic purposes in play. As a result, the tale falls in the ten percent margin of Sturgeon’s Law for this reader.

The “physically disadvantaged” narrator of “Oh, For the Life of a Sailor!” joins the Navy, and his decision opens up an unexpected door into his future. Well-realized details help sustain the sense of plausibility in this implausible scenario, and the narrative rhythm helps move things along swiftly.

So there you go. It’s interesting that the subject of “Daddy in the Stone” was misinterpreted; the child’s father is meant to be a holographic recording in a gravestone, rather than a mentally frail shadow of his former self. There’s a lesson in itself; you don’t want to over-do the telling, but nor do you want to under-do it.

Overall, my takeaway points from this review have been twofold.

  • Firstly, I need to write far more regularly and less hurriedly (which isn’t exactly news).
  • Secondly, I don’t naturally lean toward the sort of story that makes a good flash piece (which isn’t exactly news either).

So, I think I’ll be focusing my efforts on longer pieces for the foreseeable future; I’ve proved to myself that I can finish stories worth reading, so now I think I need to write some that I consider to be worth sending out for publication. As my time is limited, that means I’m going to surrender time that I’d normally devote to meeting the weekly flash deadline in favour of making sure I knock out 500 words a day on something more substantial.

However, I’m hoping that once my authorial muscle is a little more developed through regular exercise, I’ll be better able to produce quality flash pieces on a regular basis as well as the more weighty work. Hell, maybe one day I will – Jay Lake-like – be able to seemingly toss the things off without a thought!*

In other words, I’m stepping back from the front line, but I’ll be back. 🙂

Oh, I still have some dead-tree copies of ILLUMINATIONS for sale, by the way … so if you’d like to secure a copy of this fine volume of super-short stories and simultaneously support the National Society for Prevention Of Cruelty to Children, please drop me a line!

[ * Note to Jay lake and anyone else – I know damn well he doesn’t just toss them off effortlessly. It just looks that way because he’s practiced like Sisyphus and nailed the process. The man’s an inspiration. ]

Book review: Ben Bova – The Sam Gunn Omnibus

The Sam Gunn Omnibus by Ben Bova

Ben Bova - The Sam Gunn Omnibus

Tor Books, 704 pp; $29.95 HBK (US RRP); ISBN 978-0765316172; pub. Feb 2007

As the title suggests, the The Sam Gunn Omnibus is a fix-up novel that collects all of Ben Bova‘s stories about the eponymous hero, written for and published in the US science fiction magazines of the late 1980s and early ’90s.

So, who is Sam Gunn? He’s the boom-bust entrepreneur incarnate, an embodiment of laissez faire capitalism in space exploration who names spaceships after free-market economists and sees a profit in every problem, large or small. He’s also a reincarnated Huck Finn in a space suit; a tireless braggart and womaniser; the natural enemy of rules, regulations and corporate methodology. If it wasn’t for his redeeming habit of helping out his friends en route to his next pile of riches, you’d have to hate him on principle — and most people already do.

And that’s as far as it goes for character development. Gunn is an avatar, a plot device through which Bova explores and exploits the solar system using scientifically plausible methods that governments and corporations have so far refused to use, for various reasons. As such, these tales of the first businesses, hotels and habitats in orbit should be hugely relevant in this era of nascent space tourism operations, inspiring grandiose dreams of a brighter bolder future for our species.

And they might still have been, if the stage wasn’t hogged by the overbearing and improbable Gunn. The other characters are no better – a roster of crude geopolitical stereotypes and caricatures – and it is probably the attitudes implicit in these characterisations that most clearly date these stories as relics of a bygone era. The life of Sam Gunn reads like an apologia for greed and misogyny, and even readers sympathetic with Bova‘s yearnings for the human race to escape the gravity well may find themselves tiring of the same successful-underdog plot continually reiterated against a slightly different backdrop.

Perhaps I’ve just missed the point, even though Bova‘s introduction suggests that there is no point to miss. As pure escapist wish-fulfilment, the Omnibus succeeds, but the reader in search of true sensawunda may wish to search elsewhere.

[This review was originally published in Interzone some time early in 2007; the precise issue number currently escapes me. It is offered in lieu of more substantial and original content during this particularly busy week.]

Resurrection season

Looks like Futurismic’s not the only site having a rebirth – the Internet Review Of Science Fiction appears to have returned!

That’s great news … even if it does mean I’d better take those John Meaney reviews off the back burner. Ahem.


Not so much of a resurrection as a late arrival, but no less welcome for that, F&SF steps into the blogosphere also – though still as a subdivision of SF Site.

C’mon, guys, your own domain name isn’t that big an expense, surely?


It’s been impossible to go anywhere in the sf/f world over the last month without hearing various rumours and confidential “now, you didn’t hear this from me, but …” statements.

But as Simon Owens has blown the whistle already, I guess we can all talk openly about the forthcoming Tor Books social networking / free content site. It’ll be interesting to see how this one develops.


And I promise this is the last time I’ll beat this drum, because I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, but … io9, come on, FFS.

Look, I know you’re a Gawker outlet, and I know you’re aiming for eyeballs, but surely after attending the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference, you can do a little better than “OMG we so LOL luk at teh funneh!!1!”?

Newitz is a pro journalist on science subjects, or so I thought – so couldn’t we have had a little more serious coverage with some “pranks” thrown in? Or is pandering to the preconceived public image of science fiction fans as nerdy versions of Beavis and Butthead part of the job description?

And I realise I’ve probably just contributed to the preconceived image of science fiction literature fans taking everything way too seriously, but there you go. Feel free to contact my lawyer.

[Having just finished this post, I realise that the title would have better been used on a short story, too. Bah. Happy bloody Tuesdays.]

Clute reviews Gibson’s Spook Country

Of course it’s a Clute review – look at the evidence:

“Inside the world of a Gibson novel, under the terrible Symmes sun that brands from within the skins we used to wear, readers and utterands tend to express a kind of meat-puppet digitalis, like marathon dancers unable to stop until the music kills them.”

One of a kind reviews one of a kind. I love the smell of genre in the morning.

It looks like Penguin are going to use cyberspace to promote the man who coined the phrase (but doesn’t like to talk about it), too. [Cheers, Ariel.]

Book review: "Dark Space" by Marianne de Pierres

Book jacket art for de Pierres' Dark Space

“Dark Space” by Marianne de Pierres (Book 1 of The Sentients of Orion)

Orbit Books, May 2007; 432pp, UK PBK; ISBN-13: 978-1841494289

Reviewed by Paul Raven

WARNING: This critique can be considered to contain ‘spoilers’.

The strapline reads “Dark space is not really dark. Neither is it empty.” Twisting this to refer to the book itself, it’s half right: Dark Space is certainly not empty. It is, however, very dark. Unflinchingly so; it’s a complex and exciting novel, almost devoid of cheap sentiment and comfortable vindication. It’s not a cheerful read, but it is a very rewarding one.One of the established modes of science fiction is the story that asks “what if this carries on?” With Dark Space, de Pierres is performing a variation of that mode, which we might choose to describe as “what if this happened again?” Having created a world that draws heavily on the politics (and to some extent the language and other trappings) of the Italian city-states of the Renaissance, de Pierres is able to examine societies and interpersonal relationships from feminist and Marxist angles without seemingly having any particular axe to grind other than that of general progressiveness – though a more coherent agenda promises to reveal itself over the course of the series.


If you want to read my entire critique of de Pierres’ “Dark Space”, you’ll need to pop over to T3A Space, of course. I know, I’m such a tease …