December 31st, 2004


Tsunami donations

Mainly for my Belgian readers: I recommend having a look at Oxfam Solidarity, specifically their special South-East Asian tsunami fund. Because of the ludicrous Belgian tax system, every euro you give to charity here is multiplied up five or six times in its effect as long as you do the paperwork right.

I'm particularly keen on Oxfam because I see them combining the on-the-ground humanitarian stuff with political analysis. It may be an unfair impression, but I seem to see more of them doing the necessary politics in Brussels than any of the others. While some people complain when a charity does politics as well as good works, I think the former is an essential part of the latter.

Oxfam is also running special appeals in Ireland (inc NI), Great Britain, the USA and elsewhere. (The fact that my ex-sister-in-law runs one of their bookshops is irrelevant!)

More reading resolutions for 2005: sf / comics

52 books have won the Hugo award for Best Novel. I've read 49 of them; that just leaves Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov, The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge, and The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber. I already have the Vinge; the other two should not be too difficult to track down in the course of 2005, though I'd like to buy and reread the Foundation trilogy as a whole before tackling Foundation's Edge.

Peter Sykes keeps a list of the Top 100 SF books, aggregating from various sources as I did in my previous post about novel in general. The 14 books (not counting annual or award anthology series) I haven't read from this list are: Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison; A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess; The Space Merchants, Pohl & Kornbluth; A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs; City, Clifford Simak; Babel-17, Samuel R Delany; Tau Zero, Poul Anderson; Grey Lensman, E E 'Doc' Smith; Again, Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison; The Female Man, Joanna Russ; The Snow Queen, Joan D Vinge; Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon; Deathbird, Harlan Ellison; and Dhalgren, by Samuel R Delany. The Vinge is already on my list; so is the first Dangerous Visions because it includes the next story in my grand project of writing up all Hugo and Nebula winners. I shall aim to read at least five of the others in the course of 2005. (Sykes also has a Next 100 best sf books list so this will keep me going for a good while.)

I'll also be reading the Hugo nominees once they are announced, and will look out for likely prospects from the BSFA and Clarke awards shortlists (which usually have a certain degree of overlap). I tried using the SF Site's Best of 2003 lists last year; so far I read and enjoyed Venniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer; read and didn't quite so much enjoy Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde, Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett and The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases ed Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts; and bought but haven't yet read The Light Ages by Ian MacLeod and The Golden Transcendence by John C. Wright. That's a strike rate of only one in four which is not so good.

As for graphic novels, I've found the list of 25 must-reads posted on Bookslut in July really good, and will keep up my current plan of reading one of those every couple of months, plus keeping an eye out for Bookslut's recommendations.

December Books 8) Berlin: City of Stones

8) Berlin: City of Stones, Jason Lutes

This is another from the Time list of 25 must-read graphic novels. Once again, fantastic. Very much in the Will Eisner tradition, following a set of characters through a richly imagined historical background; for instance the Potsdamerplatz, in the early episodes, seems to almost have a life of its own. But unlike Will Eisner, we know that there is a historical catastrophe coming; each episode takes place in one of the months from September 1928 to May Day 1929, with different characters experiencing different aspects of the gathering storm. Berlin has always fascinated me, and this book has further whetted my appetite. The most disappointing thing about it is that it's only the first part of a trilogy and the next two bits aren't out yet.

December Books 9) The Radiant Seas

9) The Radiant Seas, by Catherine Asaro

A couple of months back I reported here that award-winning author Catherine Asaro, pained at my dissing her works on my website, had sent me three of her novels to try and make me change my mind; and that indeed I very much enjoyed her first, Primary Inversion. It was therefore with a certain amount of eager anticipation that I turned to The Radiant Seas which picks up the story from where we left it at the end of the first book.

Oh dear. A real disappointment. Lots of infodumping, tedious handwaving technicalese - the nadir, close to the end, is this sentence:
With a rest mass of 1.9 eV and a charge of 5.95x10-25 C, abitons only needed an accelerator with a 50 cm radius and 0.0001 Telsa [sic] magnet.
Which I wouldn't mind if it actually helped the book make sense; but it doesn't. Anyway thanks to the helpfully provided diagram I spent much time wondering how you could possibly keep anything, let alone tons of antimatter, in a Klein bottle (whose inside is the same as its outside).

I was quite unable to suspend my disbelief to take seriously the family and interplanetary politics as I could for the first book. The good guys always escape certain doom in the nick of time, unlike the bad guys. And worst of all, my particular bête noire, there is a chatty artificial intelligence which tries to get its owner to call it by a proper name. Aargh.

Out of a (possibly misplaced) sense of honour, I will read the third book she sent me, but I don't feel any sense of urgency about it.