March 4th, 2006


March Books 1) Air

1) Air (or Have not Have), by Geoff Ryman

I mostly agree with Geneva Melzack and Iain Emsley, and where I differ from them I agree with Claude Laumière. This is a great novel about the changes wrought in our world by the new communications technology. Unlike most such novels, rather than fixating on the technology itself, Ryman looks at what the coming information revolution will mean to ordinary people living ordinary lives. Unlike any other such story I have read, his characters are not teenagers living in Western affluence, but villagers in a fictional Central Asian country, at the intersection of the Turkic and Chinese cultural spheres, in other words about as far from the West as you can culturally get in today's world. I thought it was fascinating and compassionate.

However. Ryman is a proponent of the "mundane science fiction" school and oddly enough the two most problematic elements for me in the book for me were the two most fantastic ones. The physical flood threatening to overwhelm the village threatened to be a rather overstated echo of the metaphorical deluge of the new technology, but I think Ryman just about got away with it in the end. The heroine's bizarre pregnancy, however, just did not work for me.

March Books 2) Learning the World

2) Learning the World, by Ken MacLeod

I don't plan to get into a habit of meta-reviewing, but I have read coalescent and immortalradical here, and ninebelow here, also greengolux's observations, and papersky's praise. I am much more towards the coalescent and papersky end of the spectrum. I really liked it. I thought that it does indeed add something new to the old sf theme of first contact between humans and aliens. It takes the premise of Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky, a book I really didn't like at all, and does it a whole lot better - basically, the aliens on their planet have a society which feels much more like ours than do the humans in the approaching spaceship. I thought the various cultures and subcultures, both human and alien, were convincingly fleshed out. (Planets in sf novels are too often portrayed as having just one culture and one language - in extreme cases, appearing to possess a single time zone.) MacLeod is on top form in both depth and humour in his portrayal of the intellectual shock of the encounter for both humans and aliens.

I did feel the novel had one glaring weakness, shared with most of the classics of the hard sf genre to which it clearly belongs. We find out very little about the characters' inner lives. Much of the human side of the story is conveyed through the blog of a teenage girl, which is frankly much more reminiscent of the author's own blog than of the real thing at the younger end of livejournal; I guess I must be reading more teenage blogs than Ken does (and I don't read them much at all). The human characters jump in and out of bed with each other and suffer little emotional embarrassment; as for the aliens, this is the one respect in which we really don't get inside their heads.

However, it's going on my Hugo nominations list.

Award winners meme, revisited

Almost two months ago, truepenny came up with a meme - to list all the novels which have won the Hugo, Nebula, Clarke, Tiptree, Dick, Stoker and  World Fantasy Awards and, as so often, bold the ones you have read. It was a pretty short-lived meme; in the next couple of days 34 people did it (all but one on livejournal) and then it died a death as these things do.

I thought it would be intertesting (well, interesting for me, anyway) to crunch through the numbers and see how many people of this self-selected group have actually read each of the award-winners. Excluding the Stoker winners, which seemed to have far less take-up, and the Sidewise Awards, which only one person listed, the results for the other 169 books are as follows (top twenty-ish above the cut tag, and the three which nobody had read below it):

32 (1st): Frank Herbert, Dune

29 (2nd): Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

28 (joint 3rd): Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game
Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

27 (5th): J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

26 (joint 6th): Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man
William Gibson, Neuromancer

25 (joint 8th): Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon
Larry Niven, Ringworld
Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead
Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed

24 (joint 12th): Connie Willis, Doomsday Book
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

23 (joint 14th): David Brin, Startide Rising
Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars

22 (joint 16th): David Brin, The Uplift War
Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz

21 (19th): Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

20 (joint 20th): Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama
Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep

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0 (joint 166th): Carol Emshwiller, The Mount
Louise Erdrich, The Antelope Wife
Stepan Chapman, The Troika

I confess that I have never heard of either Louise Erdrich or Stepan Chapman, let alone their respective award-winning novels. Howver, I have read the top forty or so. The first I haven't yet read is China Mountain Zhang, followed by Little, Big and Mythago Wood, and then Thomas the Rhymer and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

That Dune came out on top overall is not so very surprising. I'm pleased by Le Guin's performance. Slightly surprised that Flowers for Algernon did not do even better - I thought it was a standard high-school assignment (certainly the most-visited page of my own website) but perhaps if you strictly count the novel rather than the original short story the count goes down. Other interesting data there as well, but I have been working on this for long enough.

(Thanks very much to [info]agrumer, [info]apotropaism, [info]badgerbag, [info]blue_condition,, [info]burger_eater, [info]communicator, [info]ellen_fremedon, [info]feyandstrange, [info]firecat, [info]gummitch, [info]hollowpoint, [info]jodawi, [info]jry, [info]kangeiko, [info]katlinel, [info]kerravonsen, [info]ladyoflight2004, [info]lenora_rose, [info]linda_joyce, [info]marykaykare, [info]nhw, [info]nickeyb, [info]pariyal, [info]peake, [info]pigeonhed, [info]sbisson, [info]shsilver, [info]sooguy, [info]spacedoutlooney, [info]tensegrity, [info]tinaconnolly, [info]vierran45 and especially [info]truepenny for putting it into its standard form - user names link to the relevant entry in each case.)