September 11th, 2006


New York

Am sitting at an internet terminal on Broadway, a couple of blocks from Ground Zero, where the five-years-on commemoration is taking place at this very moment. It is a very peculiar feeling. Not really one I can describe at any further length.
body paint

September Books 6) Girl with a One-track Mind

6) Girl with a One-track Mind: Confessions of the Seductress Next Door by "Abby Lee" [Zoe Margolis]

Many of us who write blogs like to occasionally fantasise that there may some day be a market for our words of wisdom. (Of course, some who write blogs are already established professional writers, so this does not apply to them.) Very few, however, manage to make the transition from blogger to published author on the basis of what is in their blog; I doubt very much that my book reviews from here will ever appear in dead tree form in your local bookshop.

Of course, that's because I write about books I have read, and occasionally sf cons I have been to, or arguments I have had, or speeches I have made, and not about sex. The Girl With A One Track Mind has written a very entertaining blog about the sex she has had for the last couple of years, and managed (somehow strangely) to persuade a publisher to take it on, and here it is.

And it is an entertaining, in some ways rather a moral read. Sex with strangers, or semi-strangers, is not always satisfactory. Wildly successful sex does not necessarily lead to a wildly successful relationship. By the end of the book, she is firming up her ideas about what she wants from a long-term partner. In that way, the novel format is more sustainable than the blog - done properly, as it is here, it imposes a duty on the author of character development, of story arc rather than the episodic narrative we get from the blog.

The Sunday Times wrote an incredibly spiteful article exposing the author's real identity - typical of the trash rag it is (a friend of mine who was briefly its foreign correspondent had to help the then foreign editor work out where the Balkan states were, one of many events that I thought Evelyn Waugh had invented for Scoop). However, she has since made a few more media appearances on her own terms. Let's hope that her fears of being finished in her film industry career are exaggerated, and that she continues to write entertainingly and for profit.

September Books 7) The Terminal Experiment

7) The Terminal Experiment, by Robert J. Sawyer

This is not quite as bad a book as I had been led to believe. The prose is often leaden - in particular, the cringe-worthy opening passage which I think should be used as a model of how not to write in classes for impressionable young writers, and the numerous info-dumps idicating that the characters have read all the available scientific literature up to 1994 (which is a shame as most of the book is set in 2011). What appears to be the killer idea of the first half of the book - that science can detect the soul leaving the body at death - is simply forgotten for the last third of the narrative, which plays the rogue-AI's in the net cliche as a murder mystery, leading to an unconvincing resolution. The detective character herself violates standard operating procedure by burbling her theories about the crime to one of the key suspects.

But apart from that, the characters were not too unbelievable and the exploration of the issues of artificial intelligence and the scientific basis of the soul not too undergraduate (with all due respect to my undergraduate readers). And he does predict a future Pope Benedict XVI. (Of course, whether the present Pope will still be there in 2011 is another matter.)

Still, it is pretty surprising that this won the 1995 Nebula Award for Best Novel. I confess I haven't read any of the other nominees, and if this was voted better than them I don't really intend to. (Actually, I may have read Beggars and Choosers by Nancy Kress - I know I read one of the later books in the series, and was seriously unimpressed.) The Hugo for the equivalent year went to Bujold's Mirror Dance, which is the start of the superb four-book climax to the Vorkosigan saga (as continued in Memory, Komarr, and A Civil Campaign).

This is not the worst Nebula-winning novel I have read - that title goes to either The Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro or The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov - but it is certainly in the bottom four. I can't decide if I like it less than Neuromancer, because I can't remember anything about the Gibson book, even though I know I have read it several times.

OK, only Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin to go...

September Books 8) Mrs Dalloway

8) Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf

This is very short, but very good. I was pleased (reading the intro to my Penguin edition after I'd read the book) that I spotted the influence of Joyce's Ulysses - but this is much less hard work. I always like the narrative technique of looking at the same events from different perspectives, especially when the author gets the unreliable narrator technique right. Based on this I will look out for more - to my shame, I don't think I had read any Woolf before.