March 18th, 2011


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March Books 14) The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson

I really enjoyed The Diamond Age when I first read it, which must have been shortly after it was first published in 1995; I thought that Stephenson's exploration of the ideas of education, conformity versus originality, and culture was original and fascinating. I loved the richly imagined (if slightly idealistic) future, with firmly laid down channels of justice and culture which an individual might still be able to jump between. The ending is a bit weak, but I felt that it probably deserved its Hugo partly also in compensation for the fact that the earlier Snow Crash, which is a better book, had failed to get the recognition that it deserved at the time.

Rereading it now, more of the book's flaws are apparent to me. It's striking that, apart from Judge Fang and his assistants (and Lord Finkle-McGraw, who has of course made himself a subject of Queen Victoria II), most of the characters are non-Asians encountering Chinese culture as foreigners; the myths encountered and dealt with by Nell are almost all identifiably white people's myths; and the interrogation of conformity vs individualism gets rather close to being Asia vs USA. I now know that it is possible to immerse us in other cultures' futures without othering the culture (Ian McDonald is good at this) and I was rather uncomfortable at places in The Diamond Age when reading it this time round.

However, I've also now read all but one of the other books that were on that year's Hugo shortlist. Stephen Baxter's The Time Ships is a typical Baxter book, of great vision (and of course an authorised sequel to one of the seminal works of the genre) yet somehow impersonal. David Brin's Brightness Reef is about at the point where the Uplift series was visibly running out of steam. Robert J. Sawyer's The Terminal Experiment, which inexplicably won the Nebula, is poor. I haven't read Connie Willis' Remake but I've heard or read nothing to suggest that this omission is a blight upon my life. So, basically, the Hugo voters got it right.

March Books 15) Fantasy: The Best Of The Year, 2007, edited by Rich Horton

One could reasonably gripe about this anthology because the cover names Peter S. Beagle, Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe, implying that stories by all three are to be found within, when in fact only Beagle makes an appearance, Gaiman and Wolfe being missing in action. I would be on firmer ground to criticise if I had actually rushed to read the book soon after buying it three and a half years ago, rather than letting it sit on the shelf until now. Anyway, it's a good collection of good stories, none of which I could remember having read before, the best for my money being Daniel Handler's post-mortem romance, "Naturally". Fantasy isn;t usually my genre but I can see the appeal from reading collections like this.