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Renegade 2: Blood Runner. The Accordionist's Son. Bernardo Atxaga. The Spanish Civil War — Patrick Turnbull. Looking at Hothouse now I can see foreshadows of Aldiss's later works; for example, it is an audacious exercise in world-building, like the Helliconia trilogy of the s. And I can admire its technical audacity. Its depiction of not-quite-human consciousness recalls Golding's The Inheritors. Hugely inventive, straddling genre forms and literary aspirations, and at once chilling and consoling in its long perspective, Aldiss's great book thrills me now as much as it did when I first discovered it some four decades ago.
It took me years to read Watchmen. Every time I'd get to the men in tights and the giant naked blue guy, I'd think, "Ack! Superhero comic! It wasn't that I was against comics.
But I liked the dark, twisty stuff that had something to say about the world and superhero comics seemed tediously codified with no room for moral ambiguity. What Moore does best, even at his silliest or most obtusely philosophical, is subvert.
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He uses story to crack open the dark places of the human soul like a crab shell, revealing the pasty meat within, and then pokes it with a cattleprod to see it writhe. He's the kind of writer who makes you feel very smart Kitty Genovese and the moral bankruptcy of crowds in Watchmen , for example and very stupid a dozen obscure Victorian literature references interwoven into every page of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen at the same time.
He pushes the medium. Every panel, every background detail, every interlude, whether a vaudeville song or a beat-style short story or seemingly wholly unrelated pirate horror comic, counts. He stretches the boundaries of storytelling in ways other writers wouldn't attempt, let alone pull off — and does it with a ferocious social conscience that challenges everything we are. And when he has a mind to, when he's not off on some grand mal meditation on the nature of magic or sexual desire or what stories mean, Moore tells the perfect story. Utterly devastating. From being the comic I couldn't read, Watchmen became the narrative I hold up as what fiction can be.
We know better now, of course. But they still entrance us, the old page-turners from the glory days of American SF, half a century or so ago, when the world was full of futures we were never going to have. In the mids, when he began to publish the episodes that would be assembled as City in , Clifford Simak, a Minneapolis-based journalist and author, could still carry us away with the dream that cars and pollution and even the great cities of the world — "Huddling Place", the title of one of these tales, is his own derisory term for them — would soon be brushed off the map by Progress, leaving nothing behind but tasteful exurbs filled with middle-class nuclear families living the good life, with fishing streams and greenswards sheltering each home from the stormy blast.
In its course City touches on almost everything dear to s SF, and to me remembering. Genetic Engineering. Domed cities.
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Matter transmission. Parallel worlds. Paranormal empathy. It's all there, and, thanks to Simak's skilled hand at the wheel, it's all in place: suave, sibylline, swift. The whole is framed as a series of legends told by the uplifted Dogs who have replaced the human race, now gone for ever.
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They have been bred not to kill. At the end, only Jenkins remains to keep them from learning how to repeat history and die. Light is the kind of novel other writers read and think: "Why don't I just give up and go home? It's also the only book to bring me unpleasantly close to sympathising with a serial killer. But this is M John Harrison: so antihero Michael Kearney is a mathematically brilliant, dice-throwing, reality-changing hyper-intelligent serial killer haunted by a horse-skulled personal demon.
Harrison's genius is to tie Kearney's narrative thread to those of Seria Mau — a far-future girl existing in harmony with White Cat, her spaceship, surfing a part of the galaxy known as the Kefahuchi Tract — and Chinese Ed, a sleazy if likeable cyberpunky chancer with a passion for virtual sex. This is not a kind book, or even a particularly likeable book.
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But then I suspected it was never intended to be, and the author wouldn't want the kind of people who want to like characters as his readers anyway. What it is is stunningly written, meticulously plotted, hallucinogenically realised and brutally honest. Light is also the book that novelist and critic Adam Roberts was so sure would win the Arthur C Clarke award, he offered to change his name to Adam Van Hoogenroberts if it didn't.
We're still waiting. The term "science fiction" hadn't been invented in , when the American magazine Atlantic Monthly published the first part of Edward Everett Hale's delightfully eccentric novella The Brick Moon. Readers lacked a ready-made pigeonhole for it, confronted by a fantasy about a group of visionaries who decide to make a ft wide sphere of house-bricks, paint it white, and launch it into orbit.
Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon had appeared five years earlier, so Hale's work was not unprecendented, but while Verne chose to send his voyagers aloft using a giant cannon, Hale opts for the equally unfeasible but somehow more pleasing solution of a giant flywheel. Hale gives technical details and calculations to support the plausibility of the venture.
There are ruminations and speculations — and, to be honest, quite a few longeurs, even in a compass of only 25, words.