Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

Readers set the critics right at Worldcon 75

On day 2 of Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, I finally got to have a word with one of the “insider” attendees, which provided me with more of an eye-opener than the presenter himself had done. As part of a session on Chinese Science Fiction (SF), Eero Suoranta (University of Helsinki, Finland) presented his Ph.D. Study, The Inadequacy of Enlightenment Rationality in Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. This was just after Prof. Mingwei Song had put forth his compelling arguments about making “the invisible” part of the real world. Continue reading

Poor presentations detract from the messages at Worldcon 75

Messukeskus Conference Centre, Helsinki, venue of Worldcon 75.

The first Academic Track session on the first day of Worldcon 75 (the 75th World Science Fiction Conference), on the 9th of August in Helsinki, Finland,  promised to showcase the finest minds and the most sophisticated analyses that academics working in Science Fiction (either the science part, or the fiction part, or both) have to offer. The subject was “Uses of Fantasy: The Book, The Film, and Audience Responses – Results of the Finnish Sub-Project of the World Hobbit Project”. The presentations by three academics were, unfortunately, examples of “Do as I say, not as I do”. Continue reading

Who’s up for some Surrealist warfare? The Last Days of New Paris, by China Miéville

China Miéville’s novels lend themselves to illustration, as his legions of fans have demonstrated. This excellent collage is by the (nameless) author of the French Sci-Fi blog, avant-critique. The artist did not think that the graphics in the novel were adequate to reflect the tone.

China Miéville’s novels lend themselves to illustration, as his legions of fans have demonstrated. This imaginative collage is by the (nameless) author of the French Sci-Fi blog, avant-critique. The artist did not think that the graphics in the novel were adequate to reflect the tone.

To give some background on this peculiar novella, The Last Days of New Paris, consider this: No adult, dedicated Science Fiction (SF) novel has ever won the Man Booker prize for literature. It has been vehemently debated that the Man Booker Prize judges, like the judges of other high-profile, establishment literary awards, shy away from submissions from SF writers, because, firstly, SF is viewed as “low-brow” youth culture writing, being frequently confused with Fantasy writing. Secondly, SF is seen as too obscure or leading-edge, and thirdly, they presuppose that in order to understand SF, readers have to have read a lot of it or have specialized knowledge of technology or science, limiting its appeal.

Practically speaking, SF is often hard to read and appreciate because of futuristic subjects and the introduction of new concepts that authors have to create new words or languages for. (For instance Klingon and Na’vi.) Both authors and readers need tremendous powers of imagination. China Miéville has invented new words and languages for many of his mind-boggling SF works, and in The Last Days of New Paris, he does it again. Reading it made me realize that I simply do not know enough about the SF genre. It was impossible for me to judge it one way or another. A thumbs up or down was out of the question. Why? Because, apart from producing a doozy of an SF adventure, he turns many SF conventions on their heads in this book. It isn’t a Man Booker contender, for the reasons listed above, but is sure is a candidate for every SF literature award out there. Continue reading

Too many “glittery encrustations” – Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights, by Salman Rushdie

Random House, September 8, 2015, 1st Edition

Random House, September 8, 2015, 1st Edition

Not worth the effort, frankly

This is part two of the essay about “readability” that I published yesterday. This time I’m taking a hard look at a novel by the famous Salman Rushdie, called Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights. Dared I say what I really think? Yep, I did.…
The essay is on novels that are hard to read and to finish because of one thing or another. One is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Waowhich eventually turned out to be excellent despite the fact that it is written in a mix of English and Spanish. The other is Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights – a title that feels as long as it takes to get through the book. This novel is typical Rushdie, a modernization of the fairytales of One Thousand and One Nights which was told by Scheherazade /ʃəˌhɛrəˈzɑːdᵊ/, or Shahrazad (Persian: ‫شهرازاد‬‎‎ Šahrāzād), a legendary queen and storyteller. The impediment here is not the language but that it is an incomprehensible muddle of elements and ideas – very elegantly portrayed – which nonetheless makes it both pedantic and boring. It is not a direct modernization of the fairytales. You are not going to get Sinbad in there, or Aladdin or Ali Baba. You are going to get male (jinn) and female (jinnia), and good and evil jinns (or djinns or genies), sex (a lot of it – did you know jinns have high libidos?), magic, a lamp holding a genie, wishes coming true, good battling evil forces, global warfare, regicide, and parallel worlds. Continue reading

The Impossibility of Unseeing – The City & The City by China Miéville

The City and the City

The City & The City, by China Miéville (Random House, UK, Del Ray Trade Paperback Edition, 2010)

For the festive season reading list, I’d like to get back to books that can stand up to frequent re-readings. They’re old, but good, and their themes are particularly relevant these days.  Let’s start with a novel with the theme of politics and separation: The City & The City, by China Miéville. You are not going to have an easy read from this author. You want soft soupy porridge for the brain, with lots of sugar? Read someone else. You want roughage with lots of vitamins and resilience-building argumentation? Read Miéville.  Continue reading

Where did that quote come from? – Making Money & Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett

After Terry Pratchett’s death (my previous post),  his daughter Rhianna tweeted from her father’s Twitter account: “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER. Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night. The End.” I have been rereading all of the Discworld novels over the past few weeks to remind myself again why I like them, and in doing so, I found out where those words come from. And obvious, it ain’t.

Continue reading