[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Two books on the go at the moment, at least theoretically. The Romans, from the non-fiction challenge, and the book I bought after seeing it on [livejournal.com profile] drasecretcampus's FB page: England Swings SF, edited by Judith Merril.

I'm two stories into the Merril book. The first one, 'The Island' by Roger Jones, I didn't enjoy all that much. It has a decent premise: three men on a small island who are carrying out actions they don't understand for reasons they don't know. There's enough detail cleverly inserted to enable the reader to make a good guess at what's going on, but the writing itself is stilted and formal, with too much telling. I can see it making a decent tv play.

With the second story, 'Ne Deja Vu Pas' by Josephine Saxton, I was left with a feeling I've often had before: Why is this not a classic of the genre? It's a marvellous little story about what happens when you transgress the borders of spacetime. Sometimes you have to shake your head over the vagaries of fame. It's all you can do.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
These trips to the local town are going to be the death of me, physically or financially. Or both.

Voices From the Front Line: Words from the Field of Human Conflict, edited by Antony and Nicholas Bird;
The African Dream: The Diaries of the Revolutionary War in the Congo by Ernesto 'Che' Guevara;
The Two Cities: Medieval Europe 1050-1320 by Malcolm Barber;
The Murdered Magicians: The Templars and their Myth by Peter Partner;
Novel on Yellow Paper by Stevie Smith
and
last but by no means least
The Time Traveller's Almanac, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer.

I also bought a book about the West Riding for my dad, and another book as a present for some other peoples. Busy day.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
The last of my three Alibris books arrived today. You have to wonder how much you're being overcharged for postage when you 'combine postage' yet all three books are sent separately. Eh.

This is of course the book I set out to buy: England Swings SF, edited by Judith Merril.

I'm trying to decide whether the reddish/brownish colour of the edges of the book block is deliberate or a sign of ageing. It is only an mmp, published way back in 1968, so you wouldn't expect it to age well. Judging by a spine crease, it's been read at least once. Judging by the crackling when I open it, it won't bear any hard reading without falling apart. In the front it's been priced in pencil at 1 shilling* and in the back someone's written, again in pencil, 16398. A date, maybe?

England Swings SF cover

Contents:

Introduction by Judith Merril;
'The island' by Roger Jones;
'Ne deja vu pas' by Josephine Saxton;
'Signals' by John Calder;
'Saint 505' by John Clark;
'The singular quest of Martin Borg' by George Collyn;
'The first gorilla on the moon' by Bill Butler;
'Blastoff' by Kyril Bonfiglioli;
'You and me and the continuum' by J.G. Ballard;
'Who's in there with me?' by Daphne Castell;
'The squirrel cage' by Thomas M. Disch;
'Manscarer' by Keith Roberts;
'The total experience kick' by Charles Platt;
'The silver needle' by George Macbeth;
'The baked bean factory' by Michael Shuttleworth;
'The hall of machines' by Langdon Jones;
'The run' by Chris Priest;
'All the king's men' by B.J. Bayley;
'Still trajectories' by Brian W. Aldiss;
'Sun push' by Graham M. Hall;
'Report on a supermarket' by Michael Hamburger;
'Dr. Gelabius' by Hilary Bailey;
'The heat death of the universe' by P.A. Zoline;
'The mountain' by Michael Moorcock;
'Psychosmosis' by David J. Masson;
'The idea of entropy at Maenporth Beach' by Peter Redgrove;
'Same autumn in a different park' by Peter Tate
and
'The assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy considered as a downhill motor race' and 'Plan for the assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy' by J.G. Ballard.

Who are these people? Most of the names are unfamiliar. Mind you, that doesn't mean much, coming from someone who can remember half a plot and a bit of a character, but never titles or authors' names. Ahem. But a heck of a lot of stories crammed into a tightly-fonted book. Is fonted a word?

*At least, it looks like 1 shilling to me. But as it's a US edition and I bought it from a US bookshop, that would mean it's crossed the Atlantic at least twice. Hmm.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Ordered from the US via Alibris (because no copies of the Merril book were available here):

England Swings SF, edited by Judith Merril;
And Chaos Died by Joanna Russ
and
Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Used my usual method whereby once I'd found a copy of the book I wanted to buy, I searched the seller for things on my wishlist or by authors I like to read. Et voila.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Poor lonely little blog. Is anybody reading YOU?

Ploughing on with the Bradbury book but damn it's cold in this house. Not conducive to relaxing with a book. Not at all.

I keep sitting around looking pitiful and hoping the Powers That Be will realise you need to heat your house in December.

And adding layers. I'm even wearing socks.

One of these Bradbury stories, 'Perchance to Dream', gave me a bit of a surprise. Halfway through, I realised Bradbury had forgotten that the protagonist, Sale, was wearing a spacesuit. It's not the sort of mistake Bradbury usually makes. So I went back and checked to see if Sale had taken the suit off, or if he'd realised the atmosphere on the planetoid on which he'd crash-landed was safe, and so at least had taken his helmet off, but no.... If you fire a gun at your head while wearing a spacesuit and the round grazes your forehead, at some point it's passed through your suit, yes? And possibly let the oxygen out. Bradbury just seems to have plain forgot. And the editor didn't notice. And so it comes to me, so I can go, Eh?

In general, though, I'm enjoying the book. It's clear Bradbury was telling the truth when he said he didn't set out to write Science Fiction, he just wrote stories and other people decided they were that. Some of these stories, like 'The Little Mice', are not SF at all. They're just weird. In a good way. The stories are bite-sized but they don't feel incomplete. Sometimes I read a 3k story and think, where's the rest? Sometimes, I've literally turned the page to read the rest of the story and found it's not there. Some stories don't end; they merely stop. But Bradbury manages to write concise stories that satisfy. Quite a skill.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Am beginning slightly to regret numbering these posts, as it's getting harder and harder to remember what number I'm up to. And so we make rods for our own backs.

Today has been quite a day for wrassling computers and really I ought to go to bed, but I wanted to write a bit about the books I've been reading lately.

Not that I ever do anything else.

When I started reading John Wyndham's The Outward Urge, I developed a strong suspicion that I'd read it before, and not enjoyed it. After a while, I was convinced that I had read it before and I still wasn't enjoying it. I was going to add that Wyndham is a difficult writer, but I'm not sure that he is, really. He's pretty much in the mould of Arthur C. Clarke, with lots of unexamined assumptions going on and an interest in the science sometimes at the expense of characters or plot. Which isn't to say that I don't enjoy his work. Triffids and Chrysalids are two of my favourite rereads, and I watched my illicit video tape of the first BBC version of Triffids until the tape died. No need to weep--I have it on DVD now.

No, Chocky is the book I don't like. Not that there's anything wrong with it. The story is ingenious, engaging, interesting, and frightening at times. It's the narrator's attitude to his daughter that I can't bear. He seems to despise her. I'd go so far as to say he *does* despise her. Yet he seems unaware of or unbothered by this, and nobody else in the book seems to notice. Bit like nobody in Anne of Green Gables has a problem with a teacher grooming one of his students to become his wife, while neglecting another student because he doesn't fancy her. I'm still stunned that this book is considered wholesome and innocent in comparison with modern works for young people. But la. Off topic I veer once again.

There are moments in other Wyndham books where you wonder if this guy has a problem with women. But it's in Chocky that it crystallises. He DOES have a problem with women.

Yet, against the despised little girl in Chocky we have to put the marvellous Susan in Triffids. She's so great it's hard to believe Wyndham wrote her. And thus I'm drawn again to the question: does Wyndham have a problem with women? Or do some of his characters have the problem? Against Susan we have to put the rant about the parasitical nature of women that Wyndham puts into Coker's mouth. Is that Coker speaking? Or Wyndham? Or some guy down the pub? I suspect it's informed by the time Wyndham spent at the Bedales School, but that's pure speculation on my part.

In The Outward Urge he mostly solves the Women Problem by pretty much not including any women. Space is relentlessly male and (one assumes) white. The last bastion of the gentleman's club. Bah. (There is one woman--she's a doctor--who exists to facilitate an info-dump or two. And for no other reason. She's so strongly characterised that I can't remember her name or even if she had one.)

Also, the book's not very well written. There's a tendency to open with a character in a situation, then go into substantial flashback and backstory about how they got into that situation. It's usually not even a very exciting situation--sitting at a desk. for example. What's the use in telling us someone has won their argument or obtained their position or got their space station built, then trying to engage us with the difficulties they faced? We know they won. It's boring, John. Boring.

Some of the stories are better than others. There's one with a man who's crash-landed on Mars writing a letter home that's truly touching. His knowledge of his own imminent death informs the story well but isn't overdone or schmaltzy. In another story, there's a long explanation of how a spaceship is assembled in space that's fascinating in scientific terms but which holds no dramatic tension. It seems difficult for Wyndham to balance the fascination with the science with the need to engage the reader with the story.

On the whole, not a book I'd recommend, except to Wyndham completists. Go read The Chrysalids instead.

I was also reading a book my sister lent me. Unfortunately, she had to lend her Kindle with it, and when she left, both book and Kindle left too. This is not the best arrangement for lending books that I have come across. Her Kindle has a pink cover, btw. Not that I was embarrassed to be seen reading it or anything. I was always in the house ;).

The book was Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock. I didn't get into it at first, as the approach--opening then flashback/backstory--isn't one I favour. But after a while I did get into the story and was sorry not to be able to finish it. Still, as my sister pointed out, if I hadn't paused to read Touching the Void, I would have finished, so I only have myself to blame. If I see a copy I will pick it up, although of course then I will suffer from the problem of having read the first half too long ago to pick up on the story but not long enough ago to reread the beginning. Eh.

I was slightly amused by some similarities with my favourite Wynne Jones book: The Homeward Bounders. A child wanders into a house where they're not supposed to be and.... Classic stuff.

I've now moved onto the Ray Bradbury book I picked up at the same time as The Outward Urge. It's a collection of his short stories and as usual there's some I've read and some I think I've read. At some point surely someone will publish the definitive collected Bradbury and then I can read those stories that don't get collected into the usual sources. Maybe. After all, I've had my complete Ballard for years and never managed to get through the entire Huge White Book, mainly because Ballard starts to annoy me after a while. If his world and mine interconnect at all, it can only be on the fringes.

Happy reading, y'all.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
When the Wollstonecraft was upstairs and I was downstairs, or it was downstairs and I was upstairs, I've also been reading The Eye of the Heron and Other Stories, edited by Virginia Kidd. Although it doesn't trumpet the fact on the cover, this is an all-female anthology. Possibly a rare animal in 1980, and especially rare perhaps in feeling no need to promote? warn about? the all-femaleness. It does however feature Le Guin's name prominently on the cover, presumably in the (correct) assumption that this would sell the book. There were quite a few other Le Guin books for sale in the same charity shop, so I suspect they'd come from the estate of a fan.

Contents

Prayer for my Daughter by Marilyn Hacker (poem);
'No One Said Forever' by Cynthia Felice;
'The Song of N'Sardi-el' by Diana L. Paxson;
'Jubilee's Story' by Elizabeth A. Lynn;
'Mab Gallen Recalled' by Cherry Wilder;
'Phoenix in the Ashes' by Joan D. Vinge
and
The Eye of the Heron by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Too tired right now to discuss the stories, but this anthology is worth a read if you can find it anywhere.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Went into town yesterday to visit the local independent bookshop and pick up two books I'd ordered. There they were, sitting together on the shelf behind the counter, even though the computer denied all knowledge in its charming computery way.

The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft by Claire Tomalin
and
The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 26, edited by Gardner Dozois.

They don't seem that obviously to go together, I admit.

I buy the Dozois antho every year. It's my attempt at keeping up with what's being published in short SF, in the absence of being able to get hold of the print mags or having any particular desire to read on the computer or even my Nook. Over time, I've acquired a copy of every volume ever published in this particular series. They are a bit mismatched--tall American paperbacks against squat British ones, with one lonesome American hardback at #10. A friend of mine pursuing the same goal decided to buy only the American volumes so his would match. For myself, I don't care that much. I have them all (bwa ha ha!) and that's what matters.

Except of course there's a new volume every year. Curses ;). I'm a bit late buying it this year (it came out in September), which suggests a certain amount of ennui or possibly laziness or even forgetfulness. Anyway, here it is now. And it's green. Plus, there are stories in it by people I know. Cool.

The charity shops were also explored, that is until I realised how much money I was spending, and called a halt.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer;
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi;
In Search of the Edge of Time by John Gribbin
and
Holy Madness by Adam Zamoyski.

Plus Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, which I gave to Dad.

(There was yet another book but I'm considering also giving that to someone, so shan't list it here)
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
I picked up Connoisseur's Science Fiction, edited by Tom Boardman, almost at random as something to read last night before going to sleep. If I'm very tired but need to settle down before I can sleep, I usually need something not too mind-taxing to read. Regency Romance fills that category a lot of the time.

The book is somewhat old (which might explain why it suddenly fell into two pieces), having been first published in 1964. My copy is probably from the 1976 reprint, however. I must have picked it up secondhand somewhere. At the back of my mind is the idea I have two copies, although I've no idea where #2 is. Perhaps that's still in one piece.

The anthology contains ten stories, all reprints:

'Disappearing Act' by Alfred Bester;
'The Wizards of Pung's Corners' by Frederik Pohl;
'Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow' by Kurt Vonnegut;
'Mr Costello, Hero' by Theodore Sturgeon;
'Quit Zoomin' Those Hands Through the Air' by Jack Finney;
'Build-up' by J.G. Ballard;
'The Fun They Had' by Isaac Asimov;
'Diabologic' by Eric Frank Russell;
'Made in U.S.A.' by J.T. McIntosh and
'The Waveries' by Fredric Brown.

Unless you had to google J.T. McIntosh, like I did, you may have noticed one factor all these authors have in common.

Which leads us to the question, can men write Science Fiction? After all, if it's necessary to have an anthology dedicated only to their work, it does lead the reader to wonder why they can't get published in the mixed anthologies that are open to both women and men. It's not that I object to opportunities being given to authors who may be unfairly disadvantaged because of their gender; it's just that I feel that had the editor had the decency to include the words 'by Men' in the title of the anthology, I would at least have known what I was getting into. Positive discrimination does have its place, but if these authors really have been unfairly overlooked, their work shouldn't need to deceive the consumer in order to succeed.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
And the irritation continues. Typos, misplaced commas and apostrophes, and one very annoyed reader.

I do wonder if some of the stories were scanned in from print copies of the magazines in which they were originally published. Editing and proofreading scanned text is a horrible chore. The mistakes humans make are predictable. You can and do learn what to look for, what to expect. Scanners make some predictable mistakes--for example, rm and rn are very difficult for them--but a lot of the time they just produce random garbage. Making sense of it can be a nightmare. This is why we have proofreading. Also, alcohol.

The stories themselves are a bit slight at times, but it's fun to see Emshwiller's thoughts on how relationships might develop when people have access (at a price) to 'perfect' android wives and husbands. There's one striking story where a human socialised only by robots meets another...although to be honest I'm not quite sure what happens. I don't think it ended well.

What's fascinating however is to have access to an author's body of work, rather than the cherry-picked 'best of'. Really interesting.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Every day, a story from Daily Science Fiction appears in my inbox. Every day, Thunderbird tags it as possibly a scam. Every day, Tbird gives me two options: Disable all warnings or Ignore this particular one. There's no halfway house. I have to be warned every day or never.

Rest assured, Daily SF is not a scam. You sign up for a free SF story every day and that's what you get.

Thunderbird is just over-enthusiastic, I guess.

The reader is invited to rate each story on a scale of 1 to 7 rocket dragons (yeah) and to leave comments. I think I did leave some ratings and comments in the early days, but so many of these authors seem to be newbies making their first professional sale that tearing their story to pieces in a place they were sure to visit eagerly and with hope in their hearts felt mean. So I stopped doing it.

The correct place to destroy an author's dreams and break their hearts is, I've always felt, the slush pile.

However. It is very tempting to write 'Why I Liked (or Didn't Like) Your Story' somewhere. Maybe somewhere the author will never know, unless they obsessively search on their own name like nobody I know. Ahem. And some of these stories are so bad that they could be asking for it, if you believed in the concept of asking for it, which our society does and I don't. Well, I try not to. But really. Sometimes they are very bad.

Different standards, different editorial tastes, subjectivity, publish the best of what you get, yada yada.

Or just bad.

It's my blog (okay, it's Monissaw's blog) so I can be as grouchy as I please.

And YES I did submit to them in the early days and YES they did reject everything I sent, including 'Snow Cat', which eventually found a home with ASIM. So you can attribute spite and envy to me as well. Eppur si muove.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
After some days of comfort reading, we're back to the serious stuff: The Collected Stories of Carol Emshwiller, Vol.1, put out by Nonstop Press and edited by...well, who? Because my money's on nobody.

As someone who's edited for Strange Horizons, NFG, GUD and The World SF blog, I know it's hard work and I know only too painfully well that mistakes are made, and you don't notice them until it's too late, and there is much rending and tearing of garments as a result. Also, you will be pilloried by the eagle-eyed portion of the readership, always much more eagle-eyed and vocal than you would wish.

But. Come on. If there's one thing you learn as an editor, it's you can't trust anyone's editing. Not your own, not the author's, and not that of anyone who edited something for publication before you.

In other words, it's not enough to copy&paste a story that's been previously published into your document and trust that whoever edited it did a perfect job. They won't have done. You won't, either, but you can damn well try.

Especially when you have an author who openly admits they can't spell.

Some people, having trained the editorial eye and the editorial brain, then install a convenient Off switch for those moments when they're not actually editing. Either mine never arrived from the factory or it doesn't work; in other words, even when reading for pleasure, the editorial eye and brain are functioning, noticing mistakes, infelicitious phrasings, and pretty much how the story has been written as well as what's been written in the story. If I let it. If there are mistakes to notice. If the story is not, perhaps, sufficiently gripping to lull the editorial aspect to sleep. This is one of those things they don't warn you about when you take up writing, editing, and tearing your hair out.

"Hallow" for "halo". That one's almost funny, except you have to go back and reread it to work out, yeah, must be "halo" that's meant. Then you've lost the thread of the story. Lots and lots of typos. At least one missing or misplaced line. Look, this book costs twenty-five pounds and it's only volume one. That's a lot of my money you're wanting for just a copy&paste job. The stories should have been edited, at the very LEAST they should have been proofread. It's insulting to the author and it's insulting to the reader not to bother.

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