Book Reviews

October 22nd, 2007

It seems like I live to get those damn book reviews done some days. I love doing the reading, but sometimes I really hate having to write about them afterwards. Its not that I hate the exercise of it, its just that sometimes I can’t figure out what it is I want to really say. So I write the review, then let it sit for weeks before I finish it and publish it. That is essentially what is going on with my review of Zenna Henderson’s Ingathering. I wrote the review about three weeks ago. But it still sucks, so there it sits on my hard drive until I have gathered enough brain power to make it un-suck. Good luck to me.

My friend at work was asking why I even write the things in the first place, which is odd since Ive never given him the URL, and only told him once that its my hobby (and he even asks “why ya do dat with science fiction? Philistine). In 1992 some editor at SFS (Science Fiction Studies) sent out a letter to 65 or so authors, critics and reviewers asking them what works they would like to see more attention paid to in the future. Just over 1/2 of them replied with lists of 5-10 artifacts that they think warrant serious evaluation and investigation. I encountered that article on the SFS website several years later, and as I read through it, I realized that I loved lots of those books and authors, and that I should review them myself. By the time I encountered the list in SFS, genre publishers like NESFA and others had apparently taken it to heart, as they were reissuing big potions of the list (which made my job of acquisition much easier, I must say). So I came up with a list of over 500 books that I thought should be reviewed. I’m almost 20% done with that original list, but Ive added dozens and dozens of books so far, so its hard to say that I’m even that far along anymore. Maybe actually 15% by now.

David Samuelson in that article (I think he’s a literature professor at CSU Long Beach who teaches SF and contributes to SFS) said that he would like to see “much more original investigation” into the authors on his list. I wish I could indulge him, but I haven’t got the time or the patience to do either. In Samuelson’s words, “most SF criticism seems less investigative and more canonical (sometimes in the shape of canonization).” Though the intent of the article was to create a list of worthy topics so that SFS could get away from its canon authors (Lem, LeGuin, Dick, etc.) I think that he meant that its best to stop worshiping these authors, and to try to say what is good and what is bad about their entire body of work. That part I can agree with, and even do, but I just don’t have the time right now to put it all together and say something big about the genre or any person who writes in it. Maybe someday, but the best I can manage for now is to go book-by-book and tell those who care to listen not only what I think is good, but why, and how the particular author gets to a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down review.

Oh, and there is one other thing. I want to give my kids something to love when they are older. I figure that for both of them, its likely to be SF, since that is something I truly love. This list (I hope) should help.


October 13th, 2007

Ive recently put a bunch of nuclear holocaust DVD’s on my Netflix queue.  Last night I got the first one, a movie from the 80’s called Testament.  It was much, much better than I thought it would be.  It was centered on a family in a remote town north of Santa Rosa in California.  Dad died in the SF blast, and mother was left to care for the three children.  Recognizable faces included Lucas Haas in his first feature, Rebecca DeMornay and Kevin Kostner (both in supporting roles) and a few others.  No setting in the movie was subjected to direct attack, so the risk to the characters was radiation.

The motif of the movie was the effect nuclear war has on our children, and I gotta tell you, the producers knocked one outta the park with this one.  It was stirring without being overly graphic, and no part of the real loss to the family was left undepicted.  I think the scene that is going to stick with me forever is the one where the 13 year old daughter is having a private conversation with her mother about her father.  She asks her mother if she remembers the time she “walked in on them,” and then asks her mother what sex is like.  Her mother gives a very motherly answer that is simultaneously evasive and full of information.  As I watched the scene I told myself that she is asking that question because she is going to die before she gets to experience it for herself.  A few scenes later her mother is sewing the daughter’s feet up in a winding sheet made of a bed-sheet.

I have always been moved by good Armageddon fiction, and some of my favorite books and movies deal with the destruction of massive numbers of population.  I recently reviewed Morrow’s So This is the Way the World Ends, on my book review thread.  This is the rare movie that in my opinion matches a good book in quality.  If you can handle it, this movie is very much worth the effort.