The Anthropocene Unconscious by Mark Bould
(Verso Books, 2021)
Reviewed by Jamie Mollart
In 2016 the acclaimed Indian author, Amitav Ghosh, wrote ‘The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable’, widely considered to be one of the most important books to address the way Climate Change is approached in literature.
He argues future generations will be amazed at the way in which we have collectively ignored the most pressing threat to our species within our collective art and literature. He uses the term ‘Anthropocene’ specifically in reference to our attempt at terrestrial destruction rather than the literal definition of ‘age of man’.
Review from BSFA Review 16 - Download your copy here.
World Brain by H.G. Wells
(MIT Press, 2021)
Reviewed by Paul Graham Raven
As I began to draft this review, I read a newsletter with a section titled “Can the world computer save the world?”, excerpting three essays by a tenacious technologist (who I shall decline to name) which advance a hand-wringing “what went wrong?” critique of cryptocurrency in order to conclude that—shock, horror, &c.—the particular flavour of imaginary money they work with (and in which they are presumably well-supplied) is the One True Coin that can “out-perform current models of capitalism”. (The newsletter’s curator, to his credit, notes that this bit “goes a bit too ‘computers can do anything’ for me”, which may explain his header’s implicit invocation of Betteridge’s Law.)
Alien3: The Unproduced Screenplay by William Gibson by Pat Cadigan and William Gibson
(Titan Books, 2021)
Reviewed by Dev Agarwal
While no BSFA reader would ever judge a book by its cover, you may find that Alien3 comes so loaded with cultural signifiers that you have to parse them before cracking it open. Like a riddle it has both two authors and only one. It is unproduced (as a film) yet it is also the third adaptation of William Gibson’s script (following a graphic novel and an audio drama).
Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) and Aliens (James Cameron, 1986) are both such prominent works that they need no introduction here. The documentary of the film, Memory: The Origins of Alien (Alexandre O. Philippe, 2019) is testament to the ongoing attraction that the concept holds to genre consumers and film fans alike.
The Open Door and Other Stories of the Seen & Unseen by Margaret Oliphant
(British Library, 2021)
Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
One of the most interesting writers of the late 19th century was “Mrs Oliphant” (1828-1897), a novelist, short-story writer and critic of immense if variable productivity who, after her husband’s death in 1879 supported an extended family through her literary efforts. While a number of her novels were best-sellers, she is probably best-known today for her supernatural fiction.
In The Open Door Mike Ashley presents six stories with an introduction which asks, though doesn’t really answer, why so many British women of that time wrote ghost stories. For Oliphant, the reasons Ashley gives seem sound, linking fashionable spiritualism and a personal set of family traumas and losses. Most of the stories here offer glimpses into what Oliphant was to call the “Unseen”, the surrounding Afterlife which, according to some Spiritualist beliefs, can communicate with us. There’s a sense of loss, melancholy, and moral questioning which speaks well to the modern reader.
The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig
(Del Rey, 2021)
This is a massive book in pages, ideas, style, genres, and in pretty much every way. I picked it up and for the first 50 pages it felt like Stephen King, and I mean that as a compliment.
It’s got that classic horror feel and is set up using many of King’s tropes: a dysfunctional family moving back to the town where the father grew up; things not being quite why they seem; creepy neighbours; and a history in the town which looks set to resurface with dire consequences.
Horseman by Christina Henry
Reviewed by Dave M. Roberts
Washington Irving’s story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow makes a point of the ambiguity in relating the local legend of the headless horseman. When Ichabod Crane had his encounter with the horseman, there was question after the event as to whether he had had a genuinely supernatural experience, or if he’d been the subject of a rather brutal practical joke, most likely at the hand of Abraham van Brunt, his rival for the hand of Katrina van Tassel. As Crane disappeared that night, the townsfolk never knew the actual truth, although after rereading the story it seems fairly clear to me it was the latter.
The Great Troll War by Jasper Fforde
(Hodder & Stoughton, 2021)
Reviewed by Graham Andrews
Before me, as I write, is the proof copy of The Great Troll War. Front-cover blurb: “A LONG TIME AGO MAGIC FADED AWAY. NOW IT IS BACK WITH A VENGEANCE.” All very reminiscent of The Magic Goes Away and The Magic May Return, but only if Larry Niven had written them in collaboration with Terry Pratchett or Tim Holt. But Troll War is, in even happier fact, the final instalment of “the Last Dragonslayer Chronicles, from the Number One Sunday Times bestselling author JASPER FFORDE” (back-cover blurb). I could scribble a “story so far” synopsis of the previous three volumes: The Last Dragonslayer (2010); The Song of the Quarkbeast (2011); The Eye of Zoltar (2014). But that job has already been jobbed on Wikipedia. And, more wittily, by Fforde himself.
The Monster on Hold by Philip José Farmer and Win Scott Eckert
(Meteor House, 2021)
The Monster on Hold grabs the reader up and hurls them bodily through a wild genre ride. Included are Philip José Farmer’s series works, the wider world of pulp fiction, Win Scott Eckert’s mission to carry on Farmer’s legacy, and the ecosystem of a novel that exuberantly melds and mixes its references.
The novel continues the adventures around Farmer’s covert society, the Nine. A warning, therefore, would be that The Monster on Hold is not the right starting point. The series began with A Feast Unknown, in 1969. Farmer (1918-2009), like many other writers, had a number of preoccupations that he returned to regularly. However, readers should bear in mind that Feast is the most extreme of this series. It explores what Theodore Sturgeon described as “ultimate sex combined with ultimate violence is ultimate absurdity.”
Cwen by Alice Albinia
(Serpent’s Tail, 2021)
Reviewed by Nick Hubble
‘Why is “gynotopia” not listed as a word in either the OED or Merriam-Webster? Answer: Because men have erased such places from our memories.’ This putative pub quiz question, found on the back of a grocery bill along with a list of ideas such as giving every girl five acres at birth and a process of mandatory re-education for men aged seven to seventy-seven, is read out in court as part of the ‘Inquiry into Unfair Female Advantage in the Islands’ which is narrated in Cwen. The ‘Islands’ are an unnamed archipelago off the east coast of Scotland, whose culture has been transformed by a subtle programme of intervention in support of women led by former cabinet minister’s wife, Eva Harcourt-Vane. Her recent disappearance at sea during a storm has brought her social experiment to the attention of the UK media, leading to a frenzy of predictably sensationalist headlines, such as ‘FEMALE TAKEOVER OF ISLAND’S LEADERSHIP’ and ‘FEMALE EDUCATORS CAVORT TOGETHER NAKED’. The loose inquest format of the novel, in which the women Eva has worked with testify as to their collective motivations and achievements, invites readers to ponder whether it is indeed time both for a thoroughgoing overhaul of the patriarchy and to put gynotopia in the dictionary or, indeed, on the map.
The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
(Joe Fletcher Books, 2021)
Reviewed by Anne F. Wilson
The Beautiful Ones are the crème de la crème of Loisail society. Aristocrats from old money, they despise the merely rich. They are however prepared to be amused by entertainers such as Hector Auvray, a telekinetic stage magician. Hector meets Nina at a ball, and is unimpressed by her “square jaw, black hair and thin lips”. But in any case, Hector is madly in love with Valerie Beaulieu, Nina’s chaperone and sponsor into society. Valerie is a Beautiful One, and Nina will join her if she marries well. Ten years ago, Valerie threw Hector over to marry Nina’s wealthy cousin Gaétan, and Hector crossed the ocean to make his fortune in the continent of Iblevad. But now Hector is back, and he is still obsessed with Valerie.
67, James St.
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