Story Matrices by Gillian Polack
(Luna Press, 2022)
Reviewed by Dan Hartland
In this short book, Gillian Polack seeks to demonstrate how, and to what effects, novels act as transmitters of culture. To do so, she focuses specifically on science fiction and fantasy as instructive generic examples of the processes she identifies.
This is a work of cultural, not literary, criticism: Polack is not interested in what makes a novel ‘good’ from a technical perspective, but rather in ‘novels as artefacts of culture’ (p. 39), by which rubric there is no qualitative difference between one or another example of the form. She ‘does not question their separate literary value’; she simply finds it irrelevant to her purposes (p. 203).
Review from BSFA Review 19 - Download your copy here.
Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of the Imagination edited by Glyn Morgan
(Science Museum/Thames & Hudson, 2022)
Reviewed by Nick Hubble
Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of the Imagination is the companion book to the exhibition of the same name that opened at the Science Museum on 6 October 2022 and continues until (of course) 4 May 2023. There is also a programme of accompanying events, which included hosting the ceremony for the 36th annual edition of the Arthur C. Clarke Award on 26 October. That particular event, which saw copies of the shortlist on sale in the exhibition shop alongside a pretty decent range of fiction from across the field, complemented the exhibition’s understandable visual focus on juxtaposing iconic material from SF film and television, such as Iron Man’s armour suit and Hal 9000 from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with space and cybernetic technology. This book, however, manages to combine fully the visual impact of the exhibition (by including over 200 colour illustrations) with an impressive survey of both media and books. Aside from the excellent design standards, the extent and quality of the analysis suggest that Science Fiction should appeal to an audience beyond those who’ve been to the exhibition, and remain of value for the foreseeable future.
The Flicker Against the Light and Writing the Contemporary Uncanny by Jane Alexander
(Luna Press Publishing, 2021)
Reviewed by Ksenia Shcherbino
The Flicker Against the Light and Writing the Contemporary Uncanny is a collection of strange and haunting stories. Or, giving word to Jane Alexander herself, these stories ‘are specific to the technologies of our age, and simultaneously recognisable as instances of the uncanny…with doubles, hauntings, confusions of the living and the dead, the return of the repressed and many other uncanny tropes and topos given contemporary expression.’
Strange Relics: Stories of Archaeology and the Supernatural, 1895–1954 edited by Amara Thornton & Kay Soar
(Handheld Press, 2022)
Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
Much supernatural or ‘weird’ fiction goes something like this: antiquarian digs up relic from the past: something horrible happens. Thornton and Soar, themselves archaeologists, have curated a collection that specifically focuses upon how weird fiction engages with archaeology, and the book has already caused something of a stir in the archaeological community. While the dozen stories here are (mostly) within that reductive summary, this is a well put-together volume combining familiar favourites with lesser-known works.
Lesbian Potentiality & Feminist Media in the 1970s by Rox Samer
(Duke University Press, 2022)
The central argument of Samer’s excellent book is that ‘more than a simple identity category’, ‘lesbian’ in the 1970s signified ‘the potential that gendered and sexual life could and would someday be substantially different, the heteropatriarchy may topple, and that women would be the ones to topple it’. The way to reconfigure society would be by erasing compulsory heterosexuality and in such a ‘lesbian future’, ‘the meaning of lesbian existence would not cease but would look, sound, and feel entirely different than it did in the 1970s present’. On one level, therefore, Lesbian Potentiality & Feminist Media in the 1970s is relevant to contemporary 21C debates on who may and who may not claim to be a lesbian but, more significantly, the range of its scope, imagination, and ambition far exceeds the narrow and prescriptive terms in which such debates are framed by the British media.
From The Abyss: Weird Fiction, 1907–1945 by D.K. Broster
Reviewed by Graham Andrews
One of the first historical novels I ever read, back in my dim-and-distant childhood, was The Flight of the Heron (1925), by D.K. (Dorothy Kathleen) Broster (1877-1950). Along with The Gleam in the North (1927) and The Dark Mile (1929), Heron makes up the classic Jacobean Trilogy. The editor, Melissa Edmondson, covers the bio-bibliographic ground in her cogent introductory material. Notes on the eleven stories have been provided by Kate Macdonald. All in all, a neat little package from the enterprising Handheld Press.
We are on firm ground with the ‘1907–1945’ part of the subtitle, but ‘Weird Fiction’ is a misleading misnomer. ‘Unique fiction’ would have been more like it, coincidentally raising the spectre of Weird Tales—once billed as the ‘unique’ magazine. Each-and-every Broster story is different from each and-every other Broster story, so there is really no such thing as a typical Broster story. Apart from ‘The Taste of Pomegranates’ (see below), these selections are from A Fire of Driftwood (1932) and Couching at the Door (1942).
Best of British Science Fiction 2021 edited by Donna Scott
(NewCon Press, 2022)
The British SF of the early 2020s begs an implicit question: two decades on from the ‘British Boom’, what has been its legacy? The Boom itself is long over, its last sputterings extinguished. We should not necessarily mourn it: in the space created by the sundering of the insistent poles of Anglo-American SFF, writers of ever greater diversity have wrested the limelight for themselves—and are transforming the genre, rather than merely remixing its increasingly stale twentieth-century verities.
Has the Boom cast any shadow, then, or has it proven less influential now than it appeared destined to be at the time? On the evidence of this edition of NewCon’s annual anthology, the Boom was in some ways an aberration, not a trend. The stories collected here find comfort in forms and styles, and sometimes even settings, that would in general not have been out of place even some decades prior to the 1990s.
Unreal Sex: An Anthology of Queer Erotic Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror edited by So Mayer & Adam Zmith
(Cipher Press, 2021)
‘I’ve always thought of sexual and textual as basically the same word’, confesses So Mayer in the dialogic introduction to this anthology. Some of the most influential approaches to literary criticism over the last thirty to forty years are rooted in this premise and often revolve around a teased-out analysis that enables a playful, extended deferral of meaning. However, when the texts under consideration are not just metaphorically sexual but directly concerned with sex acts, as the stories collected in this anthology are, that rather short-circuits the process. There is no hiding behind academic or any other readerly protocols when holding Unreal Sex in your hands: you either open it, and thereby open yourself to it, or you don’t. Not that there is really any choice because everyone is at least going to want to have a look at the contents page.
Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald
Reviewed by John Dodd
Raine can see dead people, this isn’t a sixth sense, and she’s not the only one that can do it. The book opens on her finding a woman by the side of the road and having to consider if they’ve been dead a while because she can’t see a ghost near the body.
She’s not dead it transpires, but she is on the run, and so Raine helps her because it’s the right thing to do. Or is it? In the first part of the book there’s a fight with an elder god, a death that sets the stage for the true story, and the realisation that the world that Raine thought she knew, is very much not that world. From an encounter with a warrior priest, we learn that some of Raine’s natural talents have been curtailed, supposedly for her own good, and she must find a way to learn what she is truly capable of, and more important, what she wants to be when she finds out.
The Outcast and The Rite by Helen de Guerry Simpson
Helen Simpson, who died in 1940, was one of a number of extraordinary women in the interwar literary scene. She collaborated with Clemence Dane (later to be editor of the post-war science fiction line from Michael Joseph) on a number of detective novels. She was a member of the Detection Club, a group of fellow writers which also included Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and her friend Gladys Mitchell with whom she shared her lifelong interest in witchcraft and demonology.
The Outcast and the Rite, subtitled ‘Stories of Landscape and Fear’, brings together her outstanding supernatural stories mostly published in the 1925 collection The Baseless Fabric. Expertly curated with an informative introduction by Melissa Edmundson, it highlights Simpson as a remarkable writer who approached the task of writing supernatural fiction with a fresh eye and an unsettling imagination.
19 Beech Green