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Lee A. Fox "foxalito" (Reading UK)
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Maul
Maul
by Tricia Sullivan
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A 2 for 1 Offer!!!, 6 Oct 2006
This review is from: Maul (Paperback)
Maul is a novel of two stories.

Katz is a chubby teenage Korean-American, painfully self-conscious as she tries to reconcile herself to her group identity and the consumer-driven, brand-orientated gun-fest that is breaking out around her in the Mall. In these poignant times, she is an icon of a society at war with itself.

Meniscus is one of the last surviving males of a Y-chromosone retrovirus. A clone captive and sealed in the glass environment of a lab, it seems that his body is in an all-or-nothing war with itself.

These narratives are linked, but never converge. At least explicitly. If there is a twist, it is lurking round the corner, waiting for the perceptive reader to go find it. Anything more would represent a spoiler!

What Maul is, is an incredibly sophisticated novel that does not only Sullivan, but the SF genre as a whole credit. It is one of those dangerous novels that puts the very reality we live in at peril.


Sunstorm (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
Sunstorm (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by Arthur C. Clarke
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.67

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacking flair?, 1 Oct 2006
A burst of activity from the sun, and communications across the world are disrupted. In London, the power outages dangerously disrupt the normal activities of the city. It is just the beginning. It is AD 2032.

In a message from a scientist on the moon, the Astronomer Royal learns this solar flare is the precursor of a sunstorm that threatens to wipe all life from the Earth in 5 years time. She must gather and lead a disparate group to prevent the unthinkable.

Baxter is a giant of hard SF. His best novels compare favourably with non-generic fiction. This, however, is not one of them. The natural heir to Arthur C. Clarke's mantel, their collaboration here is all the more disappointing.

The second outing in the Time Odyssey cycle, the usual Baxter preoccupations are there - an emergent humanity pitted against inscrutably ancient foes in a struggle on a cosmic scale. But here, it is a little forced, a little contrived and some times lacking cohesion. Baxter, for example - sometimes self-consciously - affords strong and central roles to his female characters. However, the litany of characters who are `the first woman to become...' Astronomer Royal/President of Eurasia/President of America, (fill in the blanks), is a device that wears a little thin. Nor is it clear what contribution Gisela, the dislocated soldier of the first novel Time's Eye, makes to actually move the narrative along. At best she is expository.

That said, whilst lacking the scope of other of Baxter's novels, Sunstorm is an engaging read with pace and momentum. Reminiscent of a 70's disaster movie, it brings together a diverse group of characters in the application of sheer grit to the defence of humanity. The graphic visuality of the sunstorm as it finally unfolds is fraught with suspense and a cold, otherworldly beauty.

The result is a sense, as so often with Baxter, of the fragility and of the contingency of the human condition. Does it work as a stand-alone novel? Probably not. But then, it is a credit to Baxter the lesser novels in his opus still prove better than most.


Atomised
Atomised
by Michel Houellebecq
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fragments of Future Past, 30 Sep 2006
This review is from: Atomised (Paperback)
Atomised is remarkable novel of ideas, as sophisticated as it is topical. There is no doubt, however, that this bleakly wistful narrative is an acquired taste.

Fractured and alternating, in a tale of two half-brothers, it rakes over the shards of masculinity at the end of the 20th Century. A jarring concoction of unpalatable truths, as unwonted as unwanted in some quarters, Atomised voices a problem with no name.

Biologist Michel's sabbatical represents an intellectual mid-life crisis driven by a dazed preoccupation with human relationships. It only succeeds to demonstrate a social amputation that is at once personal and pervasive. Bruno, a redeployed teacher and would-be debauchee, whose febrile desires are as questionable as they are achingly impotent, provides a lived experience of this social atrophy. The episode of his redeployment proves metonymical of the frustration of this beautifully tawdry narrative.

The counterpoint is exactly the success of the novel. If Bruno lives the molecular implosion of Western society, Michel - positioned as observer - whilst offering the novel's critical commentary, is condemned ultimately to the very detachment that critique implies.

This critique represents an archaeology of a fragmented present, of a fault-line between past and future. Using the themes of ageing and sexuality, masculinity and death, it picks through the bones of contemporary society, and its take on the postmodern legacy of the baby boom generation is withering. But this is less `Time Team' than time's up. If brothers' respective fates follow their inevitable trajectories, Michel embodies a transition.

Michel's life story is presented as quasi-historical account, a biographical retrospective in which he identified as the unknowing augur of a posthuman civilization of the future. The nature of this civilization remains largely unexplored. Some have remarked that the denouement of the book is unlikely or unsatisfactory, but this is to miss the point as the parenthetical prologue/epilogue really just act to be suggestive, to focus the critique of contemporary society which is its real quarry. In this, it becomes the natural prequel to The Possibility of an Island, which takes up these issues and runs with them.

The narrative, structured in this way is not without its problems, but this pseudo-retrospective engages a gentle prose that is stunning in its effect and range. The account of childhood emerging into adulthood, against the backdrop of mid to late 20th Century, is as affectionate as it is harrowing - and offers experiences recognisable to many men. In the manner of American Beauty, its portrayal of male sexualities, whilst ugly and discomfiting, are as sympathetic as they are compelling - and this is crucial to the power of its critique.

As such, this `retrospective' echoes Jameson's notion of `nostalgia'. However, poised uncomfortably somewhere between the tectonic plates of science fiction and non-generic fiction, it nevertheless effects a distancing that allows for its analysis to be pulverising.

In the face of the putative claims of a `crisis of masculinity', Houellebecq resolutely refuses to sweep some of the more unpleasant issues under the carpet. It is not difficult to see that this will not endear him in certain quarters. But, perhaps, this is all the more reason to read this searingly acute novel.


The Atrocity Archives
The Atrocity Archives
by Ken MacLeod
Edition: Paperback

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Atrocity...not quite, 18 Aug 2006
This review is from: The Atrocity Archives (Paperback)
An engaging jape of a book, 'Atrocity Archives' is not without merit.

The generic overlap between 'horror', 'science fiction' and 'comedy' will have the academe in controversy for many years to come. If the balance between these forms is key to understanding a book, I'm not sure that this book gets it quite right.

The link between 'horror' and 'comedy', surely, resides almost paradoxically in the fact that the comedic sometime reveals the world for what it really is, a prospect whcih at the very least is horrific, the revelation of which can only leave us with a contorted and reflex grin. However, the humour in this outing can, at times, seem forced and obvious, boardering on the Buffy-esque.

No harm done in and of itself.

However, the titular Archives deal explicitly with the Holocaust. Certainly, the Holocaust should not be sacred, beyond critique or comment, as some people would have, and potentially a historical reaction to the holocaust of this nature, it could be argued, has been as damaging as the actual event itself. That said, it is not clear that Stross' use of humour here has anything revealing or radical to add, and thus boarders on the exploitative, or at the very least, insensitive.

Moreover, the tale of an (active) male hero who saves the (passive) damsel in distress is hardly one of a contemporary sophistication. It is quite telling that she all but disappears in 'The Concrete Jungle'.

It is also difficult, as conspiracy fears go, to take tentacled other-dimensional aliens as an imminent threat, such that the prose is not as 'uneasy' as McLoad's introduction suggests.

The style, nonetheless is light and engaging, and Stross' descriptions of the prairie-dogging, cubicle culture of IT, where Bob - an agent of a secret arm of a secret government agency - is tasked to save the world, but spends as much time caught in meetings and bureaucracy, is a telling indictment. And it is on this level that it succeeds as a novel.

If you like tentacles, Milton Keynes and theories of entropy - it's defintely worth a read.


Wraeththu Omnibus
Wraeththu Omnibus
by Storm Constantine
Edition: Paperback
Price: 15.29

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Storm in a teacup, 17 Aug 2006
This review is from: Wraeththu Omnibus (Paperback)
Having read 'Stylish Apocalypse' by Val Gough (in 'Imagining Apocalypse': D. Seed (ed)), I read the Wraeththu Trilogy with much anticipation. It promised everthing - apocalyptic imaginings of posthumanity that saw the delicious intersection of quasi-vampyrism and dark borderlands, in a stange topology of sexuality.

I was met with a poverty of imagination. The nom de plume should have been a give away.

It was not without redeeming features. The tale, at face value, is an epic that tells of the emergence the Wraeththu, uber-human mutant hermaphrodites, from the ruins of humanity. The shift of narrative perspective in the three different parts as it tells of the key players and events is not without effect. The allusion to the retro-viral debate make it contemporary and relevant.

But ultimately, the prose was flat and clunky, the story poorly realised, and some of the editing terrible. The narrative was formulaically Joseph Campbell without adding anything new or interesting. Far from being mystical and seductive, its sexualities were puerile - offering little more than vacuous parodies of the gay scene. A bit like a latter-day Dorian Gray with funny costumes and none of the redeeming features.

At 800 pages and fine print - a steep climb...with not much of a view.


Accelerando
Accelerando
by Charles Stross
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In the year 2525..., 17 Aug 2006
This review is from: Accelerando (Paperback)
An occasionally confusing and sometimes confused narrative, this is nevertheless a compelling read. The high-octane style of its opening chapters give it an escape velocity that takes it beyond Gibson, and plunges into a world strikingly reminiscent, if more believable than 'The Dangers of the Last Days'.

Taking near future technologies as it departure point, it accelerates inexorably towards the event horizon of that obsession of postmodern apocalyptic - the collapse of the 'real'. And in doing so, it does what all good science fiction does. A family saga, set across three generations, it takes relations that we would normally recognise and re-imagines them, using technology and the 'real' to examine the notion of identity and what, ultimately, it means to belong to humanity. And all with a wry smile.

Definitely worth a read.


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